Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Xgau Sez

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Robert Christgau. New ones will appear in batches every third Tuesday.

To ask your own question, please use this form.

March 05, 2019

[Q] Let's say you could put together a fantasy rock band the way some people put together fantasy sports teams. If you could pick your favorite rock singer, guitarist (or two if you like, for lead and for rhythm), bassist, drummer, and maybe keyboardist--without picking twice from the same band--what would Dean Christgau's resulting lineup be? (Also, since this is a fantasy, feel free to include deceased musicians here--we can always practice necromancy if need be.) -- Elijah, Sacramento

[A] I'm going to overlook the fundamental silliness of this question--bands are among other things about personal synergy, which is why supergroups suck--and also stretch your guidelines because, I admit, you got me musing anyway and I thought it would be fun to answer, only answer my way. I'll start with bass because it's easiest: James Jamerson. His great disciple McCartney probably ended up knowing more about harmony, but he's the man and always will be. Drummer: Charlie Watts on the one hand and Ziggy Modeliste on the other plus let us not forget Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, so to subsume them all I'll choose an LA studio drummer who cut his teeth in New Orleans: Earl Palmer. Lead singer: John Lennon, who will also play some rhythm guitar, only on rhythm guitar-plus we also want Lisa Walker, who by the way we'll also let sing, although not so as to get in the way of Carola's nominee, the fetching Etta James. Lead guitar: Robert Quine. And since you granted me keyboard space I'll pick a piano man who might also sing and even pick up a guitar now and then, quite possibly overwhelming all our other guitarists in the process. Fellow who goes by the moniker Prince.

[Q] I have been an avid reader of your guide since 1978, and you have been a great influence on my musical selections. Although I still have guilty pleasures like Thor, you hipped me to genius like P-Funk, John McLaughlin, Terry Riley, etc., whose CDs I avidly purchase at the discount/used bins. Question: approximately how many questions do you receive each week? I ask because I figure you probably get so many that you must pick and choose for Xgau Sez. -- Chris Schneider, Long Branch, New Jersey

[A] It's less now than at the beginning, but generally several a day, many of which seem too specific to bother with, although what I choose can be pretty impulsive--if an answer just pops into my head I'm liable to pursue it. I cut down to once every three weeks not because there weren't enough to engage my interest but because I work pretty hard at my Noisey column, am promoting two books, have lots of the kind of health and family obligations that accrue to the elderly, and just spent a year in which I didn't see enough of my friends. So now I'll ask you a question. Who the hell is Thor?

[Q] Today's CD players are a lot better than the old ones, especially when it comes to converters; "a new laser" is not all you need! I've never seen a stranger "product placement": where did you get the idea that Bose qualify as "quality speakers"? (The ones I use cost me $270, so it's not a matter of price.) -- Beppe Colli, Catania, Italy

[A] As I've said before in this space, I am not an audiophile. At 76, I never will be. I actively dislike luxury goods and prefer my couture from L.L. Bean. Perfect sound forever means nothing to me. Vinyl may be "richer" than CDs (and may not), but I love CD convenience. I do have a professional audio advisor who thinks the Boses are fine for my purposes, which he understands well. I have now owned four Sony CDP-CR375 changers (and hence now own four remotes, which is useful, they get mislaid), two or three of which I bought used. My only complaint is crucial, however: after a while they stop recognizing CDs, need to babied into it by manipulating the stop button and other fussy stratagems. That machine fits perfectly in my very cramped workspace, plus I really know how it works. FWIW, I still write when possible in DOS-based WP51, a superb word processing as opposed to self-publishing program that dates to 1991. I convert to Word--7 I believe--for email purposes.) My email service provider is AOL because Gmail insisted my handle be at least six characters. I never have been and never will be on Facebook. Etc. Any practical suggestion regarding how I nurse along my actually existing CD changer would still be greatly appreciated. Or maybe I need to buy a new one I won't like as much.

[Q] Has an artiste ever returned from the limbo of Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies? -- DTL, Toronto

[A] Counting just stuff I've caught and enjoyed--I can't fairly speak for, say, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Ruth Brown, who I suspect might have managed to reach fair-minded nonfans better attuned to their skill sets than I am--I note four: Boz Scaggs's moderately astonishing 2015 A Fool to Care, which I've mentioned before here; the terrific 2009 album Asleep at the Wheel did backing Willie Nelson; the first good album I ever noticed David Bromberg making, 2016's The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues, which is so much fun I wouldn't be surprised if there were other gems lurking in a catalogue I never paid the slightest mind; and the Lady Gaga-Tony Bennett album, where Gaga is superb but Bennett definitely pulls his weight.

[Q] In your review of Lupe Fiasco's Tetsuo & Youth you end with: "The final interlude is called 'Spring,' only it's not an interlude. It's the end. Nothing follows." My question is why phrase it like that? Is there something you found important about its placement at the end? Something about the cyclical nature of life? -- Tom, Philadelphia

[A] Obviously naming the instrumental interludes after seasons refers to the cyclical nature of life. But this is a dark album, and by announcing spring, the most cliched symbol of rebirth, and then going silent, I expect Fiasco meant to imply uncertainty and possibility simultaneously. The final song of the Winter section is the ambiguous but ultimately positive "They.Resurrect.Over.New," the title a play on the Pete Rock & CL Smooth mourning song "They Reminisce Over You." The "Spring" interlude includes playground sounds, so I'd say it stays positive. But he'd still rather listeners fill in the blank on their own terms.

[Q] You have mentioned W.C. Heinz as an influence and inspiration but I don't recall you ever discussing boxing. Curious as to whether you are/were a fan and if so, which fighters/fights may have been favorites. Also, your fondness for baseball and basketball plus your distaste for football has been documented. Wondering what other sports you follow closely or enjoy watching. -- Jim Chaffin, Melbourne, Florida

[A] A Google search of my site indicates only three hits for "Heinz," all of which concern beans. You're referring to the legendary sportswriter W.C. Heinz, perhaps because the boxing writer in question also has a double-initial sobriquet: A.J. Liebling. I like all of Liebling's writing, but the boxing book you have in mind remains one of my favorite essay collections, and I do love essay collections: The Sweet Science. I was never much of a boxing fan, however. Got into basketball during the Patrick Ewing and Jason Kidd years, then slacked off, and watch tennis occasionally--it was my father's sport and my sister is a big fan. But basically I'm a baseball fan who only recently--basically with the advent of MLB's Gameday feature--stopped listening to every Yankee game on the radio while he also listened to music, which was not a healthy habit. I read baseball books occasionally, but it's been awhile, and read coverage mainly in the Times, which has neglected the sport shamefully in the past few years (unlike Rupert Murdoch's rag, the Post). Football I never liked and hockey I hate, both for the same reason--a glorification and, in a way worse, normalization of violence far exceeding boxing's. And although I'm obviously a Yankee fan for life, I wasn't altogether disappointed when they got whipped by the Red Sox. I had more important things to do last October, in particular paying as much attention as possible to my cancer-stricken wife--who is, to answer another question, in a remission her oncologist calls "better than remission." This doesn't mean there won't be a recurrence--with multiple myeloma, there probably will be unless the cure they say is in sight arrives. But it will be treatable.

[Q] Who are some of your favorite writers? -- Will, Atlanta

[A] Funny you should ask, because it's the perfect excuse for me to link to the Book Reports intro Duke just put online. But because you were generous enough to give me this opening, I'll add that I think everybody should read a little Dickens--Bleak House and David Copperfield are the masterpieces, but if you want something a little shorter Great Expectations is wonderful--and that in the last 16 months or so I've read seven long novels by science fiction titan Kim Stanley Robinson. His Mars trilogy is magnificent and I just got knocked out by Aurora, a big chunk of which is narrated by a computer that/who learns what love as it learns to write. Now here's that Book Reports link. I hope the table of contents is of interest too.