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March 19, 2013
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v2.1 Reference

Writing the Record

The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism

During the mid-1960s, a small group of young journalists made it their mission to write about popular music, especially rock, as something worthy of serious intellectual scrutiny. Their efforts not only transformed the perspective on the era's music but revolutionized how Americans have come to think, talk, and write about popular music ever since.

In Writing the Record, Devon Powers explores this shift by focusing on The Village Voice, a key publication in the rise of rock criticism. Revisiting the work of early pop critics such as Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau, Powers shows how they stood at the front lines of the mass culture debates, challenging old assumptions and hierarchies and offering pioneering political and social critiques of the music. Part of a college-educated generation of journalists, Voice critics explored connections between rock and contemporary intellectual trends such as postmodernism, identity politics, and critical theory. In so doing, they became important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture that would emerge during the 1970s.

Drawing on archival materials, interviews, and insights from media and cultural studies, Powers not only narrates a story that has been long overlooked but also argues that pop music criticism has been an important channel for the expression of public intellectualism. This is a history that is particularly relevant today, given the challenges faced by criticism of all stripes in our current media environment. Powers makes the case for the value of well-informed cultural criticism in an age when it is often suggested that "everyone is a critic."

About the Author

Devon Powers is assistant professor of culture and communication at Drexel University.


"This book is sure to create quite a stir, particularly vis-à-vis its persuasive claims about Robert Christgau and Richard Goldstein as major figures in postwar intellectual history. Through a focus on The Village Voice, Powers makes it clear that the institutionalization of popular music criticism carried with it some significant claims not only about the music itself, but also about the commentary upon it."—Jeffrey Melnick, author of 9/11 Culture

"A pioneering work. . . . The larger metamorphosis [of rock criticism] Writing The Record describes will be significant as long as there's any such thing as pop culture worth arguing over."—The American Prospect

"Based on interviews and archival material, Writing the Record is an engaging and readable book that makes a compelling argument for the importance of the Village Voice, Goldstein and Christgau in the emergence of serious rock music criticism. Powers also does a wonderful job of situating the characters within the larger contexts of music and journalism history, crucial and cultural studies research and the upheaval of the 1960s."—Journalism History

"Powers tells quite a tale, and it is worth reading for anyone interested in the interaction of pop culture, music, journalism, and commerce."—Spectrum Culture

"For anyone interested in rock music criticism, popular culture, and alternative press history. Recommended."—Choice

"Powers performs an important service in making the case for taking rock critics seriously."—International Journal of Communication

"What makes this book most worth reading, particularly for a university audience, is that [Powers] attempts her own critical evaluation of the 'false divide between journalism and academia, "true" criticism, and "mere" reviewing,' which, she claims, 'at best selectively understands the manifestations and potentials of criticism' and, at worst, 'has resulted in a surprising yet long-lasting dearth of scholarly inquiry into journalistic criticism of all kinds.' . . . [A]n important emerging theoretician."—H-Net Reviews

"Writing the Record provides a good overview of major shifts in the Village Voice's rock criticism, from the early coverage of the folk revival to the establishment of the first regular column devoted to rock, "Pop Eye," and from the embrace of the music's alternative consciousness to a critique of hype and commodification. . . . Writing the Record is a welcome addition to scholarship on rock criticism, an area that has received significantly less attention than performers, genres, and audience of popular music."—Journal of American History
University of Massachusetts Press
The Johns Hopkins Press Series in Ambulatory Pediatric Medicine

9781625340122 : writing-the-record-powers
Paperback / softback
176 Pages
$23.95 USD

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