These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Robert Christgau. New ones will appear in batches every third Tuesday.
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May 28, 2019
[Q] Do you consider Pitchfork's 8.7 review of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music trolling? Your own C+ I can sort of get, but come on . . . 8.7? Ok, to be fair I have only heard the "A 1" track myself, but this is a mind game, right? I would have more fun with the drumbeats on the live "Waiting for My Man" than listen again. Next up we have 9.2 for 1973's Dylan because it's actually a masterpiece. Right? -- Ian Sommers, Manchester, England
[A] I don't know if I'd call it trolling, but in general I think this particular P4K feature/gimmick is more about repositioning the mag and recalibrating the canon than anything systematic or serious. Since this particular extreme example was written by Mark Richardson, who was the editor at the time, it's fair to assume it was done with some sort of editorial strategy behind it, but that's not to suggest that I think he did it solely to shock and be contrarian--he's always been a more judicious critic than that. Instead I'd surmise that the prog side of him had always believed (or, less propitiously, recently decided) that this provocative album had gotten a raw deal and thought it would be nice positioning for Pitchfork to play around with its own hard-earned stature as the established critical voice of the thoughtful young music fan by saying so in print. If you think that's trolling, a term I've never been comfortable with unless it involved anonymous, fictional personas, then you have a right, I guess. But my assumption is that the ideas expressed in that review are truly Richardson's. Not that they'd ever move me to relisten just to make sure. My 1977 review was based on multiple plays I have no desire to repeat. And I would also add that Metal Machine Music is a far cry from Dylan. It has a conceptual rationale and is original in that respect, which Dylan does not.
[Q] Hello! I wonder if there are any musicians of the rock age that you love but your wife can't stand, or vice versa? -- Robin Ingman, Upplands, Väsby, Sweden
[A] Basically, the answer is no, which is kind of miracle, isn't it? As I recall, she didn't like how Idles sounded, but first five times through neither did I, and though I came to admire that record I'd have to be in a very special angry mood to play it. In general, however, as we've gotten older I've been less inclined to play abrasive new music for her, though she has no trouble with the old stuff: Clash, Pavement, etc., and the fact is that I don't hear much abrasive new music that I like myself--never really liked the Fat White Family, say, though I intend to try again soon. Ditto for the more aggressive strands of hip-hop, although she actually worries that she doesn't hear enough recent stuff in that vein. And for sure I often play old favorites for her--just recently Steely Dan, who we listened to a lot when we were first together, and Bobbie Cryner, whose debut sounded so strong in the car this past Saturday. As I wrote in my memoir, Carola is as aesthetically responsive as anyone I've ever known, and that's without being any kind of sop or sponge. For a critic, she's such a gift, not a shit detector but a divining rod--when she notices something new that she likes I'm usually a lot further on my way to an A or at least a high Honorable Mention.
[Q] If you were a TED Talk, you'd be Chuck Klosterman. Any opinion on the guy? -- Rene Ortega, Fallbrook, California
[A] If I'm supposed to understand what the TED talk reference means, sorry, I don't. Does Klosterman do TED talks? For that matter, do you watch them? Wha? Anyway, Klosterman's obviously a very bright guy who I bet isn't as facile as he makes it seem. I like Fargo Rock City but have never worked up any interest in his other books or understood why he was declared an "ethicist" (wasn't that it?) by the NYT. That's in part because I've never credited what moral judgments of his I've encountered. He always seemed clever and contrarian for their own sake, the kind of guy who'd generate a "theory" he'd forget six months down the road. I will add, however, that he can be very funny. I once did a reading with him for some function I've long forgotten and he blew me off the stage--I enjoyed what he read more than what I wrote myself.
[Q] Good day, Robert. Please share your opinion of John and Yoko's "Woman Is the Nigger of the World." -- Wayne Timmins, Ontario, Canada
[A] The whole Some Time in New York City album sounds better to me now than it used to, and "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" was always the best song on it. Problem is, of course, that even in 1973 white people appropriating the word "nigger" was not just problematic but beyond the pale. And it still is. But as protest music goes, the detail and analysis of the rest of the lyric remain of unusual intelligence and complexity. Good tune, too.
[Q] Are you pussy-whipped? Do you review straight white males with guitars anymore or are they beholden to the patriarchy? You're worse than NPR. -- Drew Hirsch, Sweetbrier, California
[A] I am a white male heterosexual who has identified publicly as a feminist since 1970. Since then I have written thousands of positive reviews of bands consisting entirely of straight white guys with guitars. So far in 2018 I've added albums by Idles, Pedro the Lion, Todd Snider (solo, true), Robert Forster, Jason Ringenberg, and, er, Bruce Springsteen (also solo, hmm), not one of whom is stupid enough to think "pussy-whipped" a striking or witty term. Facts: African-Americans have always been the prime creative motor of American music, I've had an active interest in African music since it began to become more available in the mid-'80s, and most of today's interesting younger guitar bands are led by women, freed up by the confidence that they won't attract ginks like you to their shows.
[Q] Have you decided what album you will listen to on your deathbed? -- Rob, Pittsburgh
[A] Not yet.