Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Pseud Fight

Every Friday Roy Trakin's Trakin Care of Business arrives in my inbox, and every Friday I skim it, trolling for Consumer Guide-worthy albums of the retro persuasion and shaking my head at Trakin's ability to blather endlessly about his grumpy old tastes in film, TV, sports, and, pretty infrequently for a guy who tried to make a go of a site called musicsnobs, music. His paying gig is apparently still with the trade mag Hits, the unlikely survival of which I cannot explicate without calling Roy, which I don't feel like. Two items this week concerned our mutual calling. The first celebrated roberthilburnonline.com, extolling the retired L.A. Times critic and his forthcoming Corn Flakes With John Lennon before going out with these two sentences:

As he was in print, Hilburn is light and breezy, but without the benefit of an editor (?!), a little sloppy, even for a blog. For instance, for a professional journalist to use the phrase "has it's moments," with the incorrect apostrophe, even if it is an all-too-common mistake, is rather damning.

That "it's" is of course a no-no. But in a writer of Hilburn's experience it's a typo merely--real glass houses stuff for an (unedited!!) slob like Trakin, who in the above passage uses "for" three times in three contexts within six words as well as adding an unidiomatic extra "the" to "benefit of the editor" and going out on an imprecise and overstated adjective hedged with a bloviating "rather." What's going on here?

Perhaps, just perhaps, Trakin's trying to flex his putative objectivity. Because here a few items down comes his Gripe of the Week--the fact that Hilburn's successor, L.A. Times rock critic Ann Powers, is being retained by the paper even though she's moving to Alabama, where her husband Eric Weisbard is starting a teaching job. Now, Ann and Eric are close friends of mine; I spoke for her when the Times was searching for someone to replace Hilburn. I thought and think she was perfect for the job--a left-populist intellectual with a passion for actual contemporary pop music as enjoyed by female as well as male fans, not something Hilburn or Trakin (or I) can claim. Like Hilburn, although in a different way, she has heart. But she also has brain--a better brain than Hilburn's, much less Trakin's. Clearly, she gets Trakin's goat. His account of Ann and Eric's careers gets many facts and nuances wrong, but hell, it's only a blog. I was much more struck by this opinion: "Powers will be brought in for what she arguably does best--those periodic, pseudo-intellectual think pieces about being an underappreciated woman in the world of rock."

This is vile--vagina envy at its most blatant. (That "arguably"--feh.) What Powers does best is think about music Trakin is not only too old and grumpy but also too male and white to hear, and then express her thoughts in much simpler and clearer English than Trakin is capable of. Here's a writing tip: never brandish the term "pseudo-intellectual," which IDs you instantly as a non-intellectual or an anti-intellectual because real intellectuals never, ever deign to use it. It betrays your fear that someone else is smarter than you.

Hey, just occurred to me--could Trakin have coveted Hilburn's job? Nah. Hilburn was old--older than me, even. But he wasn't grumpy. Trakin isn't that stupid.

Articles, Aug. 14, 2009


Hoary Cliches and Cardinal Sins Watch It and Weep