A few weeks ago, I wrote about my life-long love of the writing of music critic Robert Christgau. One of the points of the piece was that I still looked forward to reading his monthly Consumer Guide on the Village Voice website.
Well, not so much anymore, as the news has come down that the Village Voice — or corporation that owns the Village Voice, as well as a bunch of other “Alternative Newsweeklies” — has given Christgau his walking papers.
I’m sure that I speak for an ever-smaller group of music geeks when I say this:
There, that was mature.
In a great piece in Slate, Jody Rosen summed up Christgau’s influence perfectly:
With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century—yet he’s devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He’s a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of Entertainment Weekly.
That might be seen as damming with faint praise, but I don’t think so: you can blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake and you can blame Nirvana for Silverchair but that doesn’t make Led Zeppelin or Nirvana any less great. As a matter of fact, I think that it makes them greater. Same with Christgau: he never fell into the same “summarize as review” trap that nearly everybody else who took up the grading format. In other words, his actual words always did the heavy lifting, not the grade itself.
In a year where the role of the critic of all stripes has been seriously questioned, this comes as a great blow to those of us who believe that music, book, film, theatre, etc. criticism still has a place in a Long Tail world.
Perhaps not as godlike authorities, but I’ve never felt that critics were godlike authorites: I’ve always found the ones whose voices I liked, whose opinions I respected, and — most importantly — who can turn me on to something that I otherwise would have missed.
At best, the critics I like give me insight I might otherwise have missed; at worse, they piss me off because they don’t get the beauty I’m hearing. Either way, I’m thinking slightly differently about something I may have already thought I’d figured out.
And surely the world needs people who are theoretically paid to think about this stuff all of the time?
For his part, I can’t imagine that Christgau won’t get someone else to publish the Consumer Guide: maybe someplace like Harp or one of the Brit mags, like Mojo or Uncut. Or how about Pitchfork? Wherever he ends up, I’ll be looking forward to his takes on Modern Times, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass and Boys and Girls in America.
I also wonder how often I’m going to go back to the Voice website: for the past few years, I’ve only been checking there to see if Christgau has something new up. Sigh, I guess I can cross that from my weekly to-do list.