A veteran rock critic takes readers deeper into the recesses of his thought processes than many might wish to venture.
Even more than most memoirs, this is a book that only its author could write. As the self-anointed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Christgau (Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s, 2000, etc.) could have written about the seismic cultural changes he has observed and analyzed; or about how rock music, originally dismissed as kids’ stuff, gave him a career he has never outgrown, a vocation that didn’t exist before he began writing seriously about rock and popular culture during the mid-1960s; or about the progression of the music (he goes deepest here into New York punk and hip-hop); or about the changes in journalism or the proliferation of cultural criticism (and celebrity journalism). Christgau does touch those bases, fleetingly, but any number of other writers could explore those areas. What no one else could write about in such detail are the author’s IQ, childhood memories, romantic relationships and sex life. And no one but a critic—and this critic in particular—would write like this about the woman he would marry: “Sex was hot, crucial and engrossing, but not simple—she was pickier and more changeable than I was used to in hot relationships, and my faulty pleasure receptors, while not impinging on my performance quote unquote, generated emotional disconnects as they gradually righted themselves.” As his work for a variety of publications confirms, he is a provocative and perceptive critic and, by all accounts (including his own), a good editor. But his focus here is so narrowly self-absorbed that the most engaged readers will not be those who care most about the culture at large but his journalistic colleagues and contemporaries, who will want to see how they are treated and what scores he settles.
Christgau indicates from the start that he is “hardly self-effacing in print,” but anyone who borrows his subtitle from James Joyce would never be accused of false humility.