Saturday, January 10, 2009

More Christgau: What did she say?

I stumbled across this review and it just cracked me up:

Pieces of the Sky [Reprise, 1974]
Abetted by Brian Ahern, who would have been wise to add some Anne Murray schlock, Harris shows off a pristine earnestness that has nothing to do with what is most likable about country music and everything to do with what is most suspect in "folk." Presumably, Gram Parsons was tough enough to discourage this tendency or play against it, but as a solo mannerism it doesn't even ensure clear enunciation: I swear the chorus of the best song here sounds like it begins: "I will rub my asshole/In the bosom of Abraham." C+
This is a great song, but after reading Christgau's review you may never hear it the same way again...

Emmylou Harris - Boulder To Birmingham (buy album)

18 comments:

Jordy said...

Christgau is a total dickhead, not to mention old and irrelevant. At least Bangs had the self-respect to die alongside the music he loved so deeply.

Listening to/reading Christgau's reviews of stuff like Sonic Youth and hip-hop albums is like hearing someone's death rattle. Pathetic.

Paul said...

I think it's funny.

HBF said...

funny, yes ..... but in a sad way

Greg said...

You are right: I won't listen to that version the same way again.

Anonymous said...

Christgau's "relevance" notwithstanding, I find the first poster's age-ism shocking and contrary to what I would imagine most members of a music-loving community would wish: Stay young or die.

Thanks all the same, but I intend to continue listening, and responding vocally, to pop music, whether it's Emmylou Harris, Sonic Youth, or the Fleet Foxes for as long as I feel like it.

Christgau's sins are many, but they have remained pretty much the same since the sixties (read the Consumer Guide in toto): pedantry combined with hipster slang leading to a whassat? response that makes "the Dean" seem preeningly "groovy."

Paul said...

I think it's funny in a funny way.

Anonymous said...

No doubt about it - I'll never be able to hear that song the same way ever again. Worse yet, I can't stop listening to it now.

Paul said...

Anon at 7:19 -

A good treatment option is to look up the correct lyrics on line and read a long with Emmylou as she sings through that part.

It helped me get through the song again.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Anne Murray schlock? I guess that's why we don't all know Christgau as Dr. Rock. The reference to Anne reminds me to ask why Setting the Woods on Fire has not written about Anne Murray.

Paul said...

I have to admit ignorance on Anne Murray (other than knowing who she is and having some vague memories of her songs from the AM radio in the 1970s). I literally don't know what I'm missing.

flasputnik said...

Christgau was right about one thing.
She's a folkie. It took a few years after the release of this LP for her to find a more confident country voice. As for those lyrics...I'm still laughing.

Anonymous said...

Ageism? In rock 'n' roll? Oh, the horror! Though citing Sonic Youth makes me wonder how close Jordy is to joining us on the receiving end...btw, it's a good thing I clicked on that link, because my immediate assumption was that he was a Thomas Sowell fan, which isn't generally a good sign.

Anonymous said...

It's not Christgau's age that's the problem but his pompous belief that that no music can ever dream to surpass the holy grail of classic rock records of his younger days. So many reviews contain derisory comments on the grounds that 'There's a touch of Byrdsian guitar here or a touch of
Roger Daltrey there'. So what? If you look hard enough at the Ceatles, Stones and Gram Parsons you'll find plenty of influences. Music evolves and forever moves forward and Christgau's inability to accept that is his biggest downfall as a critic. Take John Peel(sadly missed), a much loved DJ in the UK who was forever championing new music and never stopped challenging his audience whilst always managing to keep a heart for his old favourites like 'Teenage Kicks' by the Undertones.

Paul said...

I think you guys are a little too hard on critics. There's nothing wrong with saying "a touch of Byrds" guitar. One of the points is to tie newer things back to the past references.

I don't think Christgau ever claimed that The Beatles, The Stones, or Gram Parsons of made things up fresh without reference to earlier artists. Neither do the new acts. (Although you could make a better argument for The Beatles than just about any other band.)

For an old guy, he's pretty cool. It's probably the best any of us could hope for at his advanced age.

Finally, I want my rock critics (and my rock stars, for that matter) to be pompous. It's more fun that way.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with citing influences, but the trouble with Christgau is that he routinely judges records on the influences he spots, often missing the point
entirely. Pomposity can be an endearing quality, a la Iggy Pop. But for every Iggy Pop there's at least 100 Johnny Borrell's.

Anonymous said...

I'm the "anoymous" who said "Ageism in rock'n'roll" (actually I'm "godoggo," which I don't feel like using sometimes, but there are getting to be too many anoymice here)...

I think a lot of critics are too dependent of citing influences. It can be useful or a crutch, a way of talking about music without saying antything about it.

As for Cristgau, as I mentioned, I know if mainly from his reviews in Musician magazine back in the day, my few extent copies of I still like to look at sometimes whilst sitting on the pot (something about well-thumbed old magazines helps keep me regular), and he struck me as a pretty generic rockcrit, aside from whatever fogyish tendencies he may have developed...if anybody can cite something insightful he's written, it's possible that I'll take the time to check it out. Speaking of Bangs, I imagine that if he were alive he'd be into something interesting, but that's because he had enough sense to get a bit sick of rock-n-roll at the age-appropriate time to do so.

Anonymous said...

Christgau isn't about praising or criticizing any musician or band. Christgau is about writing incoherent crap that (he thinks) makes Christgau sound superior to any musician or band. That's why he's an asshole.

Anonymous said...

A critic's job is not to "tolerate" music. A critic analyzes and then critiques the work of a musician. If Christgau comes off as an asshole, it was probably intended. That's just his style of writing. It's polemical.

Because musical taste is so subjective, there's really nothing you can say against Christau except you don't like his particular aesthetic. I think his critiques and tastes have been pretty consistent over the years, which to me constitutes a good critic.