Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man

Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man

by Robert Christgau

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Overview

One of our great essayists and journalists—the Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau—takes us on a heady tour through his life and times in this vividly atmospheric and visceral memoir that is both a love letter to a New York long past and a tribute to the transformative power of art.

Lifelong New Yorker Robert Christgau has been writing about pop culture since he was twelve and getting paid for it since he was twenty-two, covering rock for Esquire in its heyday and personifying the music beat at the Village Voice for over three decades. Christgau listened to Alan Freed howl about rock ‘n’ roll before Elvis, settled east of Manhattan’s Avenue B forty years before it was cool, witnessed Monterey and Woodstock and Chicago ’68, and the first abortion speak-out. He’s caught Coltrane in the East Village, Muddy Waters in Chicago, Otis Redding at the Apollo, the Dead in the Haight, Janis Joplin at the Fillmore, the Rolling Stones at the Garden, the Clash in Leeds, Grandmaster Flash in Times Square, and every punk band you can think of at CBGB.

Christgau chronicled many of the key cultural shifts of the last half century and revolutionized the cultural status of the music critic in the process. Going Into the City is a look back at the upbringing that grounded him, the history that transformed him, and the music, books, and films that showed him the way. Like Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, E. B. White’s Here Is New York, Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, it is a loving portrait of a lost New York. It’s an homage to the city of Christgau’s youth from Queens to the Lower East Side—a city that exists mostly in memory today. And it’s a love story about the Greenwich Village girl who roamed this realm of possibility with him.

Editorial Reviews

?uestlove

Christgau is the last true-blue record critic on earth. [He’s] pretty much who I make my records for. He’s . . . the last of that whole Lester Bangs generation of record reviewers, and I still heed his words.

Publishers Weekly

02/02/2015
This sprawling, rambunctious, memoir by rock critic Christgau is sometimes tedious and dreary, often arrogant, yet nevertheless brimming with insight. He handily, and mostly affectionately, chronicles his childhood and youth in Flushing, Queens, where he didn’t excel at sports, but was good enough not to be picked last in pickup games, and where he developed a lifelong love of reading and music. A peripatetic forager among the fields of art, Christgau stops along the way to relish Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment (“He conveys the pain of poverty in physical detail and with psychological acuity”) and Truffaut’s Jules and Jim: the film “changed my life.” Even more than the arts, Christgau’s romantic relationships—his long-term partnership with rock critic Ellen Willis and his four-decade-old marriage to writer Carola Dibbell—”constituted an emotional education more action-packed than my professional progress.” In the late 1960s, Christgau rose to the top of a pack of such rock critics as Paul Williams and Richard Meltzer, and he declares, “like most young critics... I was pretty damn sure of myself.” (Mar.)

Jody Rosen

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.

New York Times

Christgau is among America’s first and best rock critics.

Robert Hilburn

Brimming with insight.

Los Angeles Review of Books

A personal bildungsroman . . [he] brought to a relatively disrespected popular genre in the 1960s and ‘70s a new degree of critical intensity and erudition, delivered with an American vernacular energy and wit and let-it-fly opinionatedness.

Brooklyn Magazine

From growing up . . . to formulating his critical process in the Lower East Side of the 1960s, Christgau takes as rigorous an analytical approach as he does with his reviewing. It’s as much a memoir of the development of his editorial sensibility as it is of his life.

The Guardian

Saying something new and distinctive, even about art that’s derivative and undistinguished, is a critic’s perennial challenge. Christgau embraces it with undimming energy, his diction swerving between the academy and the street, his sentences unspooling and spilling references without waiting for you to catch them.

Rob Sheffield

A New York love story like no other—the greatest of rock & roll writers spends a lifetime devoted to a city . . . as caustic and confrontational as a Clash single, yet as sustaining as an Al Green LP—a story as instantly memorable as Robert Christgau’s voice.

Slate

To read Going Into the City is to spend hours in the company of a completely sui generis critical mind, one that’s not only encyclopedically knowledgeable about mid-to-late 20th-century pop culture but capable of lapidary prose, astute insight, and savage wit.

New York magazine

A deeply smart, charmingly gregarious read.

|Los Angeles Times

With the possible exception of his friend Greil Marcus, no American music writer has exerted more influence over the tastes of rock music “consumers” (as he’d insist on calling them) and on the craft of other rock critics.

Grantland

An intellectual autobiography that beautifully captures what it feels like when a cultural experience trapdoors you into a new life.

Ann Powers

Going Into the City is at once a vivid reminder of one of New York’s golden ages and a blessed glimpse into the forming mind of one of our great critics. Both hilarious and full of juicy detail . . . in that utterly inimitable voice.

Eric Lott

Soul satisfying . . .Vintage Christgau here—wise, sharp, funny, rigorous, and genuinely searching, a mighty work of reflection by a major critic who has never turned his back on the pop lives of everyday people.

Christian Science Monitor

Remarkable in its unflagging conviction that the disciplined attention a critic applies to art ought to apply to the self as well . . . Also, it’s funny and has a lot of sex and music in it.

Rolling Stone

An excellent memoir . . . full of rock-critic lore, with vivid cameo appearances by titans like Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, and Ellen Willis . . . Christgau writes with contagious insight about the records, novels, movies and paintings that have shaped his thinking.

Will Hermes

I’ve waited years for this book. An intellectual bildungsroman in which one of our keenest cultural critics unpacks his own New York story alongside . . . the evolution of pop music criticism—an artform that owes him more than anyone.

uestlove

Christgau is the last true-blue record critic on earth. [He’s] pretty much who I make my records for. He’s . . . the last of that whole Lester Bangs generation of record reviewers, and I still heed his words.

Booklist

Here . . . Christgau proves his essentiality with sharp insights and a profound take on popular culture.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Like his reviews, this is compelling, thoughtful and, of course, opinionated.

Time

Honest, detailed, stirring and sweet. And isn’t that how all the best love songs should be?

Boston Globe

Song titles, political movements, and aesthetic notions, in particular Christgau’s restless, kaleidoscopic portrait of the late ‘60s . . . What makes good criticism work, Christgau argues, is ‘a brew of genre knowledge, general knowledge, aesthetic insight, moral passion, palpable delight, prose style, more prose style, and what-have-you.’

Booklist

Here . . . Christgau proves his essentiality with sharp insights and a profound take on popular culture.

Los Angeles Times

With the possible exception of his friend Greil Marcus, no American music writer has exerted more influence over the tastes of rock music “consumers” (as he’d insist on calling them) and on the craft of other rock critics.

Time

Honest, detailed, stirring and sweet. And isn’t that how all the best love songs should be?

Slate

To read Going Into the City is to spend hours in the company of a completely sui generis critical mind, one that’s not only encyclopedically knowledgeable about mid-to-late 20th-century pop culture but capable of lapidary prose, astute insight, and savage wit.

Library Journal

03/15/2015
Artists draw on a variety of influences to create their works. With this title, longtime rock critic Christgau uses the memoir format successfully, revealing the influences on his career as a "professional appreciator"—to borrow a phrase from High Fidelity. A book that nods to James Joyce in its title has a lot to live up to. But Christgau—like Jonathan Lethem in Fear of Music or Chuck Klosterman in Fargo Rock City—dives right in, starting in Queens, his parents' birthplace, and eventually ending up in the Lower East Side, where he honed his editing and writing chops at the Village Voice for 37 years, 32 of them as chief music critic. The memoir, loquacious at turns, is actually a love poem to his wife, set to some of the biggest music and cultural moments of the 20th century. VERDICT Christgau is a critic's critic and a music aficionado. This one is a must-have for those interested in music, journalism, pop culture, and U.S. history. [See Prepub Alert, 8/4/14.]—Stacie Williams, Lexington P.L., KY

Kirkus Reviews

2014-12-21
A veteran rock critic takes readers deeper into the recesses of his thought processes than many might wish to venture.Even more than most memoirs, this is a book that only its author could write. As the self-anointed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Christgau (Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s, 2000, etc.) could have written about the seismic cultural changes he has observed and analyzed; or about how rock music, originally dismissed as kids' stuff, gave him a career he has never outgrown, a vocation that didn't exist before he began writing seriously about rock and popular culture during the mid-1960s; or about the progression of the music (he goes deepest here into New York punk and hip-hop); or about the changes in journalism or the proliferation of cultural criticism (and celebrity journalism). Christgau does touch those bases, fleetingly, but any number of other writers could explore those areas. What no one else could write about in such detail are the author's IQ, childhood memories, romantic relationships and sex life. And no one but a critic—and this critic in particular—would write like this about the woman he would marry: "Sex was hot, crucial and engrossing, but not simple—she was pickier and more changeable than I was used to in hot relationships, and my faulty pleasure receptors, while not impinging on my performance quote unquote, generated emotional disconnects as they gradually righted themselves." As his work for a variety of publications confirms, he is a provocative and perceptive critic and, by all accounts (including his own), a good editor. But his focus here is so narrowly self-absorbed that the most engaged readers will not be those who care most about the culture at large but his journalistic colleagues and contemporaries, who will want to see how they are treated and what scores he settles. Christgau indicates from the start that he is "hardly self-effacing in print," but anyone who borrows his subtitle from James Joyce would never be accused of false humility.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062238818
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,166,787
File size: 811 KB

Customer Reviews