Archive for Lester Bangs

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.

Bob Christgau’s 13,000 Record Reviews

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Thanks to a tweet from Jack Shafer, who knows a thing or two about brilliant curmudgeons, we came across this wonderful interview in the Nieman Reports with former Village Voice rock crit nonpareil Robert Christgau.  Christgau is not *just* a brilliant rock critic who, since the 1960s, has turned a clear eye and a finely chiseled pencil toward rock’n’roll music, he is also an editor who, over his long tenure at the Voice, edited dozens, if not hundreds of writers, improving the quality of their prose and their critical thinking.  We count ourselves fortunate to have written for Christgau, and have never known an editor who was so willing to challenge every word choice, so likely to take a gleaming scythe to cliche.  He was a somewhat frightening, incredibly committed, ultimately warm person under whose tutelage many a young writer improved his or her chops.

As a writer, Christgau is in a different league from other great rock critics of the age.  Seems to us, the best rock critics have come in one broad category or another.  There are writers, such as Lester Bangs or Byron Coley, who have imbued their writing about the music they love with a stylistic freedom that essentially matches the energy of the music, with verbal riffs and broken rules that are the equal of the best fiction stylists.  And then there are other, not necessarily more serious writers who do something every bit as important and thrilling: they apply their critical facilities and writing precision to taking the medium of rock’n’roll music seriously enough to write about it as an art form on a plane with the most important writing, or painting, or yeah, classical music.  Christgau is the latter, a man who is moved, essentially, to write about the music that stirs his soul, but with the seriousness and formalism he believes it deserves.  The Bangs and Coley approach is maybe more fun to read, and those who pull it off, or even try it, are certainly a dying breed, but the Christgau approach is thrilling in its own right because the prose is so carefully wrought, if you are a serious reader, or an aspiring writer, it produces chills up the spine.  Christgau could always convey his passion for the music, which is a lost art, if you are to measure the current state of rock criticism as the distance between the unfunny in-joke self-references and bad writing of the New York Times crew under Jon Pareles’ disastrous reign and the snarky showoffism of the Pitchfork writers, most of whom score a 2.8 on scale of whether they actually like rock’n’roll music.

In the interview, Christgau make some points we greatly enjoyed.  Below is a teaser.   If you want to get a sense of the man, go to the story and read it for yourself.

Can you talk a little bit about how age impacts your work? Rock ‘n’ roll is considered a young man’s game.

It’s not. An enormous number of really good records are being made by people over 50, 60 and even 70. Because it was once the music of youth, it is now the only popular music that I know of that’s ever really addressed aging as a major issue in one’s life, the only one. It’s not the music of youth. In fact, for various formal reasons, good records by people under 30 are becoming more and more unusual.

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