Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My (spiritual) Dad Just Lost His Job

If you're reading this, you probably know about what happened at the Village Voice today.

August 31, 2006

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

If this comes completely out of the blue, I apologize.It is now official--Village Voice Media fired me today, "for taste," which means (among other things) slightly sweeter severance. This despite the support of new music editor Rob Harvilla, who I like as a person and a writer. We both believed Ihad won myself some kind of niche as gray eminence. So I was surprised Tuesday when I was among the eight Voice employees (five editorial, three art) who were instructed to bring their union reps to a meeting with upper management today. But I certainly wasn't shocked--my approach to music coverage has never been much like that of the New Times papers.

Bless the union, my severance is substantial enough to give me time to figure out what I'm doing next. In fact, having finished all my freelance reviews yesterday, I don't have a single assignment pending. So, since I have no intention of giving uprock criticism, all reasonable offers entertained; my phone number is in the book, as they used to say when there were books.....

Bob Christgau

Obviously I'm sickened by this, sad for Bob and Carola and Nina. Beyond that, I'm freaked out for the profession, what's left of it. Yes, he will be okay, but come on, since when do we supposed stewards of the Fourth Estate treat one of our most eminent presences -- and a man still SO HARDWORKING, so hard-loving, at at time when it's would be perfectly normal to find some laurels and rest -- this way? I am thankful, VERY thankful, for my own job. I can't really go on about Bob's situation now. Just had to stop in here and share with you all, the darkness of dark days, indeed.

(Besides Bob, they let go Ed Park, LD Beghtol, Elizabeth Zimmer, all of whom I deeply respect, and and several others I don't know but who certainly didn't deserve to go this way.)


Anonymous stephanie said...

It's the way of the New Times world, my love. Here in Seattle they gently shoved several regular staffers (all editorial) as well as the freelancers, my sister included. All love to Bob, and all the best. The New world is a cold one, and not very interested in the old school. We are poorer for it (financially as well as spiritually)

10:34 PM

Blogger Carrie said...

I fear for the profession, too. It's becoming more and more difficult to find assignments, meaningful or otherwise, these days (I'm a freelancer). What I don't get is how expanded cultural coverage equates layoffs.

As a former VV intern (under Chuck Eddy) and some-time writer and regular choices contributor (until they changed that, too), this is deeply sad.

7:32 AM

Blogger M said...

actually, most of the Seattle staffers quit of their own accord. they jumped, were not pushed--in part because they (we) knew what was coming.

8:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been afraid this was coming. All media is governed by the dictum of Garry Marshall's soap opera honcho in "Soapdish": "Peppy and cheap." I guess I can drop my on-line subscription to the Voice now.

1:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If The Seattle Times had only canned Patrick Macdonald in a timely fashion, the author of this blog might have been our city's aural goddess...

2:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here here! Patrick MacDonald has had a longer shelf-life than a twinkie.

BTW - word is that Mr. Santelli is moving to your neighborhood.

5:50 PM

Anonymous jim fouratt said...

It has taken me a few weeks to go from my immediate reactions of what happened to Bob Christgua: feelings of anger and despair at the corporate take over of ‘alternative” media .. to understanding that while this is not new news, it strongly hit home harder when the Dean became a victim of an unseemly coup.

Now I am able to go deeper to the meaning of this public humiliation of the world’s best rock critic. Because of his passion of opinion and unwillingness to compromise on his standards, I know that some who read this will bristle at this designation. Nevertheless, I believe it be both deserved and earned.

Bob has been and remains the one rock journalist against whom all others must be judged.

While Bob’s opinions, observations and devastations are well know to any intelligent consumer of popular music, few actually know of his brilliance at editing writers work that made each writer learn the art of owning each word as the essence that moves forward their critique. His abrasive style of challenging a writer, whose smarts and skill could have allowed a pass, demanded the best of each writer’s ability to express most directly to a reader what is of value in his/her critical insights.

Many readers are not aware of the role Christgua played in nurturing a couple of generations of young critics into the positions of power and influence they have now.

Writers and editors like John Pareles, Ann Powers, R.J. Smith, Tom Carson, Toure, to name just a few that are the critical edge on pop music and cultural journalism in print today, write and think they way they do because of Bob’s relentless demand to know why this word and that phrase is necessary.

He never made you agree with nor write like him, but he did demand you find the best expression of your own critical voice.

My few experiences of being edited by Bob profoundly changed the way I approach critical writing.

Bob did not edit me often but he had a profound effect on my ability to express my ideas at their economic and persuasive best. .. and I am sure he probably would nitpick this piece to make it shorter and clearer.

I am grateful for his patience and persistence now, that I smarted at then.

Ageism in the music business is well known. Experience, which hones the very skills that essentially matter, has little value in the face of a youth obsessed industry . We have seen artists and executives tossed out in the rapacious , greedy lust for fresh blood.

Now it is happening to writers too.

It is hard to imagine not having the Dean’s Consumer Guide to do battle with and/or learn from. The Voice’s Pazz and Jop was always to me the single most important critics poll of the year. Not only because of the diversity of writers polled, but because he got to share his top 100 when we only got 10. And he pugnaciously refused to follow the flavor of the moment unless of course it was in fact delicious.

I know that Bob’s voice, as current as it is historically accurate, will continue to stoke the debate and define the sound of music as pop culture. Now I will have to look not in one place to find what he likes and does not, but search the web for where he will I am sure still be pounding the world’s music beat and pontificating on what matters.

Bob helped not only artists and readers raise their standards, he also held out for diversity in definition of popular culture, its makers and critics.

Damn! the shot-sightedness of such an editorial bashing! Bob Christgua’s voice actually does not belong where profit and lifestyle drive the critical vision of a publication.

To me Bob’s opinions still matters, the Voice, I do not know if, in fact, it does anymore.

Jim Fouratt

1:00 PM

Anonymous David Comay said...

I'm neither a musician nor a rock critic, but I feel very sad after reading this item in your weblog. I have found people like Robert Christgau and yourself to be immeasurably helpful in understanding the motivations, the ambitions and more than anything, the ability of the musician through their work to take us somewhere we normally wouldn't go to. Although there were many a review which I disagree with his opinion or grade, I always appreciated the insights of Robert Christgau; his voice and those of the others in the village that were let go will be deeply missed.

10:51 PM


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