4
| Books |

Legendary Rock Scribe's Memoir Light on Music

^
Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man - A Memoir By Robert Christgau Dey Street Books, 384 pp., $27.99

Though the "Dean of American Rock Critics" gave himself that title in 1970 as part of a joke (but has held onto it ever since), Robert Christgau could justifiably have been bestowed that title by an independent committee as well.

For four and a half decades -- and chiefly for his 30-plus-year stint at The Village Voice -- Christgau has penned wide-ranging opinions on everyone from John Coltrane, Muddy Waters, and Otis Redding to the Grateful Dead, the Clash and Grandmaster Flash. And largely on record and concert reviews and opinion pieces (the musician interview, he admits, was never his forte).

But if it's Christgau on his life in music you want to read about, this is not the book for you; try instead his Any Old Way You Choose It. That's because the vast majority of this memoir is indeed a memoir about the author's life...of which music is just a portion.

That means the book is almost half over before he goes to work for the Voice, and then the narrative ends about the same time the '70s do. Christgau instead rapid-fires a seemingly endless litany of names both unknown (relatives, schoolmates, teachers) and known (artists, poets, authors, filmmakers) and his impressions of them, their place in his life, and their work (Dreiser! "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"! Crime and Punishment! "Casey at the Bat"! Jules and Jim!).

And after a while, frankly, it gets pretty tedious. We find out more about Christgau's intense fucking with a series of girlfriends/wives/playthings than intense listening. And just when he does begin to wax interestingly on music -- largely punk -- it quickly turns into another direction.

And almost his entire recollection of any musician encounter is a page-and-a-half story about an afternoon with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Though, he at least tells you that's all you get.

Going into the City is indeed a memoir. And it's no fault at all of his that Christgau writes about his life the way he sees fit. But it seems to be far more about a generation and a city and a man's women than it is music or the rock-crit author's self-immersing into it.

And that, ultimately, makes it something of a disappointment.

Like what you read? Or are we missing something? We'd love for you to join our team.

ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS

The Ask Willie D Archives 10 Possible Houston Rap Tourism Destinations Could Houston Ever Have a Great Music Scene? Houston's Top 10 Day-Drinking Bars 10 More Houston Acts You Should Be Listening To


Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.