Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Any Old Way You Choose It Book Cover

Couper-Trooper

The between-set music was Carole King and late Byrds and Dylan's Greatest Volume II, all favorites of Howard Stein, I'm sure, but about as appropriate at an Alice Cooper concert as Doris Day at an Alan Freed teenorama. The opening acts, electric gut Wet Willie and jive king Dr. John, were more to the point, for Alice is the drag king of electric jive. Alice-the-person was born in Phoenix and got it together in Detroit, passing through Frank Zappa's freak show sometime in between, and aside from the assumed first name and a heavy application of eye makeup, is about as feminine as Mark Farner--slinky costumes, after all, have been a predilection of rock misogynists since the early days of English fop. Alice-the-group makes music that at its best is pure rock and roll, and I mean pure--not blues or rhythm-and-blues and barely blues-based, with no overlay of surfer harmonies and not a hint of folkie sentiment. A similar will to power energizes groups like Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk and Black Sabbath, but whereas they depend on overwhelming displays of amplifier expertise, Alice Cooper's musical approach is closer to that of two one-shot groups of the midsixties, the Count Five ("Psychotic Reaciton") and the Music Machine ("Talk Talk"). Neither showed the slightest understanding of the (blues) emotion that was part of early rock and roll--they just plastered your brains to the ceiling with sound. That's Alice's approach, and to an extent it's fine with me.

Alice's good songs are structured like singles, with clearly audible lyrics in the male-rebel tradition and the music tightly constructed around one or two hook riffs. Where your average heavy group goes in for boring solos, however, Alice substitutes theatrics, which unfortunately are also boring. He goose-steps; he plays with a boa constrictor; he chops up a doll; he is hanged by a black-hooded executioner; he throws Alice-Cooper-is-hanged calendars to the audience. Despite the fact that the hanging was patently bogus, without any saving suggestion of parody, the audience, which was medium young, seemed to get off on all this stuff. Not ecstatically, though--my fourteen-year-old companion described it as "interesting." I suspect I might have been disturbed if it had been better done, since it seemed to suggest the death-tripping and authoritarianism that I'm afraid will be the first youth fads of the seventies. What I felt instead was a curious alienation, even though the music was intelligent and original rock and roll. Perhaps its intrinsic coldness encourages alienation, but I think the real reason I felt alienated is that I didn't understand what was happening there, and I wonder what Howard Stein's choice of between-set music indicates about his understanding. One reason Bill Graham closed the Fillmore was that he no longer understood why people liked the music they liked, although, of course, Graham didn't put it so politely. The Academy of Music is a good hall, and there has to be a heavy teenorama somewhere, but I'd feel a little more comfortable, somehow, if I thought someone I trusted really knew what was going down.

Village Voice, Dec. 1971

While New York distribution plans remain uncertain, allow us to beguile you with yet another uncertified Rolling Stones Ticket Rumor. Stones tickets for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Chicago went on sale simultaneously through Ticketron. In the Bay area all-night queues averaging two hundred convened at each of the fifty or so Ticketron outlets, which at the announced maximum of four tickets per customer makes forty thousand tickets. For their San Francisco appearances the Stones plan to play four nights at Winterland instead of one impersonal night at the Oakland Coliseum. Four times the Winterland capacity of 4,500 minus 200 complimentary places makes 17,800. You will have to do the rest of the arithmetic yourself, since the Ticketron computer broke down in the ensuing crush. And to what avail? According to our rumormonger, most of the tickets had already been sold beforehand by Ticketron employees and were being scalped at up to fifty dollars while the lines were still moving, so that only thirty or forty faithful from each queue attained their prizes at the announced price. Anyone for a mail lottery?

The latest rage in radio programming is golden oldies. Oldies have been a part of top-forty programming for a decade or more, but now many stations, including New York's WCBS-FM, have switched to an oldies-only format. Not to be outdone, WNBC-AM has hired a disc jockey who qualifies as an oldie himself. Yes, It's Murray the K. with two weekend shows. He will play both music and taped interviews, some of which will qualify as oldies themselves, and some of which will be new. WNBC says Murray's announcing style will be mature and reflective, though, which means we'll miss that old submarine-race-watching fleeozash.

Any Old Way You Choose It, 1973


Adventures of the Dean of Long Island Rock Critics All My Friends Call Me a Fool