Archive for John Rockwell

On Pitchfork, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s “Fishing for Fishies,”and the Death of Rock Criticism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard were last heard from at the very end of 2017 when they just barely got Gumboat Soup , their fifth album of that strenuous year, out the door. It was pretty good, and so were stretches of the previous four recs that year, but I doubt that, ten years hence, any of us will play any of those albums from start to finish.

Yesterday King Gizzard returned with Fishing for Fishies – a fun, occasionally beautiful, sometimes even profound album built around blues forms including a repeating boogie motif. For a ridiculously prolific band to have slowed down and recorded an album constructed upon a foundation of well-considered songs — and not just treat us to their let-the-tapes-roll jams — was cause for celebration.

Those morons at Pitchfork rated it a 4.8 and slagged the entire effort.

There’s a lot to say about this, but let’s start here. We viewed this event — Pitchfork, which has become the online reviewer of record, showing off their faux sophistication by condemning an effort by a cult band to produce a commercially viable, long-lasting album; sneering at a career move that would see the band seeking to be considered as something other than astonishing, amusing freaks whose mark is laid by stunts — as symbolic of the sorry state of rock criticism in Annos Domini 2019.

Time was when rock criticism, as a form of writing, was as exciting as the fiction writing of its day, as important as the non-fiction novel, the New Journalism. When Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer or John Mendelsohn could write a review or a feature with prose every bit as wild and exciting as the Flamin’ Groovies, Little Feat or T. Rex album they were loving or hating. When in the New York Times, John Rockwell or Robert Palmer were expanding our horizons by telling us how the nexus between Philip Glass and Brian Eno heralded a deepening of rock’s importance or how last night’s show at CBGB by Talking Heads was the most exciting development since Television played there the month before. When Byron Coley in New York Rocker or Roy Trakin in the Soho Weekly News, when Tom Carson in the Voice or Charles Shaar Murray in NME alerted us to a band that would change our lives.

We admit that when we wrote for New York Rocker, Soho News, the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, we attempted to combine both critical insight with lively prose, because we knew that rock writing was as much a performance art as the music that gripped our soul.

There are a number of reasons why rock writing these days is an arid landscape. The first is the decline of the New York Times; under Jon Pareles and his editors, they moved away from their essential role in telling us what bands in New York City were contributing to the culture. I mean, Brooklyn as a locus of bands circa 2008-2019 is as worthy a “scene” — to use a word editor Bob Christgau used to strip from my prose — to cover as the Summer of Love in San Francisco or the punk era in Lower Manhattan and London. And yet the Paper of Record has virtually ignored it. (In the breach arose Brooklyn Vegan, but I can’t name a single writer from that site, and I used to know every one of the NYT’s stable of writers.) Instead the Times provides the occasional listicle in its worthless Sunday Arts and Leisure section, usually letting us know about the catholic tastes of its writers, but never actually letting them, you know, write.

For a while there, Spin was an important publication, but its decline under the soap opera that was Bob Guccione Jr. unfortunately limited its tenure. Fortunately, from the consistently excellent, if limited, British magazine Uncut we have learned about dozens of bands we might otherwise never have discovered, and while they tend to grant every album they review a minimum rating of 7 out of 10 — a sort of Lake Woebegone “everyone is special” lack of critical seriousness — at least, over the past decade, they’ve alerted us to, oh, only Kelley Stoltz, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, etc.

Which brings us to Pitchfork. Every album review they publish is as dry as a Mojave declivity. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a single sentence contained therein. They review rock’n’roll albums with less passion than Car and Driver forced to compare the latest minivans.

And so: the nadir of rock writing is their punishing King Gizzard & the Lizard for the sin of trying to actually produce a single album that has meaning, rather than simply recording, live-to-tape, their studio all-nighters.

The decline of rock criticism is a little understood portent of the decline of Western Civ, but if you want to know where it has all gone wrong, read Pitchfork and despair.

The Decline And Fall of New York Times Rock Writing

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 6, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Once upon a time, John Rockwell of The New York Times had power, and he used it brilliantly.  When he wandered down some obscure Downtown alley and found, say, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, when he used his taste-maker’s wand to deem Ms. Lunch important enough to write about, we took notice.  Wow, Lydia, way to go. Rockwell may only have one eye  but his good eye was sharp, his ears pricked, his mind open.  And the guy could write.  I would venture that in his own way, Rockwell was as important a player in our understanding that the Eno-Talking Heads nexus was of world-historical importance as, say, Clement Greenburg was in ensuring Jackson Pollack was taken seriously, or John Swarovski in getting us to understand the meaning of Stephen Shore’s arrival as a photographer.

When Robert Palmer ruled the roost, you had someone who as authentically could tell you about the Jelly Roll Kings playing in a Helena, Arkansas juke joint as he could review Bowie’s new phase.  He could wax passionately about Ornette Colman, The Rolling Stones, or Iggy Pop.  When he wrote, such was our respect that we stepped back to contemplate what he was saying, which sometimes became apparent on more than one level.

That was then. For the past twenty years, the Times has been Pareles-ized, its power diminished by the one-man wrecking ball known as Jon Pareles.  Pareles is the anti-Christgau.  Whereas everything Bob writes is well crafted, and when he offers one of his real raves, you have to give the artist well-earned props.  But Pareles is a truly horrible writer, a man who could render ecstasy on a stage into cardboard prose, filled with faux-learned music terms.  And I’m afraid he’s had the effect of ruining the writing of all around him.

Sure, we liked Ann Powers, and miss Kristine McKenna, and even Neal Strauss had his day.  But then recently, when we read Ben Ratliff pompously harumph about the Stones’ reissue, “I find Exile good, not great,” we realized: these days, the Times’ entire batch of rock critics produce irremediable mush.  Take Nate Chinen’s write-up today of the new Deer Tick album: “These are bright, durable songs, and Mr. McCauley liberates them from any telltale sign of artifice, whether he’s caressing them alone or roughing them up with his band mates, who manage a credible honkey-tonk snarl.”

Oh, puh-leeze.

Dear Mr. Chinen, and Mr. Ratliff, and your colleagues, too: you must leave the Times at once and not return Jon Pareles’ phone calls or email, if you have any prayer of rediscovering that rock’n’roll music is about passion, and feeling, and what moves the listener, not to mention the artist.

It is not to be studied in a dusty library.  It is about sweat, and gyrations, and occasionally about fearfully walking through back alleys, or into juke joints in Arkansas, on the off chance you’ll discover something that moves you.  Being a rock critic is not the same thing as being an actuary in an insurance company, no matter what Jon Pareles says.

Much has been written about the decline and fall of journalism.  It is genuinely sad to say that if you dropped the entire print run of the Times Arts and Leisure section off the Staten Island Ferry, the world of rock music would actually be a better place.

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