Last Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of sitting down with Robert Christgau, the self-appointed Dean of American Rock Critics, in his East Village apartment. This was indeed a big thing for the kid here, considering that I’ve read Christgau’s work, well, ever since I was a kid. His Consumer Guide to music has appeared in The Village Voice since 1969 and has since been collected in three volumes of books that have long shared a space on my reference shelf alongside the first — and best — edition (the one edited by Jim Miller) of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Greil Marcus’s books, and all of Pauline Kael’s collections. As a teenager in Utah, so that I might stay on top of what Christgau (and Sarris) had to say, I subscribed to The Voice.
Through the years, Christgau became part of the very pop culture he writes about. On 1972’s live Take No Prisoners album, Lou Reed wondered aloud from the stage: “What does Robert Christgau do in bed?” I’ll forgo quoting where this line of thinking took him; suffice it to say that it culminated with Reed rhetorically asking, “Can you imagine working for a fucking year and you got a B+ from an asshole in The Village Voice?” In his review of the album, Christgau responded with his usual humor and aplomb by thanking Lou for pronouncing his name right. And he only gave the album a C+.
“I always admired Christgau’s writing and wit and courage,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy wrote yesterday (before we even knew about Friday’s goings-on at The Voice), “and when he gave Aquashow [Murphy’s debut album] an A- it was the only grade I ever got that I was proud of.”
All of which brings us back to Tuesday evening in the East Village. Christgau had kindly consented to an interview for a book I’m putting together about the critic Paul Nelson. I didn’t agree with everything that the Dean had to say, but what he said was never uninteresting. Such had been the tacit terms of our writer-reader relationship for over three decades (we should be so fortunate in all of our relationships). Earlier that day, he had even more kindly arranged for me to get into The Voice‘s library, where I was able to glean invaluable material from 30- and 40-year-old bound volumes of the newspaper. I owe him big-time.
So it was with considerable shock last night to discover an article in The New York Times that told, in part:
In a move that decimated the senior ranks of its arts staff, The Village Voice, the New York alternative weekly, yesterday dismissed eight people, including Robert Christgau, a senior editor and longtime pop music critic who had been at the paper on and off since 1969.
In a statement released yesterday, Village Voice Media described the layoffs as an effort