Book Reports

A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: Published: May 2019

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies, Music

In this generous collection of book reviews and literary essays, legendary Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau showcases the passion that made him a critic—his love for the written word. Many selections address music, from blackface minstrelsy to punk and hip-hop, artists from Lead Belly to Patti Smith, and fellow critics from Ellen Willis and Lester Bangs to Nelson George and Jessica Hopper. But Book Reports also teases out the popular in the Bible and 1984 as well as pornography and science fiction, and analyzes at length the cultural theory of Raymond Williams, the detective novels of Walter Mosley, the history of bohemia, and the 2008 financial crisis. It establishes Christgau as not just the Dean of American Rock Critics, but one of America's most insightful cultural critics as well.


"[A] substantial collection of nearly 100 eclectic, thought-provoking, and idea-laden book reviews. . . . [Christgau's] range of topics is impressive, and his references are prolific. These sprightly, highly opinionated 'adventures of an autodidact' reveal Christgau to be a highly literate, astute, and discerning book critic." — Kirkus Reviews

"Christgau mostly writes on books by or about notable musicians, though he hits other cultural touchstones too, such as George Orwell’s 1984. It’s in these nonmusic pieces that Christgau is most successful, shifting focus from his encyclopedic music-industry knowledge to the nuances of language. His essay on books about the 2008 financial crisis is a highlight." — Publishers Weekly

"There are few critics working today with the life-long commitment, focus, and curiosity of Robert Christgau. Book Reports doesn't scan the over half-century of the man's work, and that's what makes it all the more impressive. He's still searching, still pulling volumes from the shelves, looking at new or old ideas, cracking open the spines of preconceived notions all in the service of taking just one more look before walking away with the promise of yet another return." — Christopher John Stephens, Popmatters

"For Christgau fans and anyone seeking thought-provoking musings on books and music." — Melissa Engleman, Library Journal

"One reads Christgau for Christgau as much as for the subject of his work." — Jeff Tamarkin, Mojo

"Though Christgau partisans have the most to gain from this collection, it’s also good for anyone looking for an accessible way into his extensive oeuvre." — Chad Comello, Booklist

"This is a man who reads more books in a year than many read in a decade (or even a lifetime), an appetite for words that knows few bounds in subject or genre. He takes all comers, high- and low-brow, applying his keen critical eye, honed over more than 50 years as a music journalist, to each. . . ." — Ian Gormely, Exclaim!

"Christgau is . . . one of America’s sharper public intellectuals of the past half century, and certainly one of its most influential—not to mention one of the better stylists in that cohort. Fun is a big part of why." — David Cantwell, The New Yorker

"Though not everyone will agree with Christgau’s views (this reader certainly did not), all readers will likely appreciate his style and approach and the depth of his knowledge about a broad range of popular music. Those curious about popular music may find Christgau's style aggressive at times, but that is exactly the point; Christgau pushes the reader to think. Seasoned readers will discover that Christgau questions authors in a way that encourages one to evaluate a book at a deeper level. In short, this is a great read for fans, critics, and scholars alike." — T. R. Harrison, Choice

“Robert Christgau, writing on books, is enthralling and energetic, and as persuasive and argument-sparking as he is on records. He sees them both as entrances into a thousand subject matters, but also as formal objects—that's to say, books. His stock is his comprehensive confidence, no matter the arena; so often, as declaring The Country and the City to be Raymond Williams's essential book—he's stunningly right. Book Reports made me glance at my shelf longingly where a run of compilations of his 'Consumer Guides: Books of the '70s, '80s, '90s' (and beyond) might sit, but alas. If we're not that lucky, we're lucky enough to have this generous compendium of his longer-form stuff.” — Jonathan Lethem

"You hope any book you read would be insightful, funny, rude, deeply researched, and filled with humanity. Well most books don't have those qualities, but all of Robert Christgau's book reviews do." — Nelson George

“Robert Christgau writes with an infectious energy and applies his unflagging intellectual curiosity to an unpredictable array of subjects. His critical sensibility is so developed that the book generates its own interest, as the reader will want to know how this sensibility plays itself out over the course of this unfailingly interesting book.” — Greil Marcus


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert Christgau wrote for and edited at The Village Voice from 1969 to 2006 and currently contributes a weekly record column at Noisey. His books include Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, also published by Duke University Press, and Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xiii
Introduction  1
I. Collectibles
The Informer: John Leonard's When the Kissing Had to Stop  11
Advertisements for Everybody Else: Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence  14
Democratic Vistas: Dave Hickey's Air Guitar  17
II. From Blackface Minstrelsy to Track-and-Hook
In Search of Jim Crow: Why Postmodern Minstrelsy Studies Matter  23
The Old Ethiopians at Home: Ken Emerson's Doo-Dah!  40
Before the Blues: David Wondrich's Stomp and Swerve  43
Rhythms of the Universe: Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music  46
Black Melting Pot: David B. Coplan's In Township Tonight!  49
Bwana-Acolyte in the Favor Bank: Banning Eyre's In Griot Time  56
In the Crucible of the Party: Charles and Angelilki Keil's Bright Balkan Morning  59
Defining the Folk: Benjamin Filene's Romancing the Folk  64
Folking Around: David Hajdu's Positively 4th Street  67
Punk Lives: Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me  70
Biography of a Corporation: Nelson George's Where Did Our Love Go?  72
Hip-Hop Faces the World: Steven Hager's Hip Hop; David Toop's The Rap Attack; and Nelson George, Sally Banes, Susan Flinker, and Patty Romanowski's Fresh  75
Making Out Like Gangsters: Preston Lauterbach's The Chitlin' Circuit, Dan Charnas's The Big Payback, Ice-T's Ice, and Tommy James's Me, the Mob, and Music  80
Money Isn't Everything: Fred Goodman's The Mansion on the Hill  86
Mapping the Earworm's Genome: John Seabrook's The Song Machine  89
III. Critical Practice
Beyond the Symphonic Quest: Susan McClary's Feminine Endings  97
All the Tune Family: Peter van der Merwe's Origins of the Popular Style  100
Bel Cantos: Henry Pleasant's The Great American Popular Singers  102
The Country and the City: Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City  109
Reflections of an Aging Rock Critic: Jon Landau's It's Too Late to Stop Now  115
Pioneer Days: Kevin Avery's Everything Is an Afterthought and Nona Willis Aronowitz's (ed.) Out of the Vinyl Deeps  117
Impolite Discourse: Jim Derogatis's Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer's A Whore Jus Like the Rest, and Nick Tosches's The Nick Torches Reader  123
Journalism and/or Criticism and/or Musicology and/or Sociology (and/or Writing): Simon Firth  129
Serious Music: Robert Walser's Running With the Devil  137
Fifteen Minutes of . . . : William York's Who's Who in Rock Music  139
The Fanzine Worldview, Alphabetized: Ira A. Robbins's (ed.) Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records  140
Awesome: Simon Reynolds's Blissed Out  143
Ingenuousness Lost: James Miller's Flowers in the Dustbin  147
Rock Criticism Lives: Jessica Hopper's The Fist Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic  151
Emo Meets Trayvon Martin: Hanif Abdurraquib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us  156
IV. Lives in Music Inside and Out
Great Book of Fire: Nick Tosches's Hellfire and Robert Palmer's Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks!  163
That Bad Man, Tough Old Huddie Ledbetter: Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell's The Life and Legend of Leadbelly  169
The Impenetrable Heroism of Sam Cooke: Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie  171
Bobby and Dave: Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One and Dave Van Ronk's The Mayor of MacDougal Street  178
Tell All: Ed Sanders's Fug You and Samuel R. Delany's The Motion of Light in Water  180
King of the Thrillseekers: Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp  185
Lives Saved, Lives Lost: Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl and Patti Smith's M Train  189
The Cynic and the Bloke: Rod Stewart's Rod: The Autobiography and Donald Fagen's Eminent Hipsters  194
His Own Shaman: RJ Smith's The One  199
Spotlight on the Queen: David Ritz's Respect  201
The Realist Thing You've Ever Seen: Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run  205
V. Fictions
Writing for the People: George Orwell's 1984  213
A Classic Illustrated: R. Crumb's The Book of Genesis  217
The Hippie Grows Older: Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout  222
Comic Gurdjieffianism You Can Masturbate To: Marco Vassis' Mind Blower  224
Porn Yesterday: Walter Kendrick's The Secret Museum  225
What Pretentious White Men Are Good For: Robert Coover's Gerald's Party  230
Impoverished How, Exactly? Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked into Doors  236
Sustainable Romance: Norman Rush's Mortals  237
Derrnig-Do Scrapping By: Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue  240
Futures by the Dozen: Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire  245
YA Poet of the Massa Woods: Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star  248
A Darker Shade of Noir: The Indefatigable Walter Mosley  252
VI. Bohemia Meets Hegemony
Épatant le Bourgeoisie: Jerrold Seigel's Bohemian Paris and T. J. Clark's The Painting of Modern Life  263
The Village People: Christine Stansell's American Moderns  278
A Slender Hope for Salvation: Charles Reich's The Greening of America  280
The Lumpenhippie Guru: Ed Sanders's The Family  285
Strait Are the Gates: Morris Dickstein's Gates of Eden  289
The Little Counterculture That Could: Carol Brightman's Sweet Chaos  293
The Pop-Boho Connection, Narrativized: Bernard F. Gendron's Between Montmarte and the Mudd Club  297
Cursed and Sainted Seekers of the Sexual Century: John Heidenry's What Wild Ecstasy  301
Bohemias Lost and Found: Ross Wetzsteon's Republic of Dreams, Richard Kostelanetz's SoHo, and Richard Lloyd's Neo-Bohemia  304
Autobiography of a Pain in the Neck: Meredith Maran's What It's Like to Live Now  309
VII. Culture Meets Capital
Twentieth Century Limited: Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts into Air  315
Dialectical Cricket: C. L. R. James's Beyond a Boundary  320
Radical Pluralist: Andrew Ross's No Respect  323
Inside the Prosex Wars: Nadine Strossen's Defending Pornography, Joanna Frueh's Eroctic Faculties, and Lara Kipnis's Bound and Gagged  327
Growing Up Kept Down: William Finnegan's Cold New World  331
Jesus Plus the Capitalist Order: Jeff Sharlet's The Family  334
Dark Night of the Quants: Ten Books About the Financial Crisis  338
They Bet Your Life: Four Books About Hedge Funds  345
Living in a Material World: Raymond Williams's Long Revolution  350
With a God on His Side: Terry Eagleton's Culture and the Death of God, Culture, and Materialism  369
My Friend Marshall: Marshall Berman's Modernism in the Streets  374
Index  381
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0030-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0011-2
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