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

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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 ...

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1998 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. Light Shelfwear to D/J, Book appears new & unread. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 528 p. Audience: General/trade.

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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
Troy Patterson
His introductory asides aside, Christgau tempts comparison to Pauline Kael. . . -- Entertainment Weekly
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
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Christgau is Senior Editor and Chief Music Critic at the Village Voice.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: My Favorite Waste of Time 1
1 Where "Rock and Roll" Began 15
Across the Great Divide: Nat King Cole 17
Let's Call the Whole Thing Pop: George Gershwin 22
The Complete Work of B. B. King 27
The Blank Slate: George Jones 32
Black Face, Whose Voice? Emmett Miller 38
Brown Eyed Handsome Rock and Roller: Chuck Berry 42
Elvis in Literature: Elvis Presley 51
2 Where "Rock" Began 59
Spontaneity by the Seat of the Pants: Janis Joplin 61
Our First Bohemians: The Rolling Stones 69
God Grows Up: Eric Clapton 84
Genius Dumb: Led Zeppelin 89
Jimi Plays History: Jimi Hendrix 91
Out of This World: Aretha Franklin 100
Nothing to Say but Everything, or, As Far as He Could Go: John Lennon 104
Why the Beatles Broke Up 125
James Brown's Great Expectations 126
3 Snatched from the Maw of Commerce 133
Stevie Wonder Is All Things to All People 135
A Boogie Band that Loves the Governor (Boo Boo Boo): Lynyrd Skynyrd 144
Turn On, Drop In, Find Out: The Grateful Dead 150
Music for Smart People: Randy Newman 154
Time Waits for No One: Richard Thompson 163
Father Alone Farther Along: Loudon Wainwright III 168
Born to Be Mature: Bonnie Raitt 172
Two Rock and Rollers Who Won't Change the World: Pete Fowler/Andy Fairweather Low 177
4 Smashing the State-of-the-Art 185
(If I'm Acting Like a King That's Because) I'm a Human Being: New York Dolls 187
Patti Smith Pisses in a Vanguard 201
The Clash See America Second 211
The Great Punk Dandy at the Peppermint Lounge: Richard Hell 222
Pere Ubu's Right To Choose 226
Forever Rotten: The Sex Pistols 229
5 Kings of Rhythm 235
Sylvester Is a Star 237
Triumph of the Trifle: Ray Parker, Jr. 242
Working the Crowd: Bruce Springsteen/Michael Jackson 246
Give Him Liberty or Give Him Death: Prince 255
Magnificent Seven: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five 260
The Beastie Boys Go Too Far 264
Looking for the Perfect Public Enemy 268
An Autodidact's History of KRS-One 275
6 Between Punk and a Pop Place 289
A Voyage to Liliput 291
Simple Because He's Simple: Marshall Crenshaw 296
Aching to Become: The Replacements 301
Living Legends: The B-52's 305
Sonic Youth Sell Out 308
Curse of the Mekons 313
7 They Are the World 319
West Africa Not Africa, Europe Not the World: Salif Keita/Youssou N'Dour 321
The Black Sea Giant and the Lion Queens: Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens 326
The Goat-God in History: The Master Musicians of Jajouka 329
A Goat-God in Exile: (Cheb) Khaled 333
The Iron Curtain at Midnight: Pulnoc 338
Culture Hero: Mzwakhe Mbuli 343
8 Careers in Iconicity 349
Madonnathinking Madonnabout Madonnamusic 351
Garth Brooks, Michael Bolton, Barney, and You: Garth Brooks 358
Bette Midler Sings ... Everything 365
Lou Reed, Average Guy 370
What Are Realities of Prince Deal? Hell, What Is Reality? 376
Making a Spectacle of Herself: Janet Jackson 381
9 Careers in Semipopularity 389
Selling the Dirt to Pay the Band: Freedy Johnston 391
Are We Not Girls? We Are L7! 396
Lucinda Williams's Reasonable Demands 401
The Ballad of Polly Jean Harvey: P. J. Harvey 406
Two Backsliders: Iris DeMent/Sam Phillips 415
On the Real Side: Warren G/Coolio 420
Art-Rock You Can Dance To: D. J. Shadow 426
Honk if You Love Honking: James Carter 430
Unlikely Samba: Arto Lindsay 434
Stereolad: Pavement 439
Grrrowing Grrrls: Sleater-Kinney 443
Blown Away: Nirvana 447
10 Modern Maturity 453
The Goduncle: George Clinton 455
Pop Songs to God: Al Green 462
Wasted on the Young: Neil Young 468
Credits 477
Index 479
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