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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Influential Music Critic Robert Christgau Forced to Move Column or Write for Free

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2015 at 5:16 PM

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Freelance writing isn't what it used to be.

Robert Christgau, one of the earliest professional rock critics, most known for the short capsule reviews contained in his Consumer Guide columns, has announced the end of his Expert Witness column at Cuepoint/Medium due to the publication's decision to no longer pay its music writers.

On his website, where he announced the news, Christgau writes, "[Cuepoint/Medium] decided that their music 'vertical' will now feature what web publishers like to call 'reader-provided' copy. Me, I think the term 'unpaid' is more to the point. Having made a living as a journalist for more than 50 years now, I don't regard writing as a hobby, or as 'self-expression.' It's a job, and better for it."

Personally, I like "reader-provided" content. Whenever I get the urge to read some I just head over to the comment section of any website and scroll through the deranged, mostly racist banter of people like resident SF Weekly troll Ricky Maddow. But the idea of reading a music vertical with nothing but free content is just plain frightening — the online version of sitting next to that pothead kid from high school who really loved Slighty Stoopid and asking him about the roots of reggae. That's just embarrassing for everyone involved and should be avoided at all costs.

Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," is also known for organizing an annual poll in Village Voice that almost every music critic participated in called the "Pazz and Jop" poll. The poll, which can viewed on Christgau's website, is the definitive resource to see which albums a nation of critics were bumping each year. When a group comes out on top it is often widely reported — like when Oakland's tUnE-yArDs won in 2012, and Ian Port reported on it for this blog.

When "the Dean" was unceremoniously fired from Village Voice in 2006, after the company was acquired by New Times Media, the Pazz and Jop poll lost some of its luster, which brings us to the heart of the issue: When it comes to critical analysis and writing, you get what you pay for. But according to Christgau's post, there's still hope the critic is going to move his insights to another publication or self-made platform.

"If somebody wants to pay me to continue to publish these reviews, I'll definitely consider it, and it's possible the Witnesses, as I call the amazingly articulate fan base that crystallized when MSN turned the Consumer Guide into Expert Witness in 2010, will persuade me to go it alone in some format yet to be determined, although I have reservations about every one so far proposed," Christgau writes. "I can't see any way, however, that such a development will come to fruition before [wife] Carola and I take a two-week European vacation set to commence three weeks from today—although I do admittedly have a dozen reviews in the kitty and may even turn out a few more before we leave."

Here at All Shook Down, we hope he gets back to it (after a well-deserved vacation) but until then we're going to spend our weekend reading some of his old reviews, like this gem, which sees the critic finally losing interest in the Ramones in 1987 (after giving the group straight A's for many years):

"It kills me to say this, but with Richie or whoever on the lam, Dee Dee moonlighting as a punk-rapper, Joey frequenting all-acoustic showcases, and Johnny Johnny, a great band has finally worn down into a day job for night people. C+"

Christgau recently published his memoir, Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man. You can find it (and purchase it, if you're so inclined) here.

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About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.

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