Yesterday I learned that music critic Robert Christgau has written the last of his Consumer Guides, which have appeared, first in The Village Voice and then on MSN.com, for 41 years.
Other, better writers than the one you're reading have already explained why this is a loss for fans of both rock writing and writing in general, so rather than offer inadequate and redundant praise for Christgau's long-running project, I'd like to share a related personal story.
In 2005, I was employed writing sales training manuals for a company in suburban Toronto. I didn't like the job. I was often soul-crushingly bored, and passed time in the office by reading and re-reading the archived reviews on Christgau's website. The writing was smart. It was funny. It compelled me seek out new albums and reconsider old ones. It made me want to be a rock writer.
One spring afternoon, I decided to email Christgau, who was still at The Voice, a review of a Brian Jonestown Massacre concert that I'd written for my college paper. I asked for his opinion. Maybe a week or so later he replied, and said that I should look him up if I was ever in New York City.
Later that summer, I did. I met with Christgau during the office hours he held for a course he was teaching at NYU. I told him that I wanted to be a rock writer. He said that it was nearly impossible to make a living in that line of work and that I should reconsider. But he also said that if I was serious, I should get in touch with Chuck Eddy, then the editor of The Village Voice's music section and himself a brilliant writer, and see about an internship.
I got the internship. I suspect I had some help.
While I was at The Voice, I was lucky enough to have Christgau edit some of my work, a process that entailed going to his apartment and sitting at his side while he worked through the piece, asking me about my ideas, word choices, punctuation, and syntax. I learned so much about writing from him--more than I did at graduate school. Five years on, I'll often ask myself what Bob would think of something I've written. I feel like I often fail to meet his standards, but without his influence, believe me, my stuff would be a lot worse. Robert Christgau was, and is, an invaluable teacher, and you would be doing yourself a service by seeking out his writing, wherever and whenever it next appears.
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