Tag Archives: Robert Christgau

Christgau vs. Internet Commenters

Love him or hate him, you’ve gotta enjoy watching Dean of American Rock Critics Robert Christgau descend into grouchy old manhood:

This is why I never read my comment threads at Rolling Stone and MSN. You want me to notice what you say, spend 44 cents. Snail-mail my gastropod. Still, the aggressive stupidity of these two comments exemplifies why I have a hard time getting misty-eyed about the inherent democracy of the online world. We know there are people with these prejudices reading us. We also know we’re making sense in clear and grammatical English, so fuck them.

The best part? That he’s right. Down with the idiocracy!

The Dean crams for his rock exams

A Month on the Town – 65-year-old critic Robert Christgau spent every night in June at a show: “The main reason I conceived this project, which many considered nuts, was that I wasn’t liking enough new guitar bands. So my professional purpose was to encounter young musicians in their natural habitat. But since the idea of going out is to have fun, I wasn’t rigid about this. In 30 days I caught all or most of 52 acts and bits of nine others.” You don’t have to like the Dean, but you’ve got to respect his work ethic.

Digging up Kurt Cobain

Kurt CobainIn an article in the recent Music Issue of the New Yorker, Robert Christgau reviews Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross, a new biography of Kurt Cobain. It sounds like it’s a pretty well-researched book and apparently the author had access to Cobain’s “drawings, journals, and numerous unsent letters.”

Christgau mainly praises the book, but he voices two complaints. First, Cross “inadvertently shortchanges” the music of Nirvana by concentrating too much on the life and history parts of the story. And second, it sounds like Cross might have worked a little too hard “augmenting the already plentiful evidence of Cobain’s attraction to stardom,” and didn’t spend enough time trying to figure out the alienated punk philosophy that states that mainstream = shit:

Unlike the indie-rock ideologues Cobain so admired, Cross doesn’t believe that rock’s aesthetic value stands in inverse proportion to its mass appeal. Neither do I, but his argument might have been sharpened if he’d spent more time with the opposition: people like Calvin Johnson, the doyen of indie rock in Olympia, Washington, where Cobain moved to live with his first serious girlfriend; Tobi Vail, the riot-grrrl theorist who became Cobain’s second girlfriend; Steve Albini, who produced “Nevermind” ‘s followup, the raw, cold, edgy “In Utero”; and Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, the owners of Nirvana’s first label, the Seattle-based Sub Pop.

Of course, everybody knows it’s not cool to want to be a rock star. You’ve got to create art because it’s just bursting out of you, and you can’t hold it inside anymore, right? Well, apparently that’s not how it was for Kurt Cobain. He actually practiced his guitar. A lot.

So I’m not sure what that really means to anybody. But it’s fairly obvious that he ended up hating being famous. He blew his own head off. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, right? Well, maybe the heroin had something to do with it too. “The official version of Cobain’s heroin addiction described it as off and on, spurred by chronic stomach pain,” writes Christgau. “Cross establishes that this story was a coverup. Cobain was a big-time junkie for all but a few stray weeks of his season in the public eye…”

I remember when I found out that Kurt Cobain was dead that I knew that everybody was going to end up blaming it on the drugs. But I was convinced it was the pressures of fame that did him in. That seemed a lot cooler to me when I was 22. More punk rock for sure. Taking a stand against the Man right up to the end. But now I’m not so sure. Both explanations (fame and/or drugs) seem pretty lame to me now. As the character Nate said in the season finale of “Six Feet Under,” people have to die to make life seem more important. Well, so what do we do with that?