September 6, 2006


X-ed Out: The Village Voice fires a famous music critic. (Jody Rosen, Sept. 5, 2006, Slate)

Unlike other first-generation pop critics, who drifted into other kinds of work, lost interest in current pop, or, in the case of Lester Bangs, died, [Robert] Christgau was persistent. He continued to write about the records that arrived in his mailbox every day, keeping his ears and mind open to new music more than most critics 40 years his junior. He also earned the "dean" title by teaching. A huge percentage of the working rock critics of the last three decades are graduates of the Voice music section, shaped by Christgau's mentoring and fearsome line-editing.

Last week, the Voice fired Christgau. This wasn't altogether unexpected—the paper has been in turmoil since its purchase last October by Phoenix-based New Times Media, with dozens of employees quitting or getting the sack—but it still came as a shock. Christgau's dismissal leaves a big hole in the pop critical community. One of Christgau's signal achievements was the Voice's annual Jazz & Pop critics poll, which, in addition to being the definitive annual best-of list, served, both before and after the Internet, as a kind of virtual powwow, a way for critics to "gather" each year to talk about music and their perennially embattled profession. With the dean deposed, pop critics have lost their clubhouse.

The even larger loss, for the moment at least, is a regular outlet for the eloquent, often maddening, always thought-provoking words of Robert Christgau. Christgau's project at the Voice was to create a venue for popular-music writing that assumed a certain readership—one equipped not just with broad cultural knowledge but with a fluency in music history, the pop canon, and all the little meta-narratives of individual artists and their discographies. The goal, in other words, was to talk about pop music in the way literary critics talked about books. Christgau succeeded in making the Voice the indispensable source for serious music writing—in the '70s and '80s, it was a local alternative weekly read by music nuts from coast to coast. The critical ideal of serious music writing was best exemplified in his own pieces, packed tight with erudition and insight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2006 8:01 AM

Eh, it had gotten so that his reviews were rarely about the records. Without the grade appended, I wouldn't know how he felt about the recording, other than his visceral hatred of Bush. And yeah, I'm fluent in all the things listed.

Posted by: ken at September 6, 2006 5:41 PM

A rock "critic" shouldn't be working past the age of thirty, yet alone for 40 years.

I mean, who can listen to that schlock past the age of 30 anyway?

Bruno Kirby's limo driver in Spinal Tap had it right. It is all just a fad.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 6, 2006 9:56 PM