Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Any Old Way You Choose It Book Cover


My sister once told me that I wrote best when I was most eager to understand the opinions of others, and like so many of her insights, that one has now found a place in my writing. I talk to everyone about music, and I'm always picking up something new. A complete set of acknowledgments would include all my friends and more than a few of my enemies. What follows is the tip of the iceberg.

Friends and relations first. My long-gone high-school buddy, John Garvin, provided me with at least two years of obsessive discussion, not to mention access to his issues of Cash Box. My sister, Georgia, was buying rock albums before I was--it was she more than anyone who communicated rock's new impact to me in 1965. Russell Carley taught me everything he knows about blues, country music, dancing, and growing up poor and white in the South. Bob Stanley introduced me to pop art and pop music and the rock and roll celebrity process, especially its visual aspects. Perry Brandston functions as my token adolescent. Wesley Goodman is always turning me on things I thought I already knew about. And that's enough.

I read a lot of rock criticism, and I absorb ideas from everyone, but I would like above all to thank my dear friend and cross-continental brother Greil Marcus, whose contribution to every stage of this book has been incalculable. After that, Richard Goldstein, my first ally and adversary, who not only shared enthusiasms but ended up giving me his job. Tom Smucker tosses me ideas he ought to be writing up himself. Vince Aletti is an inexhaustible fund of information and insight about soul music. Susan Lydon argues with me about Northern California and mass culture and inside-dopes me about musicians. Dave Marsh is a good writer, a good editor, and a good friend. Karin Berg sometimes seems to live for music and generously shares that life with me. And Lester Bangs, who I don't know very well, just writes a lot, for which I'm grateful.

Male writers have been stealing work from their female partners since long before Scott and Zelda, so I'd like to make that part of my debt as explicit as possible. All of my formative ideas about pop were at least as much Ellen Willis's as mine; they were developed over three and a half years of continual discussion with her. Her essay on Bob Dylan changed my whole perception of the relation between art and persona. Dominique Avery has musical instincts as sure as those of anyone I know, and her enthusiasm for rock and roll reintensified my own interest at a time when it might have flagged. Ellin Hirst understands the music in as much detail as any critic I know--a lot more than most. She read this entire book in manuscript and contributed to the essays on Smokey Robinson and the Rolling Stones while they were being written. Carola Dibbell has inspected every page of this book with me, sharpening my ideas and fussing over my language, winning fights. I don't know what I would have done without her--gone it alone, I guess, which is not a pleasant notion.

I would also like to thank my students at the California Institute of the Arts and Richmond College, especially Marcia Clendenen, Kevin McMahon, Terry Morgan, and Michael Shain; my editors, Byron Dobell and Don Erickson at Esquire, James Stoller and Diane Fisher at The Village Voice, and Joe Koenenn at Newsday; and Susan Stern, who offered her comments on the manuscript. Above all, I want to thank Harris Dienstfrey, who conceived this book with me and worked assiduously on every phase from selling the idea to reading the galleys. I've never known a better editor in my life.

Any Old Way You Choose It, 1973