I’m always fascinated by the field of rock criticism. It’s hard to believe that a career that didn’t exist until the mid-1960s and didn’t become commonplace until the late 1970s and early ’80s — that’s when most paper in America finally relented and realized they better have a “staff pop music critic” onboard — is already entrenched in traditions and patterns. There’s even a Web site to rock critics’ serious navel gazing, RockCritics.com.
I used to be a rockcrit, and I loved my decade-plus covering music, especially because I did it for Westword when it was still a fledgling alternative paper, and I was in it for the passion. I had my heroes — brainy academic Greil Marcus, Rock & Rap Confidential founder Dave Marsh and the Village Voice’s self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau.
I was thrilled as hell when I got to have lunch with the Dean during a trip to NYC, only to have Christgau rant and rave about how rockcrits oughta have their own union, and then ask, “you’re paying for my burger, right?”
I stopped covering music because I became disconnected from it — and became connected instead to the Internet.
But I still have a lot of rockcrit friends and acquaintances, and follow some of the hubbub that bubbles up from the musical underground.
Today, two pals forwarded a story from the Washington City Paper, a commentary by Jason Cherkis about how famous authors are elbowing their way into the sacred domain of rock criticism.
It’s an interesting trend — being out of the industry, I completely missed it. Cherkis seems to think this is a bad phenom, because just being famous doesn’t qualify someone as being able to opine publicly about rock and roll bands. As if it matters what any low-level crit thinks!
He’s probably right that being an award-winning author in and of itself doesn’t mean she knows squat about music, history. It goes to show that good writers don’t necessarily make good critics — at music, dining, movies or whatever. Maybe books.
But it also shows how defensive and cult-like the established rockcrit community is. It’s a closed, gated community where you need notjust a secret handshake but a all-access pass to enter. And, there are some awful writers and awful critics working out there. Always has been, I suppose.
But I started thinking, what’s the difference between famous authors being tapped to write about music, and iTunes’ Celebrity Playlists? Whether it’s the music Weezer, Ludacris or Rev. Al Green listen to, I think we have a natural urge to know what famous people like.
Maybe it’s a way to compare, to see if our taste is validated by a celeb’s choice. Or maybe we’d be inclined to give someone a second chance if we find tou their musical taste is, you know, OK.
Which brings it all around, of course, to the fact that EVERYONE’S a critic. Some of us just get to be it in print, that’s all.