Applying the language and ideas of academic critical theory to popular music and adding a good dose of gonzoesque irreverence, Robert Christgau, the senior music critic at The Village Voice, created a brand of music writing that inspired a small but fierce group of critics at alternative weeklies. The subjects in Grown Up All Wrong...include Elvis Presley, the punk girl band Sleater-Kinney, the rap artist KRS-One, the country singer George Jones and the minstrel singer Emmett Miller, among many, many others. He writes on each with equal erudition, examining the artists and their music as both cultural products and influences. No pop act is too weird, arty, commercial or schlocky for Christgau's contemplation...The result is brilliant.
-- Laura Jamison New York Times Book Review
Robert Christgau has earned his title as the dean of rock journalism by being honest--a critic who criticizes...A first-person eyewitness to rock's rise to glory, Christgau pens hundred-word mini-essays that leap sublimely from rock to rap to punk to soul to world music. Diving deeper into his favorite artists, the lengthy essays compiled for Grown Up All Wrong--culled mostly from [his] Voice columns--reveal a depth of understanding about...pop music, both as art and commercial proposition...Because Christgau prizes what the music means over what it sounds like or how well it sells, nearly every essay is readable, regardless of how well you know the artist.
-- Mark Athitakis Salon
Robert Christgau loves rock--its fans, its 'big beat,' and last (but not most) the musicians themselves--and he loves rock's complicated, rebellious potential. Grown Up All Wrong collects decades of his declarations of love--from Nat King Cole to Sleater-Kinney--as they appeared in the Village Voice. Ranging from as short as one paragraph on 'Why the Beatles Broke Up' to 14 pages of homage to the early Stones and a gonzo essay about the Replacements that begins, 'I mean, fuck art,' these essays capture just how it feels to listen to all that noise, contradictions and all.
-- Village Voice
Since the sixties, when he conceived rock criticism as a glorious expressive form free of high-art headaches, Robert Christgau has interrogated pop music with self-invented rigor. A critic and editor for more than twenty years at the Village Voice, Christgau propels a thorny complex of aesthetics, business and politics into his own Formula One commentary...Grown Up All Wrong discusses seventy-five artists in a collection of essays. They fall into groups about pioneers (Nat 'King' Cole, Elvis), Sixties legends (Hendrix, Aretha) and Seventies phenoms (Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder); other sections highlight punk, hip-hop and pop. The book ends warmly, with looks at Neil Young, George Clinton and Al Green, all of whom, like Christgau, are now in their fifties and wide awake.
-- James Hunter Rolling Stone
Hailed by many as the dean of American rock criticism, Christgau, senior music critic of The Village Voice, is arguably the person most responsible for making [rock] criticism a serious discipline...It is as a cultural critic...rather than as a 'rock writer' that Christgau tackles popular music. Although Grown Up All Wrong is a series of essays...ostensibly about artists from George Gershwin through KRS-One, it is also about our times. Eschewing the standard line that rock was born from a union of blues and country music, Christgau looks to more mainstream traditions of popular music, and reflects on Nat King Cole and blackface vaudevillian Emmett Miller to find the reasons for our contemporary tastes. Poking behind the myths...he seeks to decipher why we love this music--or why we ought to. Discussing contemporary acts, he sets out to explain context as much as sound...and lovingly depicts scenes to which fans of any sound can relate.
-- Clea Simon Boston Globe
Smart, literary, self-assured, heartfelt and politically conscious...[Christgau] offer[s] insights aplenty for any aspiring aficionado interested in pondering popular music as much as grooving to it...Christgau's book reads like the musing of a professional hipster; he's the guy you want to go to concerts with, because he makes pop music feel like a ritual experience...Known as the 'dean of rock critics' for being one of the first, he is a true believer in rock and roll, and much as he can be terrifyingly silly...he is also wonderfully serious about the subtleties of this rather rude and crass genre of popular music.
-- Michael Kramer Newsday
When Christgau is good...he's a stimulating idea man. His curiosity is boundless, he has a formidable knowledge of a wide range of genres, and his insights on everyone from Chuck Berry to Sleater-Kinney are enough to make every other music journalist bow down in envy.
-- Greg Kot Chicago Tribune
Robert Christgau's Grown Up All Wrong is a superb compendium of the noted New York music authority's always readable and ever insightful writings on music from the '50s to the present day, from Gershwin and Presley to Cheb Khaled and DJ Shadow. Put together, the scope of his writings makes for a huge and all-encompassing, rewarding and enlightening book.
-- Ross Fortune Time Out
[Christgau] is both infuriating and refreshingly sharp.
-- Mark Blake Q Magazine
Whether you love him or hate him, everyone in the racket owes a debt to Robert Christgau. He may not have been the first rock critic, but he was certainly the first to make a career out of it and he casts a large shadow over all music writers...Grown Up All Wrong is Christgau's love letter to the form that has nourished him, and that he has nourished for 30 years...He is undoubtedly one of the best at untangling the various strands of the pop apparatus.
-- Peter Shapiro Wire
Christgau's characteristic passion and humor, historical analysis and personal insight are at their best. This volume shows that rock criticism has grown up to be broader and deeper then anyone imagined when wild verbiage, polemical disputation and lofty thoughts first thrilled readers 30 years ago.
-- Jon Wiener Los Angeles Times
As with all true music fans, [Christgau's] curiosity and appreciation goes back to long before he began buying records, and carries on well after he might reasonably have been expected to stop. That 'From Vaudeville to Techno' is no idle boast. Christgau puts into words not only what the rest of us can't describe but what we hadn't even noticed was there until he pointed it out...It can be scary hurtling through the black hole of his intellect, but what you encounter along the way is thrilling. He is right so often, whether it be the general point that music is always about more than itself--it is about the country, the culture, the context--or the specific point that Aretha Franklin's singing is about foibles and flaws as much as it is about exactitude, because only in that way is it a true reflection of life...When you have Christgau's intellectual ammunition you can pound into submission all reasonable opposition, and can marshal support for most ideas you choose to posit.
-- Guy Somerset Hampstead & Highgate Express
Like James Brown sang it, like the Clash played it, like Grandmaster Flash sampled it, Robert Christgau writes about music. This essay collection by the Village Voice's longtime rock critic delivers on its subtitle's promise of profiles 'from Vaudeville to Techno,' with some jazz, country, hip-hop, Tin Pan Alley and South African mbaqanga tossed in the mix as well. The dizzying breadth of Christgau's musical appreciation is unparalleled in the field.
-- Christopher Sieving Madison Isthmus
Pop culture aesthete/connoisseur and senior music critic for the Village Voice, Robert Christgau has assembled a collection of essays from his career that span from 1972 to 1997. At almost every moment he reveals himself an insightful, open-minded, appreciative, and adulatory fan of rock & roll, which is what every critic ought to be...His introduction is a wonderful exposition on the nature of the work, both of this particular body and of the larger role of a rock journalist...To praise Grown Up All Wrong is not merely to celebrate the dignity and credibility Robert Christgau brings to rock journalism, but to appreciate his treatment of the individual subject.
-- Christopher Hess Austin Chronicle
The dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau, demonstrated in Grown Up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists From Vaudeville to Techno that he's unmatched among his comrades in eclectic interests and broad knowledge. Even if you disagree with him...or don't share his interests (punk, metal, industrial) you can't stop reading his work once you start.
-- Nashville Scene
Christgau, senior music editor for the Village Voice since 1974, considered the 'dean of rock critics' by everyone with an alphabetized CD collection, has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. Big deal. What makes Christgau's pop 'criticism' so damn good is his unabashed love of the stuff...Christgau's fandom is balanced by his erudition. He knows everything, name-dropping and cross-referencing in a totally inclusive manner. His objective is not to stump or alienate his readers but to involved them in this magnificent thing called music.
-- Gina Vivinetto St. Petersburg Times
As the first significant collection of long-form criticism Christgau's ever published, Grown Up All Wrong is something of an event, at least among the subculture of music fans who take rock criticism seriously...Grown Up All Wrong gives a portrait of the underappreciated Christgau. The long pieces here--artist profiles ranging from Nat King Cole to Pavement--downplay the ferocious wit of his capsule reviews for the serious pursuit of sustained ideas--the kind of long-form rock criticism that is rare these days. And, like all good rock writing, it makes you want to listen...Robert Christgau...is the greatest of all rock critics.
-- Chris Herrington Memphis Flyer
[Christgau] is a consummate music critic...[and] a contrarian whose evaluations aren't rooted in absolutes, but in the music he's heard and thinks we should hear (or not) for ourselves...Grown Up All Wrong is Robert Christgau's high-fidelity reason for living inside the pop music aesthetic. This compendium of his profiles and features should be required reading for anyone attempting a career, or even a sideline hobby, in putting words to paper on the subject of popular music.
-- Brian Beatty Rain Taxi
Village Voice rock critic Christgau finally achieves life between hardcovers...with this wildly variegated assortment of profiles. A book that skips directly from Elvis to Janis is clearly not intended to be a history of rock 'n' roll, and Christgau makes no effort to pretend otherwise. Rather, the collection is a book of his enthusiasms, a cornucopia that allows him to include such odd-artists-out as the women's rock band L7 and the blackface yodeler Emmett Miller...Christgau is rightly revered for his wide-ranging taste and astonishing ability to make totally wacked-out connections. Who else would link Chuck Berry to post-punk lesbians Sleater-Kinney and make it work?...[T]his is a highly entertaining book to dip into at random.
-- Kirkus Reviews
[Christgau's] style has allowed him to pack an amazing amount of observation and evaluation into relatively short critiques. Unlike many veteran pop music observers, he is still able to review what's new positively, without coming off like a doddering old fool trying to connect with the kids...[T]his allows him to do serious rock criticism with deeper historical perspective than most of his colleagues nowadays. The 75 pieces collected here cover the entire pop music spectrum, save reggae, and cast backward as far as pre-World War II styles and artists. Great stuff for reading or reference.
-- Mike Tribby Booklist
An insightful and entertaining rock'n'roll critic, Christgau has written for the Village Voice for close to 30 years. This collection of his writings from 1972 to 1997 covers popular music styles from the sophisticated vocals of Nat King Cole to the smartass hip hop of the Beastie Boys and all points in between...At once a history lesson, a road map to social and cultural change, and a music appreciation course, this is essential for all public libraries.
-- Dan Bogey Library Journal
Christgau's columns and reviews at the Village Voice and elsewhere over the last three decades helped create the casually knowing, aggressively personal style of an entire generation of professional rock critics...At his best, he's showing off while having fun, while telling readers what he thinks about the work he likes--the first job of all critics. These essays provide...much raw information, and show...much listening-in-action.
-- Publisher's Weekly
Along with Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau is the writer who has best explained what the rest of us intuitively understood about the last thirty years of rock and roll but couldn't quite say. As is entirely evident in this brilliant and idiosyncratic survey, before anyone else Christgau identified the meaning in the maelstrom of Exile on Main Street, the profane ecstasy of Al Green's voice, Cobain's cry from the approaching oblivion--and in so doing didn't just monitor the music and map it, but changed it.
-- Steve Erickson
With the relentlessness of a searing hot guitar, 'the Dean' peels away the mythologies that blur music, politics and economics. With incomparable grace, wit and and uncompromising critical sensibility, Christgau offers a glimpse of beauty and the beast--the sacred and the profane, dancing in the moonlight, sha la la la.
-- Dr. Donna Gaines
Robert Christgau is the dean of American rock criticism, not because he's opinionated (which he is), contentious (which he is), and witty (which he is). He is a dean because whenever he writes he teaches about pop culture, music, and America.
-- Nelson George, author of The Death of Rhythm and Blues
Not knowing Sylvester from Coolio, I'm inclined to enthuse about Robert Christgau's intelligence, humor, and style, which straddles the vernacular and the high-falutin like nobody's business. But when I read his discourses on music I do know (more than half of Grown Up All Wrong, happily), all that recedes before the fact that he is a sage critic who breathes music and can get to the nub of any performance, allowing the reader to hear almost as insightfully as he does.
-- Gary Giddins, author of Visions of Jazz: The First Century
Robert Christgau has no peer as a rock critic, a profession he helped invent, and one he has lovingly developed since the nineteen sixties. He combines intellectual gravitas with a teenager's passion for music. Through some magic of poetic prose, Christgau exudes rigorous taste without ever becoming a snob. He rejoices in all musical genres, never loses sight of the rebellion and fun and poetry in music and has given us an extraordinary and unique overview of rock and roll. Grown Up All Wrong made me feel young again yet inexplicably okay about being middle aged. A+!
-- Danny Goldberg, Chairman and CEO, Mercury Records Group
Bob Christgau is the pure article. Most rock critics, like most employees of Tower Records, end up mistaking themselves for the rockers they revere. Most of the rest promote themselves as professores. Christgau never falls victim to either of these fatal conceits. He is always our guy, the fellow geekoid standing beside us at the concert. The guy without the backstage pass, who is having a hell of a good time, anyway. Later, he will go home and write something smart and heartfelt, witty and weird about the experience. This earns him the privilege of more music. That's purity, and we are its beneficiaries.
-- Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
To those engaged in the joyful, frustrating, spiritually anarchistic, intellectually rigorous act of figuring out this culture through its popular expressions, Robert Christgau is a patriarch. His face is certainly etched on my personal Mount Rushmore of rock critics. But as this collection proves, the last thing Christgau is is set in stone. Writing with passion and hearty wit about John Lennon and LiliPUT, Cheb Khaled and Coolio, he always keeps moving into new subcultures, cultural moments, and artistic frameworks. This book is the testament of a man who still feels the rush that only the popular music can bring--and still is proud to dance to it, talk about it, love it, in public...Some anti-intellectual once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. If that's the case, Robert Christgau is I.M. Pei.
-- Ann Powers New York Times
It was Robert Christgau's writing above all others' which gave voice to the seriousness and passion so many of us felt about music in the late 60's and early 70's. And now, when that passion has begun to ebb and might otherwise slip into torpor and false nostalgia rationalized by quotidian distraction and fallen ideals, Christgau refuses to let us look away, and remains our pop conscience. Crucial reading, as always.
-- John F. Szwed, Yale University
Robert Christgau's Grown Up All Wrong is full of faith: In pop music, in love, in America, and--this is the best part--a faith in his own opinions. It's fearless.
-- Sarah Vowell, author of Radio On
Bob Christgau has been writing about rock music for over twenty-five years. He moves gracefully from the down-and-dirty to the highfalutin, the ironic to the satiric, and from low comedy to high seriousness. A joy to read, Grown Up All Wrong is the product of a serious mind tackling a worthy subject over a sustained period of time. It is a fascinating meditation on rock music and the rock years.
-- Jon Landau, author of It's Too Late to Stop Now
Just when you think he's got it all wrong, he gets it right...sometimes. With hyper-drone vocabulary Xgau decodes rock and roll life as valid social study. It's infuriating, fascinating and, quite often, illuminating. And it's mostly about men. Duh."
-- Sonic Youth, semi-popular band
Ha ha. The boot is on the other foot now. A-. (That minus always kept me looking over my shoulder.)
-- Jon Langford, The Mekons
Wiity, insightful, savvy, and unafraid to bash pretenders and hangers-on, [Christgau] is usually right on target with his criticism…Christgau gives well-reasoned, often provocative insights into all his subjects, from Elvis Presley to the Clash, Patti Smith and Lou Reed to Nirvana, and at book's end, his Bog Three of George Clinton, Al Green, and Neil Young. To his credit, he's also chosen to scrutinize some fascinating lesser-knowns of twentieth-century rock like Andy Fairweather-Low, Freddy Johnson, Marshall Crenshaw, and Loudon Wainwright III. If you're serious about rock-n-roll, you can't do better than pay close attention to Christgau's musings here.
-- Frank-John Hadley, Experience Hendrix
Christgau puts into words not only what the rest of us can't describe but what we hadn't even noticed was there until he pointed it out...He is right so often, whether it be the general point that music is always about more than itself—it is about the country, the culture, the context—or the specific point that Aretha Franklin's singing is about foibles and flaws as much as it is about exactitude, because only in that way is it a true reflection of life.
-- Guy Somerset Ham & High
In a debased art form, quality rock journalism stands out, which is why Grown Up All Wrong makes for such a rewarding trawl. From the outset, Robert Christgau believed in 'celebrating a moment the high-brows assumed was disposable.' These chronologically arranged essays cover figures such as George Gershwin and Nat King Cole, alongside Patti Smith, Hendrix and Springsteen. Effectively it's a history of popular music, written from the head and heart.
-- Liz Thomson The Independent
The senior music critic at the Village Voice employs critical academic theory and an anti-elitist perspective in these essays on acts as varied as B. B. King, the Beastie Boys and Lou Reed. 'He writes on each with equal erudition,' Laura Jamison [has written]...'The results are brilliant.'
-- Scott Veale New York Times Book Review
[Christgau] uses critical academic theory and an anti-elitist perspective in these essays on acts as varied as B.B. King, the Beastie Boys and Lou Reed. "He writes on each with equal erudition" Laura Jamison wrote in 1998. "The results are brilliant."
-- Times Herald Record
Christgau is no toady, trusting in the strength of his own perceptions rather than in recycling quotations from the artist. True criticism is invariably contentious, and Christgau's aim is certainly true.
-- Mark Paytress Mojo
Known for his honest and insightful criticisms in The Village Voice, Robert Christgau has been 'wasting his time on rock' for nearly three decades. Now, he has put it all (or, at least, most of it) together in this grand compendium of essays on artists ranging from B. B. King to P. J. Harvey. A pop critic in the vanguard of the alternative press, Christgau tells it like it is (or, at least, as he would prognosticate it to be), offering bold opening statements...and revelations...Like Pauline Kael in the film world, Christgau is a critic of broad experience and interest (the compendium ranges from Seattle to Senegal) who is not prone to pull punches. He may even leave a number of icons with black eyes and bruised egos. Some readers may also find themselves upset to find out what Christgau proposes to know and may find more than a few rude awakenings about their jukebox heroes...Christgau makes and breaks the connections and conventions that are the world of rock. So next time you need to defend Mzwahke Mbuli's contributions to pop or explain why the Beatles broke up...in one paragraph or less, consult the man who has heard it all and isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks.
-- Matthew S. Robinson Boston Soundcheck
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: My Favorite Waste of Time
Chapter 1. Where ‘‘Rock and Roll’’ Began
Across the Great Divide: Nat King Cole
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Pop: George Gershwin
The Complete Work of B. B. King
The Blank Slate: George Jones
Black Face, Whose Voice? Emmett Miller
Brown Eyed Handsome Rock and Roller: Chuck Berry
Elvis in Literature: Elvis Presley
Chapter 2. Where ‘‘Rock’’ Began
Spontaneity by the Seat of the Pants: Janis Joplin
Our First Bohemians: The Rolling Stones
God Grows Up: Eric Clapton
Genius Dumb: Led Zeppelin
Jimi Plays History: Jimi Hendrix
Out of This World: Aretha Franklin
Nothing to Say but Everything, or, As Far as He Could Go: John Lennon with John Piccarella
Why the Beatles Broke Up
James Brown’s Great Expectations
Chapter 3. Snatched from the Maw of Commerce
Stevie Wonder Is All Things to All People
A Boogie Band that Loves the Governor (Boo Boo Boo): Lynyrd Skynyrd
Turn On, Drop In, Find Out: The Grateful Dead
Music for Smart People: Randy Newman
Time Waits for No One: Richard Thompson
Father Alone Farther Along: Loudon Wainwright III
Born to Be Mature: Bonnie Raitt
Two Rock and Rollers Who Won’t Change the World: Pete Fowler/Andy Fairweather Low
Chapter 4. Smashing the State-of-the-Art
(If I’m Acting Like a King That’s Because) I’m a Human Being: New York Dolls
Patti Smith Pisses in a Vanguard
The Clash See America Second
The Great Punk Dandy at the Peppermint Lounge: Richard Hell
Pere Ubu’s Right To Choose
Forever Rotten: The Sex Pistols
Chapter 5. Kings of Rhythm
Sylvester Is a Star
Triumph of the Trifle: Ray Parker Jr.
Working the Crowd: Bruce Springsteen / Michael Jackson
Give Him Liberty or Give Him Death: Prince
Magnificent Seven: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
The Beastie Boys Go Too Far
Looking for the Perfect Public Enemy
An Autodidact’s History of KRS-One
Chapter 6. Between Punk and a Pop Place
A Voyage to Liliput
Simple Because He’s Simple: Marshall Crenshaw with Carola Dibbell
Aching to Become: The Replacements
Living Legends: The B-52’s
Sonic Youth Sell Out
Curse of the Mekons
Chapter 7. They Are the World
West Africa Not Africa, Europe Not the World: Salif Keita/Youssou N’Dour
The Black Sea Giant and the Lion Queens: Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens
The Goat-God in History: The Master Musicians of Jajouka
A Goat-God in Exile: (Cheb) Khaled
The Iron Curtain at Midnight: Pulnoc
Culture Hero: Mzwakhe Mbuli
Chapter 8. Careers in Iconicity
Madonnathinking Madonnabout Madonnamusic
Garth Brooks, Michael Bolton, Barney, and You: Garth Brooks
Bette Midler Sings . . . Everything
Lou Reed, Average Guy
What Are Realities of Prince Deal? Hell, What Is Reality?
Making a Spectacle of Herself: Janet Jackson
Chapter 9. Careers in Semipopularity
Selling the Dirt to Pay the Band: Freedy Johnston
Are We Not Girls? We Are L7!
Lucinda Williams’s Reasonable Demands
The Ballad of Polly Jean Harvey: PJ Harvey
Two Backsliders: Iris DeMent/Sam Phillips
On the Real Side: Warren G/Coolio
Art-Rock You Can Dance To: DJ Shadow
Honk if You Love Honking: James Carter
Unlikely Samba: Arto Lindsay
Grrrowing Grrrls: Sleater-Kinney
Blown Away: Nirvana
Chapter 10. Modern Maturity
The Goduncle: George Clinton
Pop Songs to God: Al Green
Wasted on the Young: Neil Young