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Fred Seibert's Blog

“Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

February 6th, 2011

“Christgau, writing in The [Village] Voice, it just seemed like this weekly bulletin from the front.”  -Anthony DeCurtis, from Paul Lovelace’s 1999 documentary “Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

Robert Christgau is the kind of inspiring critic and editor (primarily with New York’s The Village Voice) I wish we had in animation. A passionate musical eclectic, reading him in real time (the key might be “real time”) for most of the last 40 years would constantly keep you in a state of imagination and optimism. Even when you disagreed with him (I certainly did a majority of the time), his enthusiasms couldn’t help but infect you with the notion that pop music was worth it, that the very immediacy of popular culture had something to offer all of us. Of course, his definition of “pop” spanned the distance from Ornette Coleman to Patti Smith to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.

And that breadth was a lot of his message. Thousands of recordings are released, more thousands all the time, and it seemed like Christgau felt that the very fact they were released at all was cause for attention. He’d you he was inspired and that maybe you could be too. For me, like writer Anthony DeCurtis, Christgau was really a reporter about culture. His radar on punk and disco and hip-hop constantly reminded me to keep my mind open to creative people of all stripes, even though I was applying it in jazz, then television, and eventually, to animation.

My sister’s friend, publisher Russ Smith, opines in the doc that Bob Christgau was emblematic of the decline in The Village Voice’s audience, which is just a rival’s sour grapes. For this reader, certainly, he was the reason (and not just his columns, but the diversity of the other writers he brought to the music section) I regularly bought the paper throughout its ups and downs.

In animation, we appear to have almost no journalists interested enough in our medium to so completely immerse themselves in everything the art has to offer. I’ve posted about my admiration for Chris Robinson’s writing, and Charles Solomon and Michael Barrier write intelligently too. However, the almost purposeful disinterest in anything outside of their subjective parameters “quality” make their work a bit, um, limiting. Amid Amidi is certainly impassioned, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the confines of his shtick. Jerry Beck (and one of his mentors, Leonard Maltin) are heartfelt writers with perhaps the widest range of public interests in animation and cartoons, then again, I’m not sure I’d really describe them as critics, certainly in the manner of Robert Christgau (or Pauline Kael or Whitney Balliett). I, for one, would love to have a good writer constantly challenging all of us to work beyond our current projects, to aspire to greatness, whether it be greatness dumb or intelligent.

I just stumbled upon this short, enjoyable, 1999 documentary on Christgau by director Paul Lovelace (split into four parts on YouTube). I’d never heard about it and I can’t find much of anything about it (or Lovelace) on the web, but… here it is.

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