Rock Journalism Ain't Dead, It's Just < 141 Characters

If you are a music geek over the age of 25, the blogsphere has been a goldmine of opinions, minutiae, and information.

But despite all these online words — or maybe because of all these words — my bet is you probably do miss some of the great  music critics of your youth.

After all, times are tough for the elite rock journalist. The music magazine death list is formidable – – Blender, Ice, Circus, Melody Maker, No Depression, Harp, Musician, Vibe for starters.

While there is good music writing to be found in Rolling Stone, XXL, Spin, Mojo, The Big Takeover etc., and the occassional interesting profile in GQ, Esquire and the like, I find myself definitley missing my favorite music writers.

I like to follow a certain kind of writer — essentially someone who likes both the mainstream and the underground, and treats all comers with humorous skepticism balanced with a dollop of hope. Idealistic and snarky.  My all-time favorites include Lester Bangs, Rob Sheffield, Tom Carson, Paul Williams, Debra Rae Cohen, Craig Marks, & Robert Christgau.

In fact, I used to think of the Christgau record review as the ultimate haiku of the artform.

Here are some all time Christagu classics:

Leif Garrett: Leif Garrett  (Atlantic, 1977) This is not punk rock. And it isn’t Shaun Cassidy, either. GRADE: D

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones, 1978) The Stones’ best album since Exile on Main Street is also their easiest since Let It Bleed or before. They haven’t gone for a knockdown uptempo classic, a “Brown Sugar” or “Jumping Jack Flash”–just straight rock and roll unencumbered by horn sections or Billy Preston. Even Jagger takes a relatively direct approach, and if he retains any credibility for you after six years of dicking around, there should be no agonizing over whether you like this record, no waiting for tunes to kick in. Lyrically, there are some bad moments–especially on the title cut, which is too fucking indirect to suit me–but in general the abrasiveness seems personal, earned, unposed, and the vulnerability more genuine than ever. Also, the band is a real good one–especially the drummer.  GRADE: A

Grateful Dead: Blues for Allah (Grateful Dead, 1975) I’ve been hypersensitive to this band’s virtues for years. This time I find the arch aimlessness of their musical approach neurasthenic and their general muddleheadedness worthy of Yes or the Strawbs. GRADE C-

Joe Jackson: I’m the Man (A&M, 1979) Oh yeah? Then get the knack back. GARDE: C+

The Runaways: Queens of Noise (Mercury, 1977) I’ll tell you what kind of street rock and roll these bimbos make–when the title cut came on I thought I was hearing Evita twice in a row. Only I couldn’t figure out why the singer wasn’t in tune. GRADE: C

Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (Epic, 1979) In which fast-stepping Michael J. and quick-witted Quncy J. fashion the dance groove of the year. Michael’s vocabulary of grunts, squeals, hiccups, moans, and asides is a vivid reminder that he’s grown up, and the title tune suggests that maybe what makes Stevie Wonder (who contributes a good ballad) such an oddball isn’t his genius or even his blindness so much as the fact that since childhood his main contact with the real world has been on stage and in bed.  Grade: A

Paul McCartney: (Apple, 1973) Having decided that rock and roll was fun, a good enough idea within reason, he then decided that fun wasn’t so much sex and humor and high spirits as aimless whimsy, and here he finally achieves disaster with that idea. His new love ballad meanders hopelessly where “Yesterday” shifted enticingly, and his screaming Little Richard tribute now sounds like Dicky Do and the Don’ts. Quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rock and roller of the first rank–unless David Crosby counts. Grade D+

To me these Christgau Consumer Guide Reviews from the 70’s were some of the best music writing of the last 30-40 years. He was sometimes spot-on, sometimes dead wrong, but (almost) always highly entertaining.

Moreover, Christgau was WAY ahead of his time and even more impressively most of these reviews were 200 characters or less.

Which brings me to Twitter.

Had I not read Christgau as a kid, I  would never buy  Twitter as the catalyst to save rock journalism.

But, I think the journalist/humorist Rob Tannenbaum is onto something here in claiming Twitter as the force to, if not save rock journalism, then at the least reinvigorate it.

Tannenbaum spotlights the music journalism sensation known primarily to the twitterati as “@Discographies”.

Here’s the deal: @Discographies takes the Christgau record review methodology,  limits the form via twitter, and in a stroke of less-is-more genius applies it to artists full discographies. Full.

@Discographies’ identity remains mysterious. It matters not.

Take a look at the tweet for Madonna’s career:

Madonna: 1-4 “SWF seeks audience. Turn-ons: 5 edgeplay; 6 cuddling; 7,8 fake British accents; 9 Ché Guevara t-shirts; 10 disco; 11 botox.”

Or ponder Yoko Ono, Brian Eno, & Crosby, Stills and Nash:

Yoko Ono: 1-5 “She’s awful! She broke up the Beatles! She–” 6 “(Uh-oh.)” 7-8 “(Do we have to be nice to her now?)” 9-11 “She’s a genius!”

Brian Eno: 1-3,5 “Whatcha doin’, Professor?” “I’m inventing the future of music.” 4,6-24 “Now whatcha doin’?” “Inventing it again. Quietly.”

CSN(Y): 1-2 After reducing the 1960’s to feel-good mush…; 3-8 …they kept returning to the scene of the crime in garish Hawaiian shirts.

Read the full Rob Tannenbaum interview with @discographies here.

And if you don’t have the attention span for that, even Twitter can’t help you.