A new book charts the intellectual history of the Village Voice's towering rock critics, as well as the community that sprung up around them.
May 03, 2013
Newly out from University of Massachusetts Press, Devon Powers's Writing The Record: The Village Voice and The Birth of Rock Criticism—which'll cost you a whopping $80 for its 160 pages in hardcover, making the paperback's $22.95 price tag seem almost reasonable—is the first work of intellectual history I know of whose heroes are a couple of guys I used to see around the office during my own tenderfoot days at the paper in question. Don't blame me for both being uncommonly interested and feeling time's icy fingers do the Charleston on the nape of my neck. Reading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland was weird enough; that Perlstein was too young to have any first-hand memories of the Nixon era demanded a certain, how you say, adjustment. Still, it's not as if I used to run into Tricky Dick at the soda machine.
So let's get my personal acquaintance with Powers's two protagonists out of the way. Richard Goldstein, author of the Voice's seminal "Pop Eye" column from 1966 to 1969, is someone I never exchanged more than a few pleasantries with during my later stints at the paper. On the other hand, Robert Christgau, the Voice's rock-crit colossus for almost 40 years until he got the boot in 2006, not only gave me my start as a reviewer but remains a valued friend, albeit one I'm lucky to see once a year. Fortunately, Powers's time frame—mid-'60s to early '70s, with considerable and shrewd preliminary sussing of the Village's history as a bohemian lodestar and the Voice's Ike-era origins—cuts off well before the punk-crazed batch of Voice contributors I belonged to came into the picture.