Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Book Reports
A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading

Hardcover, [May 3] 2019, Duke University Press, 416 pages, $104.95.
Paperback, [May 3] 2019, Duke University Press, 416 pages, $28.95, ISBN 978-1-4780-0030-3.


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

"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

Table of Contents

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

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