Writing the Record

Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism

DEVON POWERS
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk8w9
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  • Book Info
    Writing the Record
    Book Description:

    During the mid1960s, a small group of young journalists made it their mission to write about popular music, especially rock, as something worthy of serious intellectual scrutiny. Their efforts not only transformed the perspective on the era’s music but revolutionized how Americans have come to think, talk, and write about popular music ever since. In Writing the Record, Devon Powers explores this shift by focusing on The Village Voice, a key publication in the rise of rock criticism. Revisiting the work of early pop critics such as Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau, Powers shows how they stood at the front lines of the mass culture debates, challenging old assumptions and hierarchies and offering pioneering political and social critiques of the music. Part of a collegeeducated generation of journalists, Voice critics explored connections between rock and contemporary intellectual trends such as postmodernism, identity politics, and critical theory. In so doing, they became important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture that would emerge during the 1970s. Drawing on archival materials, interviews, and insights from media and cultural studies, Powers not only narrates a story that has been long overlooked but also argues that pop music criticism has been an important channel for the expression of public intellectualism. This is a history that is particularly relevant today, given the challenges faced by criticism of all stripes in our current media environment. Powers makes the case for the value of wellinformed cultural criticism in an age when it is often suggested that “everyone is a critic.”

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-263-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Criticism
    (pp. 1-22)

    The last time I saw Ellen Willis was in the late spring of 2006, when we met to discuss my dissertation, a project I would later revise into this book. Now, I can only remember snippets of our encounter. Out of respect for the graduate students on strike as New York University’s administration blocked their efforts to unionize, she insisted we meet off campus, choosing a coffee shop on LaGuardia Place in the Village. I cautiously asked her what she thought about Seymour Krim, a Beat who wrote for theVoicein the ’50s and had lately become an obsession...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Village
    (pp. 23-42)

    On October 30, 1955, theNew York Timesannounced to the rest of the city word of a new downtown newspaper. Called theVillage Voice,it printed its first issue on October 26 and sold for five cents every Wednesday at Lower Manhattan vendors. Editor Dan Wolf and publisher Ed Fancher intended to make their paper Village-centric not just in distribution. Localism also governed its choice of writers—as Wolf put it, the neighborhood teemed with “so many capable people who are ready and willing to contribute.”¹

    Timescolumnist Harvey Breit used that day’s installment of In and Out of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Pop
    (pp. 43-73)

    Over the course of Goldstein’s polemic, his tone grew more urgent—one might even say incensed. “We learn to tell Dostoevski from Spillane, but we know nothing about the flicks,” he wrote. “We learn to tell Rembrandt from Keane, but we know nothing about advertising.” Here, in the fourth edition of his newVillage Voicecolumn Pop Eye, Goldstein’s argument crescendoed toward the neglect of music. After outlining the sonic and stylistic differences between genres within the new popular music, the author charged:

    We learn to deal with classical music and legitimate theatre but we know nothing about the sights...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Hype
    (pp. 74-97)

    The above is an excerpt from Richard Goldstein’s “Giraffe Hunters,” a piece he wrote toward the end of 1966. Its graphic imagery portended what would be the overwhelming theme of his writing as his tenure at theVoicecame to a close: the industry’s violent, dramatic capture of the spirit of rock. Coming just months after his column’s enthusiastic beginning, “Giraffe Hunters” heaves with both resignation and fear. With little to hope for, Goldstein watched in disgust as hungering ravagers devoured the music he loved.

    The hunters sought more than just music; Goldstein himself had become prey. As the quality...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Identity
    (pp. 98-122)

    TheVoicecritics who wrote into 1969 and beyond continued to question the efficacy of a rock-fueled revolution—a debate deeply intertwined with concerns over whether rock culture was losing its momentum, cogency, and meaning. Christgau professed his ambivalence in his column Rock & Roll &, writing “Rock and roll . . . is going to revolutionize the world,” before qualifying it with a glib “Well, not exactly.”¹ Lucian Truscott IV, a regular writer for Riffs, explained that recent experiences had been “leading me in one direction: away from rock,” but allowed that perhaps “rock has left me,” in part...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Mattering
    (pp. 123-136)

    The 1970s secured Christgau’s standing as one of rock criticism’s most perspicacious observers as well as its eagerest workhorse. As editor of theVoicemusic section, he steered the writing of numerous prominent critics; his tireless effort at the Consumer Guide, for a number of years printed in theVoiceas well asCreem,guaranteed that his writing style and taste preferences would mold countless other aspiring music journalists and connoisseurs. More than any other individual, it was Christgau who solidified the reputation of the post-’60sVoiceas the preeminent music writers’ paper and a launching pad for up-and-coming scribes,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 137-156)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 157-160)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-164)