Grown Up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists from Vaudeville to Techno

Grown Up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists from Vaudeville to Techno

by Robert Christgau
     
 

Two generations of American music lovers have grown up listening with Robert Christgau, attuned to his inimitable blend of judgment, acuity, passion, erudition, wit, and caveat emptor. His writings, collected here, constitute a virtual encyclopedia of popular music over the past fifty years. Whether honoring the originators of rock and roll, celebrating

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Overview

Two generations of American music lovers have grown up listening with Robert Christgau, attuned to his inimitable blend of judgment, acuity, passion, erudition, wit, and caveat emptor. His writings, collected here, constitute a virtual encyclopedia of popular music over the past fifty years. Whether honoring the originators of rock and roll, celebrating established artists, or spreading the word about newer ones, the book is pure enjoyment, a pleasure that takes its cues from the sounds it chronicles.

A critical compendium of points of interest in American popular music and its far-flung diaspora, this book ranges from the 1950s singer-songwriter tradition through hip-hop, alternative, and beyond. With unfailing style and grace, Christgau negotiates the straits of great music and thorny politics, as in the cases of Public Enemy, blackface artist Emmett Miller, KRS-One, the Beastie Boys, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He illuminates legends from pop music and the beginnings of rock and roll—George Gershwin, Nat King Cole, B. B. King, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley—and looks at the subtle transition to just plain "rock" in the music of Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and others. He praises the endless vitality of Al Green, George Clinton, and Neil Young. And from the Rolling Stones to Sonic Youth to Nirvana, from Bette Midler to Michael Jackson to DJ Shadow, he shows how money calls the tune in careers that aren't necessarily compromised by their intercourse with commerce.

Rock and punk and hip-hop, pop and world beat: this is the music of the second half of the twentieth century, skillfully framed in the work of a writer whose reach, insight, and perfect pitch make him one of the major cultural critics of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Laura Jamison
...[W]henever he pauses to offer a close reading of music, the results invariably satisfy.
New York Times Book Review
Troy Patterson
His introductory asides aside, Christgau tempts comparison to Pauline Kael. . . —Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Christgau's columns and reviews at the Village Voice and elsewhere over the last three decades helped create the casually knowing, aggressively personal style of an entire generation of professional rock critics. This volume collects columns and reviews of gigs and records from about 1972 to 1997 (with some early work beefed up or revised). Christgau's idiosyncratic, often information-rich essays range from prerock pop (Nat King Cole) to classic rock (Hendrix), funk (George Clinton), punk (the Clash), postpunk (Switzerland's LiLiPUT), postpostpunk (the Mekons), Afrobeat (Mzwakhe Mbuli) and chart superstars (Garth Brooks). More so than his friend and peer Greil Marcus, Christgau can be relentlessly glib, maddeningly gossipy, far too focused on what other critics have said or addicted to lit-crit-lite: "Freebird" is "a perfect example of technopastoral counterculture transcendence." (The introduction shows Christgau at his self-celebrating worst: "From early on I saw pop as class warfare.") What he says about Patti Smith is as true of his own work: it "recalls a time when rock and roll was so conducive to mythic fantasies that pretensions were cutting into its artistic potential." But his phrasemaking efforts can pay off: the New York Dolls--Christgau's all-time favorite band--"refused to pay their dues, so we had to pay instead." At his best, he's showing off while having fun, while telling readers what he thinks about the work he likes--the first job of all critics. These essays provide so much raw information, and show so much listening-in-action, that readers and fans should--sometimes-- forgive both the academese and the inside baseball. (Nov.)
Laura Jamison
...[W]henever he pauses to offer a close reading of music, the results invariably satisfy. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Village Voice rock critic Christgau finally achieves life between hardcovers (although the paperback original collections of his justly famous columns have long been in print) with this wildly variegated assortment of profiles. A book that skips directly from Elvis to Janis is clearly not intended to be a history of rock and roll, and Christgau makes no effort to pretend otherwise. Rather, the collection is a book of his enthusiasms, a cornucopia that allows him to include such odd-artists-out as the women's rock band L7 and the blackface yodeler Emmett Miller. Christgau's idiosyncratic selection omits a lot of key figures, and some of the volume's inclusions—jazz sax player James Carter, country poseur Garth Brooks—are dispensable. Christgau is rightly revered for his wide-ranging taste and astonishing ability to make totally wacked-out connections. Who else would link Chuck Berry to post-punk lesbians Sleater-Kinney and make it work? Of course, the downside to that particular habit, which runs throughout Christgau's oeuvre, not just this volume, is that when the connection is less apparent, the reference becomes alarmingly private, not to say downright abstruse. For a guy who claims to eschew musicological analysis, he is disarmingly adept at tossing in just the right detail to make a point; hence one of the only Voice arts regulars who doesn't seem intoxicated by the brilliance of his own prose style. As a result, this is a highly entertaining book to dip into at random. On the other hand, reading it in extended doses is like gorging on fudge. All of Christgau's considerable strengths and weaknesses are on display.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674443181
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
11/28/1998
Pages:
512
Product dimensions:
6.49(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.53(d)

What People are saying about this

Wiity, insightful, savvy, and unafraid to bash pretenders and hangers-on, [Christgau] is usually right on target with his criticism…Christgau gives well-reasoned, often provocative insights into all his subjects, from Elvis Presley to the Clash, Patti Smith and Lou Reed to Nirvana, and at book's end, his Bog Three of George Clinton, Al Green, and Neil Young. To his credit, he's also chosen to scrutinize some fascinating lesser-knowns of twentieth-century rock like Andy Fairweather-Low, Freddy Johnson, Marshall Crenshaw, and Loudon Wainwright III. If you're serious about rock-n-roll, you can't do better than pay close attention to Christgau's musings here.

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