Michael Azerrad’s first book in fifteen years, Rock Critic Law: 101 Unbreakable Rules for Writing Badly in Pop Music, is, despite the playful title, a serious work of meta-criticism aimed at outdated thinking. Scheduled for release by Dey Street in the fall of 2017, this is an ironic collection of faux-literary edicts reminding those who express themselves on music to avoid slick phrases – “flamboyant solos”, “lush orchestrations” – which can make their work sound like it’s produced by a hipster robot.
Every critical niche, of course, has its common expressions, but rock criticism seems to cultivate them like kudzu. And so, the laws, sardonically in tone, as a whole operate as a harsh – but long overdue – condemnation of banalities that have crept into modern pop writing. “Any drum beat that uses only tom-toms is ‘tribal’,” says a biting directive. “Use ‘prolific’ as a generic compliment,” says another, “even if that only means the musician did a lot of work, not that it was good. »Azerrad’s book serves as a kind of foil to his previous volume, 2001’s Our group could be your life, a widely revered tome and totally cliché on the independent underground. In a recent interview, Azerrad spoke about the laws, criticism on Twitter, and what it’s like to write a Meat Puppet movie script.
How was the book born?
It started with a tweet. “When musician A plays on musician B’s album, then musician B plays on musician A’s album, musician B is, in quotes, ‘returning the favor.’ “Apparently there is no other way to communicate this information. The book was therefore born of a hard love. I’ve been writing about music for over thirty years, and I’ve been a publisher for a good deal of it. You begin to notice these patterns, partly worthy of criticism and partly worthy of celebration.
Corn Rock Criticism Law isn’t much of a party, is it?
It is a celebration of a shared language that has been created organically, however rote it may be. But yes, let’s face it, it’s mostly a criticism. Hopefully, people who are familiar with the topic will watch it and laugh at it. Everyone likes to laugh at rock reviews, even rock reviews.
How do you think the language developed?
A lot of it comes from laziness – rather than trying to make up your own phrase, you’re just writing a cliché. These phrases have been around for a long, long time, since the 1970s, I’m sure. “Dueling guitars” and “twin guitars”, for example, which are two different things. “Moniker” and “laugh”. And, of course, the seminal law of rock criticism is to use the word “seminal”.
Has the language used to describe rock music become more predictable?
I wouldn’t say that. The old saying is that everyone is critical, but now because of the internet everyone is. There are so many platforms for music criticism; it doesn’t have to be formal reviews, but a tweet: “I saw Eric Clapton, and his solos were blazing.” It’s criticism, and that’s why the audience for this book is perhaps a little larger than it would have been ten or twenty years ago.
Are the clichés of writing music so prevalent because it’s hard to write about the way something sounds?
That’s right, but that’s where the potential for the beauty of writing lies. When you fall back on the clichés, you conceded, and it’s just a little sad. There is this famous quote: “Writing to music is like dancing to architecture. But the point is, I would love to see someone dance to architecture.
This will be your first book in fifteen years, but it’s a little book. Bigger projects on the horizon?
Our group could be your life took three years to write, and it was everyday, from the moment I woke up until
moment, I could no longer keep my eyes open. It will wreak havoc. So I really wanted, in terms of a big book, to wait for something that I was willing to sacrifice for, and I finally have an idea. I cannot reveal it yet, although I will say that my first book was a biography of Nirvana, and Our group could be your life was kind of a backdrop to this book – so the book I’m going through right now is kind of a backdrop to that.
What else have you been working on?
Jamie Kitman, who ran the Meat Puppets, asked me to write a cinematic treatment about them. This is a trio of handsome hunks touring America in the 80s, stumbling. He’s doing the rounds, and we have some interest. I am also a consultant for the start-up of a new print magazine called FAR. It’s about food, the arts, and rock’n’roll, aimed at what I’ll call “the rock generation” – baby boomers and people maybe ten or twenty years younger than that. , people whose worldview has been shaped largely by rock music and who have grown up a bit and seek the same visceral thrill in a lot of other things, not just music.
You most recently changed The conversation, a website that publishes music reviews of musicians. Did the artists you worked with obey the laws of rock critics?
No, I think they had seen these lazy tropes and wanted to honor their peers with new writing.
The new book will include illustrations of the laws by musicians. Who’s on board so far?
Laurie Anderson, Nicole Atkins, David Longstreth, Marissa Paternoster. If some do two drawings, it means that I won’t have to find 101 the musicians. That’s a lot of musicians to recruit. By the way, I just passed a law on rock critics. You don’t “invite” anyone to play on your disc; you “enlist” them. It’s like joining the military, instead of making art.