Having read a rave review in Gary Giddins’s excellent book Natural Selection, I bought a copy of Grown Up All Wrong by Robert Christgau, who is the senior music critic at the Village Voice. This is a collection of some of his pieces over the past several years. I am thoroughly enjoying it, although I am not familiar with all of the artists he writes about, or indeed all the words he uses. I was well and truly cowed by the time I was half-way through the introduction. He can write like an angel, but he can also deliver up stuff like this:
“… over the years I’ve been impressed by what a burden counterhegemonic expectations impose in a world where the most consciously and cannily political culture – be it Bertolt Brecht or Cindy Sherman, Linton Kwesi Johnson or Bruce Springsteen – remains tragically if not ridiculously superstructural.”
Yikes. Can’t wait to see what he has to say about the Clash.
Bringing this sort of ferocious intellectualism to bear on rock and hip-hop music reminds me of the Modern Review, a not terribly-lamented rag which was published in the UK by Julie Burchill and Toby Young back in the 90s. Its tagline was, I believe, “low-brow culture for high-brows”, and it relished applying the critical pretensions of the postmodern intellectual elite to bad pop music, trashy movies, and airport paperbacks. I always enjoyed it, although the ubiquitous references to Michel Foucault had me running for cover. In the end, though, the Modern Review was really just an elaborate joke (I think). I have a feeling Christgau means every word of it.