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.

October 20, 2021

And It Don't Stop.

Once more unto the mongering, the Stones sans Charlie, baseball avec sabermetrics, grading the second Velvets albums, appropriation vs. appreciation, Billie Eilish vs. Al Green

[Q] Not to be too much of a stickler, but there was a pretty big error in last month's Xgau Sez. One reader asked you about your use of the term "meaning monger," to which you responded that you could only find one use of the term on your website. I'm assuming the error came from differing punctuation of the term, because when I just Googled the word "monger" on your website, with minimal scrolling I found several other uses of the term. It showed up in a review of the Romeo Must Die compilation, in two different pieces about Randy Newman, and in your 1984 Jazz and Pop essay. I stopped scrolling before I found the Tool review, so it's very possible you've used the term elsewhere. So I would say that Austin's "from time to time" seems to characterize your use of the term pretty well. -- Ronan, Salt Lake City

[A] Oxford's "If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad" is one of my favorite stylistic and grammatical maxims, although I've always thought "take the hyphen" would be a sharper way to put it. Anyway, that's what happened here--I obviously should have searched my site without the hyphen, although "monger" comes up without "meaning" much more often than with it--those two "ng"s are infelicitous and the main reason I declared "meaning-monger" "not exactly a witty term." For the record, "monger" itself is thrown around very loosely in English. The three most common usages are "fishmonger," where it means "seller," "warmonger," where it means "advocator" or really "stirrer-upper," and "whoremonger," where it means "user" or perhaps even "exploiter." In "meaning-monger," it means some cross of either the first two or all three. As regards Tool, the explanatory and somewhat condescending "for the fantasy-fiction set" narrows it down to what I'm really getting at: a posited crossover between fantasy fiction and the more pretentious strains of metal, neither of which I have much use for. In the early Randy Newman review where it comes up, the "straightforward" meaning-mongers I compare unfavorably to him are probably--though that review was probably written way back in 1980 when I wrote a good chunk of the first Consumer Guide book and so I have to guess a little--the strophic folkies who were still kings of the literaryish-songwriter hill back then, when they were still far from my favorite musical breed though I'd grown to admire and even love a good many of them: the not all that strophic Joni Mitchell and the we-now-know amazingly durable John Prine, for instance.

[Q] Curious to know when you last saw the Stones in person and found yourself impressed by their live show, and if you think they'd be worth seeing again sans Charlie. -- Joe Silva, Athens, Georgia

[A] My last Stones concert was 2005 in Hartford--with my daughter Nina, who's very glad she got to see them that night and at all, as was I, though by then I'd caught them well over half a dozen times, in DC and Toronto as well as NYC/NJ. Mick concluded the show by sprinting back and forth across a huge stage for some 65 yards. But that was enough--I intend to sit out this tour with no regrets. Note however that a younger friend, American Epic auteur Bernard MacMahon, told me recently that he was chuffed to have tickets for their L.A. show and I told him not to miss it--of course you want to see them at least once. So if you have the money I say the same to you if it's a first and maybe not if you've been there done that. I loved and love Charlie, easily my favorite Stone, but he was already off this tour when he died, and Steve Jordan is an accomplished drummer who knows whose shoes it's his j-o-b to fill.

[Q] Professional baseball is rapidly changing. Are you familiar with sabermetrics baseball and its implications? Or is this just too nerdy a thing to ask? -- KBW, South Korea

[A] I was reading sabermetrics pioneer Bill James as early as the '70s, I think--long ago, anyway. Thought all of his analysis was fascinating and a lot of it worth incorporating into the game. It really changed pitching, although not as much as the revised strength training stratagems that have generated so many near-100 fast balls. But if I remember correctly, even then I didn't like how down he was on stolen bases--they're too much fun (I loved how much the Yankees stole late in the past season). And when I watch the game with its radical shifts these days I sometimes get nostalgic for the old days, as well as wishing more players would settle for singles by exploiting shifts. In particular I still prefer human umpires calling balls and strikes even though what was clearly a bad call on a held-up swing prematurely ended the Dodgers-Giants championship game.

[Q] You've reviewed many Velvet Underground records, but a search reveals no writing or even mention of White Light/White Heat beyond saying you think "Sister Ray" is better white noise than Metal Machine Music. I know your favourite Velvets record is the self-titled album, but even so--White Light/White Heat, yay or nay? -- Oscar, Johannesburg, South Africa

[A] I don't know exactly what you mean by search, but Googling my site I found the following sentence in the Lou Reed obit I crushed out for Spin one bleak Sunday afternoon in 2013. "What's most remarkable about the Velvet Underground & Nico to White Light/White Heat to The Velvet Underground to Loaded sequence is how drastically these unfashionable New York minimalists changed up their arrantly simplistic sound, getting warmer all the way as they shed Nico and then John Cale and then the pregnant Mo Tucker while picking up the essential albeit much-mocked wimp Doug Yule." And in my big 1978 Voice "Avant-Punk" manifesto there's this: "Detractors labeled [the Velvets'] basic approach monotonous, but the distance within what was a relatively unexplored musical territory proved vast; Emmylou Harris will satisfy your yen for Linda Ronstadt a lot better than--to choose the closest pair I can think of--the Velvets' 'White Light/White Heat' will satisfy your need for the Modern Lovers' 'Roadrunner.'" Harder to find except for owners of my 1998 Harvard collection Grown Up All Wrong is this sentence in "Lou Reed, Average Guy": "We were sophisticated enough to forgive White Light/White Heat the literally sophomoric survival 'The Gift' even if we weren't astute enough to hear that 'Sister Ray' portended more than the Stones' 'Goin' Home' as well as Iron Butterfly's 'In-a-Gadda-Da Vida.'" So as you might have figured anyway, probably an A minus. And although I like the debut more, "Venus in Furs" has aged poorly and was something we tried to rationalize away even at the time.

[Q] Hello Bob! How would you define cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? -- James Kean, Liverpool

[A] I wouldn't touch that one for anything less than big bucks--it's a landmine requiring broad research, deep thought, many words, and loads of time. But I appreciate your implicit point, which I take to be that the two concepts, one pejorative and one not, are intimately related. And I would go so far as to say that I've been a supporter of hybridity in culture for as long as I've been a critic not to mention alive and seriously doubt I could be talked out of it.

[Q] Billie Eilish is becoming the greatest interpretive pop singer since Al Green. Agree or Disagree? -- Nicholas Auclair, Montreal

[A] I dig her too, but this is monumentally silly. She's 19 for Chrissake.