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.

August 18, 2021

[Q] Anyone addicted to your website has undoubtedly come across the "Inspirational Verse." Sometimes it's clear you deem the IV the crown jewel of a record, and other times, like in your slightly harsh review of the Prince side project The Family, it is hilariously sarcastic. How did the IV come about and when do you choose to deploy it? -- Joe, U.K.

[A] I don't have the fortitude to come up with an exact date, but it seems to me I've been using the Inspirational Verse device since very early in the Consumer Guide's history even though I don't find it in any of the scant CG material I included in my 1973 collection Any Old Way You Choose It. It serves two functions: a) a readymade way to single out lyrics worthy of note for better or worse that can also be b) a quick way to end a review I don't have a capper for. A Google search of my site suggests that I've put it in play something over 200 times. Glad you enjoy it--that's the idea.

[Q] Listening to Saxophone Colossus this unseasonably rainy morning reminded me that you recently referred to Newk as an artist of a certain "generosity" (also Coltrane, Parton, Aretha, Lamar, among other inveterate favorites of mine) and you seemed to suggest that this quality of generosity (or "spirituality") exists distinctly from anger and wit. A Google Search led me to a few other instances where you've made reference to a musician's generosity--Young Americans was Bowie's "generosity of spirit" renewed, for instance. What a lovely turn of phrase--it almost sounds utopian--but I can't seem to grok what you mean. In what ways is Rollins's generosity like Bowie's? Is it qualifiable or hopelessly nebulous? Personal note: I've been reading your work since I was 17 (I'm now 30) and your anger, wit, and (dare I say?) generosity has shaped how I listen to and think about the world around me. Engaging with you in this forum is a tremendous privilege. Thank you and stay safe out there. -- Daniel Tovar, San Antonio

[A] "Generosity" can mean many different things, and while it's generally distinguishable from both anger and wit, most of those things can certainly coexist with anger and wit. In Rollins's case, however, I'd say generosity, along with facility and the more closely related ease, is at the center of why we care so much about him. (Spirituality, I should add, seems to me a rather different thing.) Love of music and the sounds he can make with his horn is discernible or maybe just imaginable in every phrase he plays. Bowie is far more a poser and ironist plus someone whose rather European aesthetic sense stopped hitting me anywhere near where I live in the mid '80s. But on Young Americans in particular, which was much earlier, it felt like he was reaching out to his rapidly expanding fanbase and hence embracing his own stardom head on rather than holding it at an ironic distance. This impulse soon engendered Station to Station, which remains the only album of his I love wholeheartedly and play for sheer pleasure. To which let me add that the idea that I can convey any of this to listeners half a century my junior is an equally tremendous privilege.

[Q] You once answered a question about which foreign language you'd like to master saying it'd be Portuguese. Given that you're a big enthusiast of Tom Zé's work and have also reviewed other Brazilian big names such as Gil, Veloso, and Elza Soares, I'd like to know why haven't you reviewed any other Jorge Ben album except his collaboration with Gil (which you liked)? Do you have any thoughts about his music? Thanks a lot! -- Mateus Paz, Rio de Janeiro

[A] No, but I admit I haven't tried that hard. A friend once gave me a copy of Africa Brasil, which I played dutifully more than once at the time and replayed again when I read your query only to find myself once again unable to breach the language barrier--or maybe I just don't get Ben, a rhythm artist for whom lyrics aren't necessarily paramount, due to some glitch in my general response mechanism. There are clearly great lyricists in African music--Franco and Youssou N'Dour by all accounts and some translations come to mind. But the musicality of those two artists and so many others subsumes the verbal content. In contrast, Brazilian music tends more pop in the Tin Pan Alley sense, which means among other things that it's designed to accompany or even showcase lyrics and thus can't fully connect with those who don't understand them. There might well be other negative factors as well--there's a classiness about the Brazilian pop ideal that's not my kind of thing. But the language differential makes it harder for me to bridge that gap.

[Q] In your review of Wanna Buy a Bridge? [younguns: legendary 1980 Britpunk comp], you singled out Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business" as one of the highlights, and I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the song's recent appearance in an iPhone commercial. (Greil Marcus praised it in his June Real Life Rock column.) And/or any thoughts in general on the practice of using punk songs to shill for corporations? (The Buzzcocks, Iggy, Sonic Youth, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Gang of 4 have all authorized such spots.) -- Scott Woods, Toronto

[A] This goes back to the vexed circa-1969 question of whether Aretha should do a Coke commercial, which neither I nor my more Marxian then-partner Ellen Willis had any problem with. Let artists we loved shovel up more money--this was capitalism, and rock and roll was a product of capitalism. So I've seldom moralized about such machinations, though these days I guess it would depend on the corporation: no fossil fuels, no big banks, probably not much international agribusiness either. But much as I distrust big tech, that's a much closer call. I mean, I own an iPhone myself, albeit one I inherited from Nina. And drink loads of Diet Coke too. There are so many graver economic injustices and disconnects to address.

[Q] FROM AMAZON: "Vintage presents the paperback edition of the wild and brilliant writings of Lester Bangs -- the most outrageous and popular rock critic of the 1970s -- edited and with an introduction by the reigning dean of rack critics, Greil Marcus." Gee, maybe "rock" critic Christgau should have a pissing contest with "rack" critic Greel? Whip 'em out, boys! Us ladies are waiting! -- Coco Hannah Eckelberg, Key West, Florida

[A] Gee--what faux-female commenter could be so interested in Lester Bangs books that s/he peruses Lester's Amazon entries for typos and so overawed by the Greil-Xgau cabal that s/he wants to check out their dick size? I wonder.

July 28, 2021

And It Don't Stop.

Generalizations too vast to swear by, instrumentals worth hearing, the algorithm vs. the people, and Frank Zappa vs. George Clinton.

[Q] Re: "Combating the Sound of Whiteness." In reading the piece I came to wonder if you've read Heartaches by the Number (Cantwell and Friskics-Warren, 2003). Specifically how they choose to define a "country song"? -- Clifford J. Ocheltree, New Orleans

[A] I was certainly aware that I was generalizing swiftly and broadly in that piece, and if I owned Heartaches by the Number I would have checked it out, as I did David Cantwell's excellent Merle Haggard: The Running Kind. I was also aware that there were revised editions of Bill C. Malone's Country Music, U.S.A. to which Geoff Mann referred in his essay; I'd read the 1968 version shortly after it came out and have never seen either of the newer ones. But since I wasn't claiming to do anything but review those two essays and had plenty to say about them, with deadline approaching I went with what I had. My generalizations are obviously too vast to swear by, but as more-than-plausible argument starters I stand by them.

[Q] The irrepressible Alfred Soto recently posted his favourite 20 instrumentals in rock. Seems like he had a lot of fun doing it. How about yours? -- Christian Iszchak, Norfolk, England

[A] Without committing to play till the ninth inning, I did what I could to check out most of Soto's picks and was surprised at how few of them worked for me. To choose the biggest disappointments because my tastes clearly run more r&b-let's-call-it than Soto's, neither Sly's "Sex Machine" nor JB's "Time Is Running Out Fast" made me say anything like "How the fuck did I forget that"? The Neil Young, the Bowie, even the Sugar just didn't reach deep enough. But "Tel-Star," "Frankenstein," and not quite as undeniably the Stooges' "L.A. Blues" certainly qualify, as of course does Funkadelic's indelible "Maggot Brain," which Carola and I recall first grokking while we were parking our car in an Akron driveway in 1978 and staying in our seats till it was over, enthralled. Almost as crucial is the Meters' "Cissy Strut." I'd never registered Yo La Tengo's "Spec Bebop" and loved it. I'd replace Eno's "Becalmed" with his "Sky Saw." Pink Floyd's "One of These Days" would probably place. Rush's "YYZ," which it's quite possible I'd never heard in my life, also might. But I think Soto was wrong to leave out all "jazz"--Miles Davis's 27-minute "Right Off," which leads Jack Johnson, is extraordinary and indelibly rock-derived, and not just because it builds off bassist Michael Henderson's "Honky Tonk" riff. Which brings us to the '50s, which Soto ignores altogether. As I've written more than once, it was the hour I spent as a 14-year-old playing side one of my Bill Doggett 45 "Honky Tonk" on repeat that transformed me into the person who became a rock critic. Side two was the hit, one of the best-selling instrumentals of all time, but I always insist that both sides form one composition, still one of my favorite tracks ever. One of Soto's commenters mentions that he also omitted Link Wray's equally influential "Rumble," where you can hear noise guitar being born. And from the '50s I'd add New Orleans sax man Lee Allen's "Walking with Mr. Lee"--and also, just to be contrary, Count Basie's 1956 hit version of "April in Paris," another 45 I bought, which Billboard calculated peaked at number 28 but was bigger in NYC I guess.

[Q] I've been listening to a lot of early Funkadelic lately (Westbound years) and though I'm not a fan (for the most part) of Frank Zappa and the Mothers, I keep hearing similarities, mainly in the eclecticism and lack of vocal identity (not to mention scatological/pornographic fixations). While I can accept that these ideas perhaps have more validity coming from a Black band than a White band (context matters), I am not entirely comfortable with that acceptance. Yes, I agree Zappa doesn't like people or sex (same as Stanley Kubrick) and George Clinton and Co. are more accepting of personal foibles (or at least have more fun with it). Does therein lie the distinction? -- Theodore Raiken, Metuchen, New Jersey

[A] The short answer is of course that's the distinction, although the lack of vocal identity is a meaningful parallel it's sharp to point out on your way to homing in on the formal similarities between the two bands and brands. That said, except for Zappa himself if you like the way he plays guitar, which many do more than me and not without reason, there are no musicians as personable as Bootsy Collins or Eddie Hazel or Bernie Worrell in the Mothers however formally skillful the players Zappa gathered around him. Nor were the Mothers anthemic the way P-Funk was--that wasn't how Zappa rolled, which as far as I'm concerned is one more manifestation of his stingy spirit. To me, 1972's (very early) America Eats Its Young, Clinton's most Zappaesque album, is also easily his worst. Usually there's tremendous generosity to his music, which kept on developing after his Westbound tour was over. And that sort of, well, let's call it spirituality, is one thing I respond to in musicians. The Beatles sure had it. John Prine. In their way both Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Damn right Peter Stampfel. But probably more Black artists: Coltrane, Rollins, and Coleman in jazz, Aretha and Otis Redding especially in soul, in hip-hop the Roots and Kendrick Lamar for starters. And hey: Louis Armstrong! Not that I don't also identify with righteous anger and sardonic wit. Which Clinton also had.

[Q] Terrific review of Michaelangelo Matos's book on 1984 that explains the pros and cons of that era. Your ending, referring to his use of Live Aid as a coda, was intriguing: "To me what happened there was less neat and closed off." Can you elaborate? -- Chris, New Zealand

[A] That quote in toto, after an organizer foolishly claimed that "the sixties had finally come true": "'The new era Live Aid portended, though, had more to do with its many visible corporate sponsorships than any world saving, per se. It sealed pop stardom as another facet of modern celebrity--turned it, officially, into a kind of landed gentry.' To me what happened there was less neat and closed off." Certainly the landed-gentry phase of pop stardom, a nice metaphor, was inevitable without Live Aid, and plenty else wasn't portended there. Most important, Run-D.M.C. gave barely a hint of hip-hop's gigantic future, its starting point which for argument's sake I'll say was the Tupac-Biggie assassinations followed by Jay-Z's late '98 breakthrough "Hard Knock Life" and in 1999 Eminem, still more than a decade off . But in addition Matos's premonitory bows to SST, the Replacements, and the pop success of R.E.M. in particular don't in any way anticipate the way Nirvana's never-duplicated commercial success established alt-rock for a time as a mythic artistic hotbed.

[Q] When I pull up Mukdad Rothenberg Lanko on Spotify, the suggested "Fans also like" recommends McCarthy Trenching, Peter Stampfel, and other artists nothing like MRL. This can only be the algorithm responding to your February 2021 CG--not about stylistic similarities. How does it feel to be so powerful? -- Rick Meyer, Decatur, Illinois

[A] I'm reasonably assured this is not the algorithm per se. It's just people liking and playing the same records because they learned about those records from me. It certainly makes me happy when my fans enjoy some of the more obscure artists I favor, and I know that long-distance friendships have occasionally begun that way. But "power"?? That's not power. Power--of a sort, anyway--might be other critics latching onto the same artists and their readers streaming them too, up into the thousands of plays. How about tens of thousands? That would be cool.

[Q] Why are you such a crotchety, beat up looking goof with a web site from 1997? Can't afford anyone to modernize it? Your taste in music sucks cock! Maybe you do too! Fucker! -- James Carter, Atlanta

[A] Not Jimmy, I assume. Or the saxophone whiz. Oh well. Even so you can say whatever you want about me as long as you keep putting in the hours with Stacey Abrams. Non-Georgians need you more than ever. Go Warnock.

June 16, 2021

And It Don't Stop.

Lousy (or not) Stones albums, world champion Beatles albums, some musical geniuses, some upbeat albums, and whither rock & roll? Plus: the story of 1974's Consumer Guide to America's Yogurts.

[Q] I really enjoy your reviews and your writing in general. I do notice that you sort of pick your favorites, though--you gave the Rolling Stones' Dirty Work an A and Steel Wheels a B+??? You cannot be serious with these positive reviews--these are two albums that even the band will tell you are terrible. I love the Rolling Stones but Dirty Work might be one of the worst-produced albums of all time. I mean it's just bad. Do you honestly pull out this album out still? As for A Bigger Bang, it's OK but nowhere near as good as the review you give. It's sort of a very good imitation of a Stones album. "Streets of Love" is just terrible second-rate Mick Jagger solo album material. You honestly think these albums I mentioned above don't top any of Queen's first six albums? I mean really? -- Adam Marr, New York City

[A] What a strange question even disregarding the fact that I gave Steel Wheels a B minus, not a B plus. Though I'm glad you like my work, I'm sad that some basic principles haven't gotten through. A major one is that in the end people like what they like, and that a simple way of understanding the critic's job is that critics should among other things try and explain what their opinions/responses are and where they come from. As has already come up in this space, I'm not a Queen fan even though, inspired mostly by my daughter, I've warmed to their precise, campy comic grandeur. When I find time to explore, I might listen more intensively. But if I live to 100 I'll never find time to hear much less immerse in their first six albums. Maybe my feelings will shift a little, but I'll never like them that much, and at best I'll limit myself to a best-of or two. Moreover, the Stones are inscribed a lot deeper on my sensorium than on yours--I've been a sucker for a fundamental groove I attribute mostly to Keith Richards and the great Charlie Watts since "It's All Over Now" hit the airwaves in the fall of 1964. And even though Jagger isn't my kind of guy as a human being, their sound plus his flair sparked into life longer than most aging rockers could manage. My unconventional fondness for Dirty Work remained in place last time I checked--a tremendously underrated album especially given the pass the Stones got on the 1983 Under Cover, its opprobrium based mostly on the overblown reaction to the echoey way producer Steve Lillywhite did drums, which is neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned. Replaying A Bigger Bang for the first time since 2006, my A minus seems right--the opening "Rough Justice" is a strikingly ironic/acerbic expression of both Jagger's musical gift and his romantic limitations and the songwriting strong is throughout, though "Streets of Love" is no high point. In addition to the CG review, wrote longer about A Bigger Bang for Blender in 2005 and then reviewed a 2006 show of theirs for the same mag. I stand by everything I wrote. Check it out--especially the show review.

[Q] In your recent Too Much Joy review you quip that they aren't Randy Newman meets the Clash cause those acts are genius while Too Much Joy just have high IQs. I've noticed that genius seems to be a word that you are hesitant to use to describe musicians. It got me thinking, how do you define genius when it comes to musical artists? Is it based on their sonic innovation, language, what you think they'd get in an IQ test, or something else? Also, who are the definite geniuses in music, and do any/all of the following qualify: Prince, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, David Bowie, M.I.A., El DeBarge, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, James Brown, Billie Eilish, Captain Beefheart, Frank Ocean, and Brian Wilson. -- Anonymous, Europe

[A] First of all, I use the word "genius" plenty--too much, probably; Google says it gets 1130 hits on my site where "talent" comes in at 1050 and "smart" at 913. Second, musical genius doesn't have much to do with IQ, certainly not, for instance, the 175 that talented non-genius Bob Mould claims in his memoir, though 120-125 would probably be a good idea just to utilize and kick-start the musical genius properly. Third, most of the musical geniuses I can think of are Black: on your list James Brown above all with Prince second, maybe Wonder, not DeBarge or Ocean, but how come you left out Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin? (And Louis Armstrong! Duke Ellington even though he's never been a favorite of mine! Thelonious Monk! Miles Davis!) The one obvious white genius who comes to mind is easy and isn't on your list: Bob Dylan. Ditto for Joni Mitchell whatever her vanities, Lennon probably, Eminem in his fucked up way conceivably, and I definitely wouldn't rule out Swift. The others less, with understandable candidate Beefheart exemplifying near-genius's limitations. Billie Eilish PLUS HER BROTHER, THAT'S DEFINITELY A PARTNERSHIP, might qualify in 10 years and might not. When I wrote my Billboard obit of George Jones I pulled out the G-word, which didn't seem preposterous, especially for someone on a death deadline. As for Randy Newman and the Clash, both come close enough to justify a good joke, Newman in particular given his soundtrack sideline. And now I declare an end to this party game.

[Q] Did the Beatles ever make an A plus album? -- Faizal Ali, Minneapolis

[A] Ordinarily I skip A plus questions but this one I couldn't resist. How could I not nominate the two I put on my Rolling Stone list: Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles' Second Album, the latter of which most Beatles scholars don't believe counts if they even acknowledge it exists? But because so much of my early Beatles listening was their U.S. albums, I'm not qualified to distinguish among the "official" UK versions that preceded Sgt. Pepper. Moreover, while I feel and understand the artistic skill and historical momentousness of prime candidate Rubber Soul, in fact I only cream for three of its songs: "Norwegian Wood," "Girl," and "In My Life." A plusses have to do more than that for me.

[Q] hello mr. christgau, i am a big fan of your writing and music ratings. i often agree with your reviews, except for a few rap records that i disagree with haha. anyway, i would like to know what "happy/upbeat" records are some of your favorites? i am talking records in the likes of: rilo kiley's under the blacklight; van morrison's moondance; donald fagen's the nightfly and robyn's body talk. these are some of my favorite records to listen to and i would like to know more albums like them that i should listen to. -- gavin highly, minneapolis

[A] These things are so personal. I mean, I love The Nightfly and Carola adores it. But Donald Fagen "happy/upbeat"? That pathological ironist? How??? Still, I thought it might be fun to find something suitable. Two records I go to for that sort of thing are Franco & Rochereau's Omona Wapi and Manu Chao's Proxima Estacion Esperanza, but both may be too world-musicky for your tastes. Either '70s New York Dolls album? KaitO's Band Red, a recent if admittedly esoteric rediscovery around here? The New Pornographers' Whiteout Conditions? Toots and the Maytals' Funky Kingston, which another reader just excoriated me so passionately for giving it an A minus rather than a full A that I replayed it and found it was still an A minus for me. Hey wait, I've got just the thing: The Beatles' Second Album. Guaran-fucking-teed.

[Q] I have been an avid reader of since I was in high school (now about 10 years ago). During that critical time in my life, my taste has evolved a great deal, and your writing has proved a major influence on that evolution, helping me become attuned to and fall in love with (broadly speaking) African music, rock-n-roll, and classic soul. Having fallen in love with those (meta)genres, however, I can't help but feel a bit melancholy at the increasing marginality of rock-n-roll and classic soul songforms and archetypes in the popular consciousness (music from the African continent being marginal in the US by definition). Is it possible we might have a revival of interest in these ways of doing music? Do you think the great music of the '50s and '60s can translate to a new audience raised on the internet? Will bands ever be a "thing" again? Am I being overly pessimistic? PS: Special thanks for introducing me to Youssou N'Dour & Étoile de Dakar with your A+. -- Grace Brown, Montreal

[A] What can I say? Popular music evolves just like any art form--Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven were revolutionary in the late '20s and still sound amazing today, but while it's possible to imagine some historically inclined imitator reviving that sound to an extent, that's a long shot technically and an impossibility culturally--just wouldn't strike the kind of same spark, in the audience or among the musicians themselves (plus, of course, no Satchmo). It's distressed me for many years that the rock and roll of the '50s is an unmapped antiquity for most young listeners--to me the great Chuck Berry and Coasters and Buddy Holly records plus many doowop one-shots (let's hear it for, hmm, how about Johnnie and Joe's "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea") are thrilling on the face of it, but to listeners your age (assuming for the moment that your autobiographical profile is factual) that music has been aesthetically inaccessible for decades. Almost the same goes for soul stylings, although a few aging holdouts as well as some young multiformalists like (Brown University graduate) Jamila Woods continue to work in that general area. But with bands it's different. There are still plenty of bands, some even g-g-b-d or g-k-b-d, exploring that option, and still venues for them too.

[Q] I was wondering when this summer tasting of yogourts from around America happened. -- Rishi Patel, London, Ontario

[A] Forgive me for rendering it yogurt from here on--just learned that your Canadian spelling came to be because it's bilingual, correct in French as well as English as Canadian law requires. Anyway, I no longer remember the sequence, but there was an editor named John Lombardi at a short-lived Playboy-backed girlie mag dubbed Oui, a purportedly "hipper" variant as I recall, who was taken with the letter-grading thing. (He also assigned me an Al Green profile that ended up in Boston's Real Paper which changed my view of rock history after I plumbed the Joel Whitburn books and learned that many Black artists--not Green, he was too young--had been scoring minor hit singles in the lower reaches of the Billboard chart in the early '60s, when radio heads like myself were unaware they existed.) I suggested that the much more food-savvy Carola Dibbell collaborate with me on consumer guides, let's lower-case the term, to beer, which occasioned many naps as well as a search for flatulence medications, and coffee, which once had me roaring down West 8th Street in my Toyota at 45 miles an hour in pursuit of some jerk who'd cut me off. The yogurt edition, which I'm amazed got published (with a comically salacious illo of course) we researched when we undertook a four-month road trip across the U.S. in 1973 in that Toyota--stored our dairy purchases in an ice chest in the back. We took a lot of notes and came up with language on the run when we could. Most of the writing on all the food pieces was Carola's, who's terrific at physical description, and looking back I love how funny this piece is. "One of the worst yogurts in America. Smells like fresh chemicals, and the blueberry looks like extract of used typewriter ribbon. Cheap and gummy." "The best supermarket yogurt. Although most of the flavors were not special, you could spill the tart, cheesecakey orange into a sherbert glass and call it dessert." "They say the best yogurt is the yogurt you make yourself, but that's not as easy as it sounds. In Laramie, however, there are no reasonable alternatives. George Szanto's first batch melted in our mouths, something like snow. The second had some rough residue and was too sour. But it was fresh, and it sure beat Meadow Gold Viva." "One of the worst. The aftertaste penetrated its most lurid flavors, and the boysenberry was gray." Or here's the long-running Colombo, now a proven quality brand that earned its A as surely as Randy Newman: "The blueberry, with its dusky blue color, generous strewings of berries, and creamy consistency is the best in America, as is the all-natural honey vanilla. When they make it right, even the wheat germ and honey is better than you can mix yourself."

May 19, 2021

And It Don't Stop.

Some thoughts on dolts (or not), the Smart Monkee, rock bios, the greatest albums of the '90s (not ranked) and the best novels of the 21st century (ranked). Plus: In every dream life a headache.

[Q] Sir. How dare you refer to Jae Millz as a "dolt." Fuck Tyga. Tyga is a Dolt. Millzy? He is not a dolt. Thank you. -- Cody Fitzmaurice, Saratoga County, New York

[A] A query that set me to wondering: Who the fuck is Jae Millz? A search on my site came up empty, which as a search for Tyga revealed was because I'd (mis)spelled Jae's surname as Milz. The reference that irked Fitzmaurice was a 2010 B&N piece on Lil Wayne involving LW's No Ceilings mixtape, where in seven words total their names included I adjudged onetime Kylie Jenner beau Tyga and Harlemite Millz as unworthy of such fellow guest contributors as Jay-Z, Gaga, and the Black Eyed Peas, as seems statistically probable without actually going back and checking. I've heard nothing especially doltish on the 25-30 minutes I've test-listened on JM's 2015 and 2020 solo albums, but also nothing of Wayne or Gaga caliber. But if Fitzmaurice wants to assert that Millz is much superior to Tyga, I'm so impressed by his passion that I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

[Q] Hi Robert, Happy Birthday! It's coming up on the 42nd anniversary of my favorite Michael Nesmith album, Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma . . . I'm still pissed at you giving it a sub-par grade of "B-"--I am wondering if you still think it is barely above average? Best wishes otherwise!--Ronald R. Lavatelle, Nashua, New Hampshire

I just re-read your review of Michael Nesmith's album Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma for the first time in around 40 years . . . it seems to me you reviewed him, his career, his business . . . but NOT the album or its music. Terrible review . . . probably hurt his sales . . . his reputation . . . and cost him a lot of money! -- Roni Lavatelle, Nashua, New Hampshire

[A] I find this so touching I couldn't resist reprinting the two queries in the order they were received. I mean, it's a very long time after the release of the ex- (and future) Monkee's ninth album of the decade, six of which I reviewed even though by 1979 "new wave" was all the rage (two including a comp got B plusses), and this fan, apparently of both Nesmith and Der Dean, is still not just brooding about my B minus but convinced that my lukewarm record review in a Greenwich Village weekly destroyed the sales of what he regards as Nesmith's masterwork. As it happens, I wrote about the Monkees respectfully in my very first Esqure column in 1967, and by the end of that year had singled out Nesmith as the true musician of the foursome, which soon became conventional critical wisdom. And just for the record, The Monkees' Greatest Hits has its own jewel-cased position right next to my 40 or something Thelonious Monk CDs. Also just for the record, I thought the Monkees' "revival" of the aughts was one-upping "poptimist" contrarianism pure and silly.

[Q] I have a question which you may have answered multiple times, and if this is the case I apologise for not digging it up. Autobiographies and biographies by musicians are relatively common, and often enough they're not particularly well written, either because the musicians aren't suited to that kind of format in the case of autobiographies, or--and this is perhaps more common--the musicians have become deities, and their biographers simply feed into that narrative with a bunch of crazy stories that don't necessarily say much about the lives and ideas of the musicians, or the world that they lived in. There are, of course brilliant ones out there too, written with great subtlety and thoughtfulness. Which are your favourite bios of musicians that you've come across over the years? -- Liam Briginshaw, Melbourne, Australia

[A] Always glad to be handed a chance to remind readers and I hope book buyers of my 2018 Duke collection Book Reports, which includes essays on books about Jerry Lee Lewis (I'd now add to Nick Tosches's Hellfire, Rick Bragg's Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story), Lead Belly, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Ed Sanders, Richard Hell, Carrie Brownstein, Patti Smith, Rod Stewart, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen. In this newsletter itself I've positively reviewed Jim DeRogatis's dogged R. Kelly book Soulless and Charles Shaar Murray's magnificent John Lee Hooker bio Boogie Man. The Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Franco, and Bob Marley pieces in Is It Still Good to Ya? are also keyed to biographies. And in my 1998 collection Grown Up All Wrong the Elvis chapter is called "Elvis in Literature" because it's based mostly on a sliver of his endless bibliography. Both volumes of Gary Giddins's Bing Crosby are superb--with the second one especially sharp on U.S. culture during World War II. John F. Szwed's Miles Davis and Sun Ra are damned good. And I should add that although I'd recommend obtaining my collections from Duke or a local bookseller, naturally, most of those essays are findable on my site, which has a Book Reviews tab to help you track down a few more.

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