By Jim DeRogatis, Da Capo Press
DeRogatis must be doing something right as rock and roll reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times as he has, by his own admission, supplemented by evidence from the aggrieved, pissed people off, including Steve Albini and Billy Corgan (although in the latter case there was apparently a reconciliation: cue the violins). If you don’t raise some ire, then you’re not getting it done, as many angry Comment slingers at GloNo can attest to. Slings and arrows are indeed the stuff of outrageous fortune, at least for those who have been able to cash in on it, as have many that DeRogatis chronicles in this collection of columns and articles culled primarily from the aforementioned daily, as well as from Request, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. Milk It!, indeed.
While the generally accepted appellation for someone in DeRogatis’s working roll is “rock critic,” I would argue that he is too much the fanboy to have the distance necessary to be sufficiently critical of his subjects. Indeed, when it comes to Courtney Love, who is becoming Rush Limbaugh-like in her apparent behavior and predilections, DeRogatis falls at her feet, finding any excuse not to find fault (e.g., in a piece on Hole’s second album, Live Through This, he writes, “As long as you can do something good with a formula, why not use it?”, and one would assume that otherwise formulaic performers would be appropriately chastised; he quotes Love as explaining that if she and Kurt had lived like rich people “Who were flying on Lear jets, who were drinking fine wines, who were feeling great fabrics, who knew what Ming was, and fine art, and thread count, things might have been different,” without pointing out how totally asinine that is).
And ex-Chicago girl Liz Phair seems to have him under her seductive spell, as well: he writes, “Phair does have serious things to say on Exile in Guyville,” then he quotes lyrics that include terminal rhymes including “two/you,” “fame/flame,” “me/free.” Hallmark is often more profound.* This is not to say that DeRogatis always has his heads turned by feminine wiles: on the subject of the music of riot grrrls he opines, “I’m a rock critic. . .laudable though their politics may have been, their brand of punk rock simply sucked moose cock.” (As for that metaphor: He did live in Minnesota for a while.)
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and others whose careers were more fleeting are among those who DeRogatis writes about. One thing that is a bit troubling is his introductory remark that while he did modify some pieces—”some correcting, a bit of rewriting, and a touch of synthesizing”—he doesn’t indicate just which pieces were modified so his claim that “there has been absolutely no revisionism” is less solid than it might otherwise seem. Presumably a piece that was modified was an article that ostensibly appeared in the Sun-Times about Woodstock ’94: it is unlikely that the copy desk at that tabloid allows such excremental observations as of the “literal rivers of shit running through the campgrounds” and “I spied a girl sitting waist-deep in a puddle, bathing in the filthy, shit-tainted water.” Writing about rock isn’t always a sanitary undertaking.
Although DeRogatis admires Lester Bangs and has written a solid biography of the man, it is fairly clear that the types of venues that Bangs contributed to were far different than those that DeRogatis works for. Consequently, the battle axe and bludgeon that Bangs wielded with an essayistic flair and grace give way to something less debilitating and imaginative in the pieces collected between softcover covers.
Agree with him or not, Milk It! is certainly worthwhile from the standpoint of it being a collection of he-was-there documents from the period that still resonates. And it certainly is a whole lot more handy than shuffling through a stack of newspapers or Rolling Stones.
That’s what people often say.
So maybe with a little luck
Fair Liz Phair I’ll get to—meet for a brisk game of cribbage.