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Writing the Record

The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism

Devon Powers

Publication Year: 2013

During the mid-1960s, a small group of young journalists made it their mission to write about popular music, especially rock, as something worthy of serious intellectual scrutiny. Their efforts not only transformed the perspective on the era’s music but revolutionized how Americans have come to think, talk, and write about popular music ever since. In Writing the Record, Devon Powers explores this shift by focusing on The Village Voice, a key publication in the rise of rock criticism. Revisiting the work of early pop critics such as Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau, Powers shows how they stood at the front lines of the mass culture debates, challenging old assumptions and hierarchies and offering pioneering political and social critiques of the music. Part of a college-educated generation of journalists, Voice critics explored connections between rock and contemporary intellectual trends such as postmodernism, identity politics, and critical theory. In so doing, they became important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture that would emerge during the 1970s. Drawing on archival materials, interviews, and insights from media and cultural studies, Powers not only narrates a story that has been long overlooked but also argues that pop music criticism has been an important channel for the expression of public intellectualism. This is a history that is particularly relevant today, given the challenges faced by criticism of all stripes in our current media environment. Powers makes the case for the value of well-informed cultural criticism in an age when it is often suggested that “everyone is a critic.”

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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Introduction: Criticism

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pp. 1-22

The last time I saw Ellen Willis was in the late spring of 2006, when we met to discuss my dissertation, a project I would later revise into this book. Now, I can only remember snippets of our encounter. Out of respect for the graduate students on strike as New York University’s administration blocked their efforts to unionize, she insisted we meet off campus, choosing...

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1. Village

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pp. 23-42

On October 30, 1955, the New York Times announced to the rest of the city word of a new downtown newspaper. Called the Village Voice, it printed its first issue on October 26 and sold for five cents every Wednesday at Lower Manhattan vendors. Editor Dan Wolf and publisher Ed Fancher intended to make their paper Village-centric not just in distribution. Localism also governed its choice of writers—as Wolf put it, the neighborhood teemed...

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2. Pop

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pp. 43-73

Over the course of Goldstein’s polemic, his tone grew more urgent—one might even say incensed. “We learn to tell Dostoevski from Spillane, but we know nothing about the flicks,” he wrote. “We learn to tell Rembrandt from Keane, but we know nothing about advertising.” Here, in the fourth edition of his new ...

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3. Hype

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pp. 74-97

The above is an excerpt from Richard Goldstein’s “Giraffe Hunters,” a piece he wrote toward the end of 1966. Its graphic imagery portended what would be the overwhelming theme of his writing as his tenure at the Voice came to a close: the industry’s violent, dramatic capture of the spirit of rock. Coming just months after his column’s enthusiastic beginning, “Giraffe Hunters”...

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4. Identity

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pp. 98-122

The Voice critics who wrote into 1969 and beyond continued to question the efficacy of a rock-fueled revolution—a debate deeply intertwined with concerns over whether rock culture was losing its momentum, cogency, and meaning. Christgau professed his ambivalence in his column Rock & Roll &, writing “Rock and roll . . . is going to revolutionize the world,” before...

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5. Mattering

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pp. 123-136

The 1970s secured Christgau’s standing as one of rock criticism’s most perspicacious observers as well as its eagerest workhorse. As editor of the Voice music section, he steered the writing of numerous prominent critics; his tireless effort at the Consumer Guide, for a number of years printed in the Voice as well as Creem, guaranteed that his writing style and taste preferences...


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pp. 137-156


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pp. 157-160

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 161-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762639
E-ISBN-10: 1613762631
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340115
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340117

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Village Voice (Greenwich Village, New York, N.Y.).
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