Monthly Archives: January 2016

Essential Books: Robert Christgau on the Past, Carola Dibbell on the Future

only ones

Dean Of Rock Criticism Robert Christgau Looks Back While Novelist Carola Dibbell Imagines The Future

By Michael Goldberg.

While it was likely coincidental that New York-based editor/rock critic Robert Christgau, who has been working on his memoir since 2007, and Carola Dibbell, a journalist who has been writing mostly unpublished fiction for decades and who is married to Christgau, had their books – his memoir, Going Into The City (Dey St./William Morrow); her debut novel, The Only Ones (Two Dollar Radio) – published almost simultaneously early last year, it was an interesting concurrence and I had to read both to see what this couple who have been part of New York’s counterculture since the ’60s had to say.

I have been reading Robert Christgau’s music writing since I was in high school. First I came across his Consumer Guide – capsule reviews of a dozen or so albums, each of which would get a letter grade, you know, like a school paper – in Creem. I devoured his collection of music articles, “Any Old Way You Choose It,” when it was published in 1973. A few years later, in the mid-‘70s, I subscribed to the Village Voice specifically to read the music section – Riffs – which Christgau edited.

Rock criticism began in the mid-‘60s, and while Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle who began writing criticism about Bob Dylan and The Beatles and others, was there first, Christgau was one of the early rock critics, and once he became music editor at the Voice in 1974, he had a profound influence, not only on the dozens of music writers he discovered, but also on writers like myself who learned how to write about music mostly from what we read in Creem, the Voice and Rolling Stone.

At one point when I was editing a San Francisco magazine called Boulevards, I wrote a monthly roundup of albums I called “Goldberg’s Consumer Guide” in tribute to Christgau’s column.


Although Greil Marcus has likely influenced my approach to writing music criticism more profoundly than anyone else, I learned plenty from Christgau and his crew of Village Voice writers, as well as the gang at Creem. One of the many things I learned from the many writers in the pages of those publications, were ways of digging beneath the surface and finding the depth of emotion and ideas that were in so much of the music I loved. I felt it, and I heard it, but when I was younger I couldn’t articulate what I was hearing. Those rock critics brought an intellectual approach to music criticism. Albums as weighty as Exile On Main Street and Blonde On Blonde were windows into the mysteries of life, as much so as the novels, films and paintings that meant (and mean) so much to me…

Read the rest of this column at Addicted To Noise!

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –

Getting Personal With Bruce Springsteen

The Boss1

by Michael Goldberg

Bruce Springsteen has always written about the past, and as I’ve spent time with The Ties That Bind: The River Sessions, a multi-CD/multi-DVD set that focuses on music Springsteen made during sessions for The River (and includes a fantastic live show from November 1980, three weeks after The River was released), I’ve been reminded of how a yearning for the past (the high drama of youth) was so much a part of Springsteen’s Seventies recordings.

At age 23, on his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, Springsteen was already looking back on songs such as “Growing Up’ and “It’s Hard To Be a Saint in the City.” Even on their release, Born to Run, Darkness at the Edge of Town and The River came across as romantic exaggerations of a time long gone. This wasn’t just due to the lyrics, which sometimes referred to events in the past tense.

Watch Springsteen and band do “Out In The Street” in Tempe, Arizona, 1980:

The sound of Springsteen’s music leaped back past the innovations of mid-to-late ’60s rock, a period that prominently included long-haired psychedelia complete with feedback, distortion and wah-wah pedal effects, to draw on Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound, the rhythm and blues of The Coasters, Sam & Dave and others, and party-rock hit-makers like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Gary U.S. Bonds.

Watch Springsteen and band do “The River” in Tempe, Arizona, 1980:

Consider that in 1975, when Born to Run was released, including a saxophone in the lineup was akin to using a horse and buggy for transportation. Springsteen’s E Street Band, of course, proudly featured the great Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on sax, and the Big Man took a solo in practically every song.

Even when Springsteen wrote in the present, as he did for “Thunder Road,” his line about “Roy Orbison singing to the lonely” placed the time period of the action in the early/mid-‘60s …

Read the rest of this column at Addicted To Noise.

Watch Springsteen and band do “Thunder Road” in 1975:

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –