Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Career Opportunities

I have been gone forever. I feel bad about it. I had a birthday in April--maybe I'm finally getting old. In any case, teaching at NYU plus two substantial monthly columns plus occasional work for NPR and the late Blender and creating a weekly playlist for Rhapsody--yes, that's work too, people talk about these things as if they're bagatelles but if you respect them a little they're not, one reason I missed a couple of weeks--was as much as I could handle and a little more. Which sad plaint pertains to the story I am about to tell.

Early in May, after my teaching was done but in the midst of grading and editing 29 2500-word final papers, I hied with my wife to the second of three Dinners With Friends in a seven-day period--a surfeit unmatched since Christmastime. This one was on the Upper West Side. We were exitbound on the IRT at 96th Street when we were hailed by an old acquaintance--a first-rate journalist I've known for about 30 years and like a lot to this day. He had a new job--editing an NYC section at a widely read website that will remain nameless. And he had an offer for me. How would I like to blog for his section? He needed music coverage. True, he mentioned with admirable dispatch, I wouldn't be paid. But it would open up a lot of opportunities for me.

Politely, I hope--genially, I hope--I told him I had too much work to do as it was and would have to decline. In the intervening weeks, however, I've actually had second thoughts. With both my Village Voice columns currently (knock on wood) available at venues--online-only venues, it is only fair to note--where as far as I'm concerned they're at least as good as at they were at my dead-tree stomping ground, the main thing I miss about the Voice is the opportunity for advocacy. I could make a difference for artists I thought deserved attention--writing a slam-bang Voice Choice for the great Cincinnati band Wussy, who Southern-Ohio-born-and-bred Rob Harvilla just doesn't get (too young, maybe), or going to see the Defibulators dominate the Asylum Street Spankers at this vast new venue in Gowanus (wherever that is--besides Brooklyn I mean--Smith and 9th on the F, though I arrived by taxi after subwaying to Williamsburg by mistake) called the Bell House and then lobbying to write a short about them. And of course I would always have an in to gigs as well, instead of having to luck into a Leonard Cohen ticket which turned out to be one of the greatest concerts I've seen this decade--number two, I think, after D'Angelo at Radio City, though maybe I'm forgetting something and maybe Cohen was even better, this is only a damn blog.

Which is, of course, the point. Here I work for nothing--and disappear for two-three months. I do it because I believe in the NAJP and what it represents and because I want to represent--with my such-as-it-is prestige for NAJP, and for the vernacular arts in general and rock and roll in particular at NAJP, which like all arts orgs is prey to creeping gentility as well as the nasty elitist kind. Even at that I'm uncomfortable with how fast I write here, because I'm a firm believer that even in journalism the best writing is done slowly. And even at that I think I write better than most bloggers I read--not so much here, where the quality is remarkably high (Anawalt, we miss you), but at most of the websites I frequent, including the one where I was offered a--not gig, but spot, venue. Fact is, what blogs I read I read for content only. Only a few--Marshall, Sullivan, Huffington, all of whom, what a coincidence, are clocking major dollars at their web gigs--are pleasures to read as writers. Those who aren't I don't read much.

I am overgeneralizing. There are music bloggers--Maura Johnston at Idolator (who's also getting paid, though I bet not much) and Carl Wilson at Zoilus (who's writing less as his actual newspaper gig takes more of his time)--I read for pleasure, and others I'm sure I'm missing. But if I remain a skeptic in the matter of the web as the salvation of journalism, the fact that I was asked to write for nothing in the interest of furthering my career exemplifies why.

To be continued, I bet. Or hope.

3 Comments

By Stéphane Ranger on May 26, 2009 1:31 AM

Hi Mr. Christgau,

Just dropping by,

I came across your site via Wikipedia and for a month now I've been glued, I'm fascinated by your work. I've started by checking what you'd had to say about bands and artists and particular albums that I like or have liked, and then those that I don't like, and your essays--everything; it is to me like I found some Ali Baba's cave. So multi-layeredly thoughtful, and dense. I cherish your moral perspective also--and the humor that sometimes comes with it (your bits about AC/DC were a good laugh, for example).

I thank you very much for your sustained authenticity and sincerity.

SR

By Mike Carpenter on May 26, 2009 9:12 AM

As a New Yorker who goes to hear a lot of music in NYC, I really miss your comments on upcoming shows that used to appear in the Voice. You have turned me on to much music, and not having you as a guide to "what to hear this weekend" is a big loss. Selfishly, I hope you reconsider your friends offer.

By Andre Houle on May 28, 2009 4:41 PM

Dear Mr. Christgau,

I want to sincerely thank you for recently recommending (and making me discover) the band Wussy. I've been thrilled by many bands over the years (I'm 45), but I don't ever recall being this knocked out by one (what a sound they make and that Lisa makes me . . . oh never mind). It's as if I had discovered some kind of missing link (like Dusty in Memphis) and I haven't been able to listen to anything else in close to a month.

Why aren't they bigger? It can't be about the music (boo Rob Harvilla). I think the size and location of their record company is a big negative. Until their latest was made available online on May 12th you had to order from them in Cincinnati! Why would a critic review a CD that is that difficult to get? (Which would explain why there are no reviews on Metacritic.com).

Anyways, I love them and I am spreading the word as much as I can.

Andre Houle

Articles, May 21, 2009


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