Wussy: Strawberry (Shake It)
The first Wussy album in which louder, heavier tub thumper Joe Klug replaces Moe Tucker fan Dawn Burman is also the first he co-produced. There's more distortion, less naturalism; Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker yowl more, as when Chuck's aging head voice rises to the challenge of Mark Messerly's organ on "Pulverized." These alienation effects help define a rock that generalizes the connubial agony at the band's core, and if this is alienating for those of us who love them as well, it's also comforting, because it distances us from real-life couple Chuck and Lisa's real lives. I'd as soon assume the co-written "Fly Fly Fly" was inspired by a dumb young couple they know. I'm glad "Pizza King"'s tale of permanently adolescent disarray takes place in Indiana, not Ohio. And it's fine with me that "Asteroids" is so spacey‑-it means the heart "floating in the frozen void" might be metaphorical. A
Wussy: Funeral Dress II (Shake It)
I'm so skeptical of unplugged Record Store Day thingies it never occurred to me to sample this one when it materialized last April. This means I was an idiot‑-when you love a record the way I love their debut, you never know when some alternate version might turn into, say, the live Daydream Nation that other couple group assembled. It also means the limited edition is almost sold out by now. What will you miss if you don't buy it‑-eek!‑-right this minute? Suffering stripped naked beneath the wit, tune, and transcendent noise you long ago learned to love. Detailed knowledge of how nuanced and expressive Chuck and especially Lisa's voice can be, and how delicately they're capable of interacting. Well-turned lyrics you never before had to concentrate on‑-and yes, they make sense except when they don't, which why should they always when life doesn't either? Acoustic guitars, brushed drums, occasional accordion. And a finale you never knew was so agonizing. Try to break up to that. I dare you. A
Am I missing anything?
Hellfire is a classic, but I enjoy Tosches' Country: The Biggest Music in America even more. I prefer Marsh's The Heart of Rock and Soul, The Book of Rock Lists, The First Rock and Roll Confidential Report and Trapped: Michael Jackson And The Crossover Dream to any of the Marsh books you listed. Bangs/Nelson's Rod Stewart is a great read, and Bangs' Blondie bio ain't bad either. You're right to be wary of Jon Landau's book - Jesus, the guy is a dull writer.
Meltzer always wrote well about music per se and still did when he felt like it in the '90s, which is why our little committee gave him the award I refer to in "Impolite Discourse,"That's what I get for believing Meltzer and his "rock is dead" schtick instead of the what he actually says about music. I also have to admit to being so put off by his persona that I often can't find a way to enjoy what he obviously has to offer.
Great new B&N essay. I had the Paul Nelson collection on my list of books to get and can't wait to order it now. I enjoyed reading the Ellen Willis collection already and will do so again. Looking at the list of pioneer critics, I came up with a list of their essential books. Am I missing anything?
Lester Bangs - Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, Mainlines, Blood Feasts & Bad Taste
Robert Christgau - Any Old Way You Choose It, CG70s, CG80s, CG90s, Grown Up All Wrong
Jon Landau - It's Too Late to Stop Now (this is the only one whose quality I'm not sure about)
Greil Marcus - Mystery Train, Dead Elvis, Invisible Republic, Ranters & Crowd Pleasers
Dave Marsh - Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, Louie Louie, Elvis
Richard Meltzer - A Whore Like the Rest
Robert Palmer - Deep Blues, Blues & Chaos, Rock & Roll: An Unruly History
Nick Tosches - Hellfire
One more thing. Take a look at Any Old Way You Choose It or the early pieces especially in Willis's collection and ask yourself how good the musical descriptions are. I'm very proud of AOWYCI, but not usually for its musical descriptions. I was focused on cultural meaning back then.
Great B&N essay. Ordered the Ellen Willis book. I await the great writing and maybe returning to some of the records/artists she writes about.
Please Mr. Postman bring me FD II tomorrow. Playing my Rigor Mortis ep to satisfy my Wussy fix. I like the **** Ponys but it's not quite the same.
It's also part of the reason I became such a Christgau enthusiast. He stuck with it and loved it, both the music and the writing.
There's this: 'neither much conveyed how music sounded', which leads to the observation that Nelson and Willis 'never . . . found language to describe music.', and finally this, 'When Ellen and I were feeling our way through the music of the '60s, we scoffed at such notions.' Pretty interesting - I mean, 'describing music' might seem to be the sine qua non here. This suggests they were up to something else back then. But what? Doing social history/cultural studies? Checking art against progressive ideals? Is this what Xgau means by stating that he spent 15 years extricating himself?
And then another question: is the history of rock criticism the story of writers admitting the physical, or at least connecting the brain with the solar plexus or somewhere lower still? (Not - as maybe I'd assumed - a journey in the opposite direction?)
Hell of a thesis at the end of the Willis/Nelson B&N column.
Damned hard to argue with it, too.
I was mystified when Nelson dropped out of writing, and for years yearned that he would come back. Few made you feel the ecstasy of fandom the way he could at his best. Thinking about him recently (still haven't read the book) and focused by Bob's thoughts, there was no way he would return.
Writing about Bruce Springsteen many years ago, Langdon Winner (speaking of astute people who abruptly stopped commenting about music) snorted that before Bruce, rock phenoms wore surprising masks and came from unexpected corners -- but Springsteen looked, sounded, and was found exactly where soulful outsiders were expected.
Winner meant this to indicate there was something humdrum about the Boss (or at least that he was a dead end, and that looking backward was fatal to the spirit of rock and roll). But I thought that his description, while true, always had a more generous interpretation. And now I think it's that the era of the brooding-outsider-hero, forged in Westerns and film noir and carried on through Dean and Elvis and Dylan, was coming to an end. And, indeed, Nelson would have little interest in more and more dinky, twilight versions of this figure.
And it's a profound shame Ellen Willis wasn't inclined to keep up with women in rock, at least. It played out in ways different than she imagined, but her insights would have enriched understanding all the way. And yeah, you could make a strong case that female performers was one strain where rock as a political force continued. Her bracing take on punk promised the start of a road that was never taken. But as Bob argued, when an art form stops meaning to you what it once did, silence may be the most honest policy.
Hell of a thesis at the end of the Willis/Nelson B&N column.Heartbreaking thesis really, because that's the story of many Americans of that generation. My way of loving pop music is one way I'm trying to not end up like my father.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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