Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Someone named Guernica suggests a campaign to get Robert Christgau into the Rock Hall.

I’m down with that.

Cooperstown has room for play-by-play announcers. And that makes sense. A play-by-play announcer is an artist, a master story teller and poet who composes on the fly (so to speak) and whose job disallows stumbletonguetiedmumblebumming. A master of speech and of the lore of the sport.

A daily rock-pop critic is a musical equivalent -- and as it happens the Rock Hall does induct non-musicians -- I just looked it up after writing my opening paragraph!

Few people have been doing the rock-pop play-by-play longer or better than Christgau. I almost always enjoy reading him. His essay collection Grown Up All Wrong is one of the few such books I’ve read straight through. He listens with his whole self. Very ideological -- good left-liberal humanistic hedonism. And the hedonism disdains purism -- the purism of rock ideology especially, even though rock and roll is what he loves best (though I sometimes suspects he loves jazz even more). And his writing moves.

Now, the Rock Hall is silly. Rock and roll isn’t a sport -- it’s not just about statistics and wins and losses, there always has to be a story, and the story has to be Cool somehow. It can’t just be about music and it can’t just be about sales -- at least, that’s what the Rock Hall says. I’ve been to the Rock Hall. I enjoyed seeing Jimi Hendrix’s leather fringe jacket -- but not as much as I enjoyed seeing the Bronte sisters’ tiny gloves at the Morgan Library in New York once. The effluvia of the working life of recent celebrities -- it’s cool. But it’s still so close, it doesn’t excite me much. So, I’m not really a fan of the Rock Hall, but it would be a kick in the pants to see Christgau vindicated after having been fired “for taste” by the new owners of his main employer -- and besides, if any critic deserves it, he does. Does anybody even come close for length and breadth of coverage?

Christgau wouldn’t remember me, but I did meet him briefly once, and he was gracious, and we exchanged emails once, and he was very kind. He seems like a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. I like him immensely. I may complain hereabouts about this thing or that thing he may have said, but who cares -- arguing . . . arguing is part of life. I’m sure he wouldn’t disagree. Or maybe he would! And we could argue about it!

How vain and foolish for the “Village Voice” to have fired him. They may hire some good writers, but readers develop relationships -- usually one-sided -- with writers over time, and a regular columnist becomes something of a friend; readers become attached to favorite writers, and root for them to do well, and look forward to what they’ll do next. Even if the greatest writer in the world were to take Christgau’s place tomorrow, it would take her or him many years to create a similar relationship with readers. And readers value those relationships.

If you don’t know Christgau’s stuff, here’s a whole lot of it. If rockpop criticism were a sport, Christgau’s stats would blow everybody else away. He’s like McDonald’s, except not mass-produced or formulaic -- Over 12,000 reviewed!

Robert Christgau for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Pass it on.
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