Saturday, January 16, 2016

The dean

Robert Christgau 02.jpgRobertChristagu, rock and pop music critic for the Village Voice for  37 years before new owners fired him, is  my favorite critic next to Lester Bangs. Bangs was about an emotional connection to the music and the appeal (and its occasional downfall) became was that how he wrote about it became confessional. 

This livened up his style but also made it drip with self -pity that was too much to plough through.Bangs in his best moments at the keyboard was the best writer that rock music's odd history of critical discussion has ever had; no one came closer to the giving a language to the emotions a good song can force to the surface, bursting through our hard defenses to keep the insecurities away from public observation. Good writers did that. Christgau is a good writer, but he is not one who moves me to weep so slightly when the subject is Madam George from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album, something Bangs accomplished with his essay from the Greil Marcus edited anthology of essays Stranded.  Robert Christgau could write, but his interest, his passion was the brain storm , the making of connections after realizing who influenced who in the long chain of musicians who took from one another and made adopted sounds their own. 

His was the excitement of trying to figure out what was the hood of the music that made him think harder as a citizen and made him want to ease into something more senuous than work. Christgau is the more traditional critic in that he was interested not in how pop music is created from the sources it draws from, but how it creates something new and how that new thing contains new ways of talking about human vanities and virtues and outright vices. 

 He wasn't , I don't think, a critic interested in the Marxist critical notion that art needs to form a critique of a system and have us imagine a more perfect state, his main concern was in if the music , under its own rules, was relateable, memorable, honest in its own fashion, if it gave a compelling account of a moment of experience, sensation, a mood. If there was a critique being mounted in a band's method, fine, the thought, so long as it worked as an element making up the sound that bands are trying to sell us. A political position did not get artists a passing grade. 

He didn't follow the conventional wisdom of the critical establishment,such as it was: he was too busy looking for an unaffected expression. What he makes him refreshing is that he wears his taste openly, has always refused to see artists as philosophers or priests, and he 's always had a healthy skepticism about those bands and artists who otherwise recieve lould and automatic accolades.

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