Robert Thomas Christgau (/ˈkrɪstɡaʊ/; born April 18, 1942) is
an American essayist and music journalist. One of the earliest
professional rock critics, he spent 37 years as the chief music critic
and senior editor for The Village Voice, during which time he created
and oversaw the annual Pazz & Jop poll. He has also covered
popular music for Esquire, Creem, Newsday, Playboy, Rolling Stone,
Billboard, NPR, Blender, and MSN Music, and is a visiting arts teacher
at New York University.
Christgau is known for his terse capsule reviews, first published in
his Consumer Guide columns during his tenure at
The Village Voice
The Village Voice from
1969 to 2006. He has written three books based on those columns, along
with two collections of essays. He continued writing capsule
reviews in MSN Music, Cuepoint, and Noisey—Vice's music
section—where they are currently published in his Expert Witness
1 Early life
2.1 Consumer Guide and Expert Witness
2.2 Pazz & Jop
3 Style and impact
4 Personal life
7 Further reading
8 External links
Christgau was born in Greenwich Village and grew up in Queens,
the son of a fireman. He has said he became a rock and roll fan
when disc jockey
Alan Freed moved to the city in 1954. After
attending a public school in New York City, he left New York for
four years to attend Dartmouth College, graduating in 1962 with a B.A.
in English. While at college his musical interests turned to jazz, but
he quickly returned to rock after moving back to New York.
Christgau has said that Miles Davis' 1960 album Sketches of Spain
initiated in him "one phase of the disillusionment with jazz that
resulted in my return to rock and roll". He was deeply influenced
New Journalism writers such as
Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe. "My
ambitions when I went into journalism were always, to an extent,
literary", Christgau later said.
Christgau initially wrote short stories, before giving up fiction in
1964 to become a sportswriter, and later, a police reporter for the
Newark Star-Ledger. He became a freelance writer after a story he
wrote about the death of a woman in
New Jersey was published by New
York magazine. He was asked to take over the dormant music column at
Esquire, which he began writing in early 1967. After Esquire
discontinued the column, Christgau moved to
The Village Voice
The Village Voice in 1969,
and he also worked as a college professor.
In early 1972, he accepted a full-time job as music critic for
Newsday. Christgau returned to the
Village Voice in 1974 as music
editor. He remained there until August 2006, when he was fired shortly
after the paper's acquisition by New Times Media. Two months
later, Christgau became a contributing editor at
Rolling Stone (which
first published his review of Moby Grape's Wow in 1968). Late in
2007, Christgau was fired by Rolling Stone, although he continued
to work for the magazine for another three months. Starting with the
March 2008 issue, he joined Blender, where he was listed as "senior
critic" for three issues and then "contributing editor". Christgau
had been a regular contributor to Blender before he joined Rolling
Stone. He continued to write for Blender until the magazine ceased
publication in March 2009.
In 1987, he was awarded a
Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of
"Folklore and Popular Culture" to study the history of popular
Christgau has also written frequently for Playboy, Spin, and Creem. He
appears in the 2011 rockumentary Color Me Obsessed, about the
He previously taught during the formative years of the California
Institute of the Arts. As of 2007, he was also an adjunct professor in
Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York
In August 2013, Christgau revealed in an article written for Barnes
& Noble's website that he is writing a memoir. That same
month, during an interview with The Wire's Zach Schonfeld, who
described Christgau as "notoriously grumpy" and "characteristically
cranky", Christgau said he enjoyed pornography, stating that it
"performs its arousal function quite well with no outside help".
On July 15, 2014, Christgau debuted a monthly column on Billboard's
Consumer Guide and Expert Witness
Christgau is perhaps best known for his Consumer Guide columns, which
have been published more-or-less monthly since July 10, 1969, in the
Village Voice, as well as a brief period in Creem. In its
original format, the Consumer Guide consisted of 18 to 20
single-paragraph album reviews, each of which was given a letter grade
ranging from A+ to E−. These reviews were later
collected, expanded, and extensively revised in a three-volume book
series, the first of which was published in 1981 as Christgau's Record
Guide: Rock Albums of the '70s; it was followed by Christgau's Record
Guide: The '80s (1990) and Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the
In 1990, Christgau changed the format of the Consumer Guide to focus
more on albums he found worthier than others. Additional space was
given to "honorable mentions" (summarized in a phrase) and "choice
cuts", which denoted good songs on an album that was otherwise
unworthy of listeners' money or time. Wolk said the latter
category was "more about tracking his taste than arguing for it".
Lesser records were largely relegated to noted-without-comment
listings of "Duds" and an annual "Turkey Shoot" column in The Village
Voice. Christgau also introduced the "neither" grade (denoted by a
frowny face), which is an album that may impress at first with
coherent craft and one or two highlights, before failing to make an
In 2001, robertchristgau.com—an online archive of Christgau's
Consumer Guide reviews and other writings from his career—was set up
as a co-operative project between Christgau and longtime friend Tom
Hull; the two had met in 1975 shortly after Hull queried Christgau as
The Village Voice's regional editor for St. Louis. The website was
created after the September 11, 2001 attacks when Hull was stuck in
New York while visiting from his native Wichita. While Christgau spent
many nights preparing past
Village Voice writings for the website, by
2002 much of the older Consumer Guide columns had been inputted by
Hull and a small coterie of fans. According to Christgau, Hull is "a
computer genius as well as an excellent and very knowledgeable music
critic, but he’d never done much web site work. The design of the
web site, especially its high searchability and small interest in
graphics, are his idea of what a useful music site should be".
In December 2006, Christgau began writing his Consumer Guide columns
for MSN Music, initially appearing every other month, before switching
to a monthly schedule in June 2007. On July 1, 2010, he announced in
the introduction to his Consumer Guide column that the July 2010
installment would be his last on MSN.
On November 22, 2010, Christgau launched a blog on MSN, called "Expert
Witness", which featured reviews only of albums that he had graded B+
or higher, since those albums "are the gut and backbone of my musical
pleasure"; the writing of reviews for which are "so rewarding
psychologically that I'm happy to do it at blogger's rates". On
September 20, 2013, Christgau announced in the comments section that
Expert Witness would cease to be published by October 1, 2013,
writing, "As I understand it, Microsoft is shutting down the entire
MSN freelance arts operation at that time ..." On September
10, 2014, he debuted a new version of Expert Witness on Cuepoint, an
online music magazine published on the blogging platform Medium.
In August 2015, the Expert Witness column was relocated to Noisey.
Pazz & Jop
In 1971, Christgau inaugurated the annual Pazz & Jop music poll.
The results are published in the
Village Voice every February, and
compile "top ten" lists submitted by music critics across the nation.
Throughout Christgau's career at the Voice, every poll was accompanied
by a lengthy Christgau essay analyzing the results, and pondering the
year's overall musical output. The Voice has continued the feature,
despite Christgau's dismissal, and although he no longer oversees the
poll, Christgau continues to vote in it and since the 2015 poll has
contributed essays to the results. 
Style and impact
No one in this time and place has the time to sit and listen
uninterrupted for sixty minutes to anybody's music. I think Robert
Christgau is the last record reviewer on earth who listens to eight
records a day twice before giving his opinion on it ... Christgau is
the last true-blue record critic on earth. He gave us an A-plus.
That’s pretty much who I make my records for. He's like the last of
Lester Bangs generation of record reviewers, and I still
heed his words. He gets my vision, and I’m cool with that. But half
these people, they read Pitchfork, and they base half their opinion
and quotes on that.
"Christgau's blurbs", writes Slate music critic Jody Rosen, "are like
no one else's—dense with ideas and allusions, first-person
confessions and invective, highbrow references and slang". Rosen
describes Christgau's writing as "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. ... All rock critics working
today, at least the ones who want to do more than rewrite PR copy, are
in some sense Christgauians." Spin magazine wrote in 2015, "You
probably wouldn't be reading this publication if Robert Christgau
didn’t largely invent rock criticism as we know it."
Douglas Wolk said the earliest Consumer Guide columns were generally
brief and detailed, but "within a few years, though, he developed his
particular gift for 'power, wit and economy,' a phrase he used to
Ramones in a dead-on 37-word review of Leave Home." In
his opinion, the Consumer Guide reviews were "an enormous pleasure to
read slowly, as writing, even if you have no particular interest in
pop music. And if you do happen to have more than a little interest in
pop music, they're a treasure." Fans of Christgau's "Consumer Guide"
like to share lines from their favorite reviews, Wolk writes, citing
"Sting wears his sexual resentment on his chord changes like a closet
'American Woman' fan" (from Christgau's review of the 1983 Police
album Synchronicity); "Calling
Neil Tennant a bored wimp is like
Jackson Pollock of making a mess" (reviewing the 1987 Pet
Shop Boys album Actually); and "
Mick Jagger should fold up his penis
and go home" (in a review of Prince's 1980 album Dirty Mind).
Christgau has named Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, the
Beatles, and the
New York Dolls
New York Dolls as his top five artists of all
time. In a 1998 obituary, he called
Frank Sinatra "the greatest
singer of the 20th century". Christgau readily admits to having
prejudices and generally disliking genres such as heavy metal, art
rock, progressive rock, bluegrass, gospel, Irish folk, and jazz
fusion. "I admire metal's integrity, brutality, and
obsessiveness", Christgau wrote in 1986, "but I can't stand its
delusions of grandeur, the way it apes and misapprehends reactionary
notions of nobility". He has said he is not "encyclopedic" about
popular music; Wolk wrote that "there are not a lot of white guys in
their 60s waving the flag for Lil Wayne's Da Drought 3, especially not
in the same column as they wave the flag for a Willie Nelson/Merle
Haggard/Ray Price trio album, an anthology of new Chinese pop, Vampire
Wussy (who? Well, if Christgau gave 'em an A, maybe you'd
best find out)." In his 2000 Consumer Guide book, Christgau said
his favorite rock album was either The Clash (1977) or New York Dolls
(1973), while his favorite record in general was Monk's 1958
Misterioso. In July 2013, during an interview with Esquire
magazine's Peter Gerstenzang, Christgau criticized the voters at the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying "they're pretty stupid" for not
voting in the New York Dolls.
Lou Reed recorded a tirade against Christgau and his column
on the 1978 live album, Take No Prisoners: "Critics. What does Robert
Christgau do in bed? I mean, is he a toe fucker? Man, anal retentive,
A Consumer's Guide to Rock, what a moron: 'A Study' by, y'know, Robert
Christgau. Nice little boxes: B-PLUS. Can you imagine working for a
fucking year, and you get a B+ from some asshole in The Village
Voice?" Christgau rated the album C+ and wrote in his review, "I
thank Lou for pronouncing my name right." In December 1980,
Christgau provoked angry responses from Voice readers when his column
approvingly quoted his wife Carola Dibbell's reaction to the murder of
John Lennon: "Why is it always
Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn't
Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?" Similar angst came from Sonic
Youth in their song "Kill Yr Idols". Christgau responded by saying
"Idolization is for rock stars, even rock stars manqué like these
impotent bohos—critics just want a little respect. So if it's not
too hypersensitive of me, I wasn't flattered to hear my name
pronounced right, not on this particular title track."
Christgau married fellow critic and writer
Carola Dibbell in 1974;
they have an adopted daughter, Nina, born in Honduras in 1986. He
has said he was raised in a "born-again Church" in Queens, but has
since become an atheist.
Christgau has been long, albeit argumentative, friends with critics
such as Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, and Ellen Willis, whom he dated from
1966 to 1969. He has also mentored younger critics such as Ann Powers
and Chuck Eddy.
Any Old Way You Choose It: Rock and Other Pop Music, 1967-1973,
Penguin Books, 1973
Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the '70s, Ticknor &
Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s, Pantheon Books, 1990
Grown Up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists from Vaudeville to
Techno, Harvard University Press, 1998
Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s, St. Martin's Griffin,
Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, Dey Street
^ a b c d e f O'Dair, Barbara (May 9, 2001). "A conversation with
Robert Christgau". Salon. Retrieved April 13, 2008. ... there are
things I don't like or get. Metal—I don't think metal's as bad as I
hear it as being.
^ [dead link]
^ a b "Robert Christgau". Harper Collins. Retrieved September 30,
^ a b Christgau, Robert (August 13, 2015). "Welcome to Expert
Witness". Vice. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
^ Christgau, Robert (2015). Going into the City. Dey Street.
p. 23. ISBN 978-0-06-223880-1.
^ Christgau, Robert (December 30, 1971). "Consumer Guide (22)". The
Village Voice. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
^ a b Christgau, Robert. "
Robert Christgau Biography".
Robertchristgau.com. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
^ Christgau, Robert (2004), "A Counter in Search of a Culture". Any
Old Way You Choose It, Cooper Square Press, p.2.
^ O'Dair, Barbara (May 9, 2001). "A conversation with Robert
Christgau". Salon.com. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
^ Christgau, Robert (May 21, 1970). "
Jazz Annual". The Village Voice.
Retrieved September 20, 2013. ... Sketches of Spain, which in 1960
catapulted Davis into the favor of the kind of man who reads Playboy
and initiated in me one phase of the disillusionment ...
^ Eliscu, Jenny (October 26, 2016). "Prolific Music Critic Robert
Christgau Knows What He Likes (and Hates)". Vice. Retrieved October
^ Christgau, Robert (2004), "A Counter in Search of a Culture". Any
Old Way You Choose It, Cooper Square Press, p.4.
^ a b c Rosen, Judy (September 5, 2006), "X-ed Out: The Village Voice
fires a famous music critic". Slate.com. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
^ Bob Christgau (June 22, 1968), Correspondence, Love Letters &
Advice, Rolling Stone
^ Christgau, Robert (March 27, 2009), "Poptastic bye-bye". ARTicles.
Retrieved March 4, 2010
^ Blender, June 2008, p. 16
^ "Robert Christgau". Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved November 8,
^ Cohen, David (January 16, 2007). "Robert Christgau: School of rock".
^ Beaudoin, Jedd (December 2, 2012). "'Color Me Obsessed: A Film About
the Replacements' Paints 'Minor Band' with Major Strokes". PopMatters.
Retrieved January 29, 2014.
^ Cohen, David (January 16, 2007). "Robert Christgau: School of rock".
The Guardian. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
^ Christgau, Robert (August 27, 2013). "Tell All". Barnes & Noble.
Retrieved January 26, 2014.
^ Schonfeld, Zach (August 27, 2013). "
Robert Christgau Is Writing a
Memoir, Enjoys Porn". The Wire. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
^ Gonzalez, Ed (July 16, 2014). "Links for the Day: Nathan Rabin Is
Sorry for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl,
Robert Christgau Premieres
Billboard Column, Hillary Clinton on The Daily Show, & More".
Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
^ a b c d e f g Wolk, Douglas (July 9, 2010). "Music's Time Capsules:
41 Years of Christgau's 'Consumer Guide'". Vulture. Retrieved April
^ Applegate, Edd (1996). Literary Journalism: A Biographical
Dictionary of Writers and Editors. Greenwood Publishing Group.
p. 49. ISBN 0313299498.
^ a b "Key to Icons". RobertChristgau.com.
^ a b Rubio, Steven (July 2002). "Online exchange with Robert
Christgau". Rockcritics Archives. rockcritics.com. As for my
limitations, they're public and they're legion. Metal, art-rock,
bluegrass, gospel, Irish folk, fusion jazz (arghh)—all prejudices
I'm prepared to defend and in most cases already have, but prejudices
nevertheless. I pretty much lost reggae with dancehall; my
acquaintance with most techno is a nodding one (zzzz); I've never
really liked salsa ...
^ Christgau, Robert. "Inside Music". MSN. Retrieved July 1,
^ Christgau, Robert (November 22, 2010). "This Blog—The Whats, Whys,
and Wherefores". Expert Witness. MSN. Retrieved January 15,
^ Christgau, Robert (September 20, 2013). "Odds and Ends 036". MSN
Music. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
^ Christgau, Robert (September 10, 2014). "Expert Witness: The Story
Till Now". Cuepoint. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
^ Christgau, Robert (January 12, 2016). "Pazz & Jop 2015, Robert
Christgau, Joe Levy,
Ann Powers and Greg Tate on the Year that Was".
^ "Music Latest News". Village Voice. July 6, 2017. Retrieved July
^ Roberts, Michael (May 28, 2008). "Q&A with Ahmir ?uestlove
Thompson of the Roots". Westword. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
^ "Read an Excerpt From Robert Christgau's
Memoir Going Into the
City". Spin. February 23, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
^ Christgau, Robert (1998). "
Frank Sinatra 1915–1998". Details.
Retrieved November 8, 2015.
^ Christgau, Robert (December 30, 1986). "Consumer Guide". The Village
Voice. New York. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
^ Christgau, Robert (2000). "How to Use These Appendices". Christgau's
Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. Macmillan Publishers. p. 352.
ISBN 0312245602. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
^ Gerstenzang, Peter (July 24, 2013). "Why Aren't the New York Dolls
in the Rock Hall of Fame?". Esquire. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
^ Wolfsen, Jared (May 4, 2002). "Walk On The Wild Side". Archived from
the original on July 20, 2002. - fan transcription of the Take
No Prisoners album
^ Christgau, Robert. "Lou Reed". RobertChristgau.com.
^ Christgau, Robert (December 22, 1980). "John Lennon, 1940–1980".
Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics. Retrieved March 15,
^ Christgau, Robert. "Sonic Youth". RobertChristgau.com.
^ Dickey, Jack (February 24, 2015). "How To Survive 13,000 Album
Reviews". Time. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
^ Christgau, Robert (August 27, 1991). "With God on Their Side". The
Village Voice. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
Buyanovsky, Dan (February 24, 2015). "'I'm a Good Writer' - Robert
Christgau on the Life and Legacy of Robert Christgau". Noisey.
Retrieved April 3, 2017.
Devon Powers, Writing the Record:
The Village Voice
The Village Voice and the Birth of
Rock Criticism. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Christgau.
Users' Guide to the Consumer Guide at MSN Music
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