Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Commodity Speculation

One of my favorite sentences in all of rock criticism is one Ellen Willis wrote four decades ago in "Dylan," to this day one of the finest essays ever written about the '60s and in my opinion a direct precursor of and probably inspiration for Todd Haynes's I'm Not There (I tried to ask him about this at a screening he attended but he brushed me off): "In the sense that pop art is about commodities, Dylan's art is about celebrity." And this is still true--there are daily critics from Ann Powers in L.A. to the much-missed (at the New York paper that calls itself the Times) Kelefa Sanneh who write with insight and empathy about the impact of pop stars' persona and public life on their music, their fans, and the complex whole that is their aesthetic effect.

In other words--I'm not an old fart, really. I'm hep to the jive. No kiddin.

That established, let me merely direct your attention to this link, about AP's plans to increase its arts coverage. For NAJP-ers decrying the shrinkage of jobs in arts journalism, this is clearly good news, especially given such assurances as:

The entertainment vertical is not about gossip, unnamed sources and innuendo or about "peephole" journalism with AP photographers becoming paparazzi

Only then you read on to all the revolting talk about "product" ("brand" I admit I've gotten used to) and note that the sentence I just quoted doesn't know the difference between blather and a lie, or want to know. What a bummer for those of us who believe that arts journalism ought to address the popular and the mass--that both remain arenas of enormous creativity, even within the terms Willis established so long ago. Only to write well about them, it is essential to have the ability and desire to distinguish between blather, lies, and countless other species of prevarication. After all, artistic "truth" is often and perhaps always a species of illusion--as some might fruitfully claim, a species of prevarication itself.

Articles, Mar. 24, 2008


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