The immediate answer to the above question in the title would be – everywhere. And nowhere. At the same time. I’m talking about two trends actually. Excluding such great and known names such as Lester Bangs and Crawdaddy magazine founder Paul Williams, who are truly gone, most of the big names like Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, and Simon Frith are still around; somewhere in columns in established cultural magazines, books, and even academia. But it seems that their style of integrated cultural, musical and sociological analysis that at the same time deconstructs and reconstructs certain musical work is less and less visible. What has happened?
The heady days in the ’60s when rock music was the main part of a new artistic and social-cultural movement (then called ‘counterculture’, as it was geared at re-examining then set cultural norms), and rock criticism was attracting all sorts of intellectual types, producing writing that has its merits on more than one level are all but gone. Today, two trends seem to be predominant. One is that rock music as part of overall culture has become an almost too strictly defined academic subject, examined in serious, sometimes overtly serious academic research works like the extensive study Rock Criticism from the Beginning, curated by four academics and academic publications such as Rock Music Studies. Or into an extensive online archive of past rock critic glories, like the one offered by Rock’s Backpages.
…rock music as part of overall culture has become an almost too strictly defined academic subject…Or into an extensive online archive of past rock critic glories, like the one offered by Rock’s Backpages.
Some brilliant stuff to be read in all of those, but how many of the everyday music fans and followers is ready to shell out about $100 dollars per subscription for either Rock Music Studies or Rock’s Backpages, or quite a hefty sum for the aforementioned academic work or one of Greil Marcus’ excellent books? What those everyday followers of rock (fashion), to quote a bit an old The Kinks song, are currently left with is looking out at a plethora of online sites and blogs that offer ‘musical reviews’, basically written by anybody who feels that they can do so. Of course, excluding visits to personal sites of the likes of Robert Christgau, Tom Hull or former NME star writer Charles Shaar Murray or a few others, you are left with any and all of recent newcomers that will serve you up with everything – from some excellent writing and commentary to re-hashes of the standard press kits that the PR send along with today’s standard – album streams, or music file downloads at best.
Rock criticism minus the criticism
These days in many cases, reviews usually serve as a promotional wheel for music PR’s…
What seems to be lost in all this is the criticism itself in the term ‘rock criticism.’ As Charles Shaar Murray explains in a text he wrote back in the ’90s (still on his site), album reviews do not necessarily mean criticism. These days in many cases, reviews usually serve as a promotional wheel for music PR’s, who often don’t even bother to send the original LP or CD, not even giving a chance to the reviewers to look at the complete work as a piece of an attempt at something more than a consumer product.
Or even more so, as Ted Gioia wrote in his piece for Daily Beast, music criticism has “degenerated into lifestyle reporting” – where? who did what? when? and to whom? in the music business (with the emphasis on business) dominates.
…music criticism has “degenerated into lifestyle reporting”
Ok, so the times have changed. But does that mean that the need for a more deepened analysis and look at the cultural and social background of certain music has diminished? Of course not, and such an extensive academic research into the subject matter is evidence to that. The question though remains – how to revive such work in more mainstream, particularly online publications. Good ‘new’ rock critics are out there, they just need to ‘pop up;’ and the right conditions exist.