Robert Christgau Checks Out The Ramones

Excerpt from critic's forthcoming memoir telescopes back to CBGB.

Music critic Robert Christgau’s memoir comes out February 24. To whet the appetite, Rolling Stone has teased an excerpt one week ahead of the book’s release.

Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man covers Christgau’s life and career up to the mid-1980s, when he left his post as music editor of the Village Voice. The RS excerpt is anchored to the late 1970s. Here’s a taste:

I remembered a flyer I’d gotten from four geeks in leather jackets: “The Ramones are not an oldies group, they are not a glitter group, they don’t play boogie music and they don’t play the blues. The Ramones are an original Rock and Roll group of 1975, and their songs are brief, to the point and every one a potential hit single.” I was struck by the pop principles informing this manifesto, and [TV’s] Tom [Verlaine] Tim [Johnson] was as game to cross over as I’d just been. So he climbed into the Toyota with me and Carola. CBGB was almost empty. Danny Fields said hello at the bar.

My best estimate is thirteen songs in twenty-three minutes with no intraband sniping – I saw the Ramones dozens of times without witnessing that piece of the legend. I was stunned by how much I liked them. Their uniforms-in-disguise disguising the class split between Forest Hills Joey and Middle Village Johnny, these stylized Queens boys traded the expressionist doomshows that mucked up their semi-popular antecedents the Stooges for deadpan comedy and killer hooks that didn’t understate their alienation an iota.

Last summer, when Chrisgau explained himself to readers of our sister publication Bilboard, he led off his piece in a similarly energetic manner:

Anyone wondering how that guy who grades albums like a damn college professor got a column in the bible of the music business should consider one factoid. At 72, that guy has been covering what we’ll call rock and roll longer than anyone in America: 47 years, and not bored for five minutes running unless you count three to four hundred terrible opening acts.

T magazine critic-at-large Jody Rosen, in some advance praise for Going Into the City, writes: “Often maddening, always thought-provoking… With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century.” Hard to argue with that.

P.S. In case you missed, Cuepoint last week shared a wonderful oral history of CBGB.

[Jacket cover courtesy: HarperCollins]