Greg Kot wants to know how Jim DeRogatis can live with himself. The pair, music critics for the Tribune and Sun-Times respectively, are debating the merits of Bruce Springsteen versus Meat Loaf, and Tom Waits versus Captain Beefheart. Kot says Springsteen and Waits. DeRogatis, Meat Loaf, dismissing Waits as a Beefheart wannabe. “This is a guy who likes Gentle Giant and mid-period Jethro Tull,” Kot responds, laughing. “How can you like mid-period Jethro Tull and look at yourself in the mirror in the morning?” These jocular exchanges, where the two talk over each other, are a staple not only of their long-running relationship, but also their popular radio show, Sound Opinions. Described as “the world’s only rock ’n’ roll talk show,” Sound Opinions debuted with DeRogatis and Kot on XRT in 1998, but last year switched to WBEZ, where it has flourished both locally and in national syndication. This week, the duo celebrates their one-year anniversary on BEZ with a live broadcast at the Chicago Cultural Center. Before that, they talked to The A.V. Club about Sound Opinions, Chicago’s influence, and getting punched.
The A.V. Club: How are you adjusting the show for a live audience?
Jim DeRogatis: Honest to God, we do the same shtick that we just do. [Laughs.] The whole reason this show started was because Greg and I would be sitting in the balcony at Metro or Riviera, and we’d be fighting about something the other guy wrote and disagreeing—even if we liked something, we’d be disagreeing about why we liked it, or he liked it for the wrong reasons. This is not unique to us; any two bona fide music geeks, you get together and fight about records, because what else is there worth talking about?
Greg Kot: I don’t think we ever felt we were the last word on some band. I think we always talk about promoting a discussion, getting the argument out in front of people, and letting them pick up the discussion and take it from there. There’s always been an interactive element of the show. We’ve always tried to get listener feedback, either through e-mails or having them on the air—doing the live show’s just an extension of that.
JD: Because when we’re on the air, we sound all sexy and authoritative and stuff, and then they see us, and they’re like, “Those guys are just two schlubs like me! I’m not going to hesitate to stand up and give ’em my mind’s worth!”
AVC: When people meet you, what do they usually say?
GK: I can usually avoid the first punch—it’s the second one that always lays me out.
JD: For the record, Mr. Kot is the only one who’s ever actually been hit because of a review he wrote.
GK: I’ve had beer poured on me, I’ve had sod thrown at me, but 98 percent of the interactions have been very positive. It’s fun. I think people understand that is not rocket science, but at the same time it’s an important part of our culture, and it’s worth talking about.
AVC: The schlub factor is part of the show’s Chicago vibe. It’s got a no-bullshit, blue-collar feel—people aren’t on pedestals.
JD: No, I always say that. Out in New York, take the house at any given high-profile, cool club show: If there are 1,000 people, 800 of those tickets have gone to radio, press, MTV, New York magazine. Here at Metro, Kot and I will walk in, there are 998 people who paid, and then me and him. On our way to the reviewers’ seats, they’re gonna tell us, “I read what you wrote the other day, and it was full of crap!” It’s like, “Okay, fine, bring it on. Why do you disagree?”
AVC: How does living here affect your perspective?
GK: I think you nailed it. We’re definitely a product of the environment. We live in a city that’s no bullshit, and if you were spewing bullshit, you’d be run out of town on a rail. I think that’s part of the sensibility. We do work for a living, but at the same time we’re accessible. We don’t hide behind the velvet rope. You can come see us any time; we give out our e-mails every day in the paper. We’ve given out our phone numbers. I love getting those e-mails. We get 500 e-mails a day from publicists trying to pitch some band, but it’s fun talking to those dozen people that write you every day about the article you just wrote.
JD: People don’t expect to hear back. I got this e-mail last week, this guy who wanted to defend the artistic merits and the deep intellectual, spiritual meaning of Disturbed. He sent me the YouTube clip where they did a Cribs with the Disturbed guy, and he has hanging on his wall the no-star review I gave to their second album. He has this as part of his million-dollar mansion living room, and he took it as, “I’m showing DeRogatis!” And I was just like, “Man what a jerk. You’re in a million-dollar house and you’ve got my picture and my review on your wall!” It was a really nasty e-mail; it was all like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you fat fucker!” I wrote the guy back, I said, “Look, I really appreciate your passion, obviously you love these guys, and I’m glad I helped decorate Dave Draiman’s house.” He was like so thrilled—now he’s sending me e-mails every week, “I’m listening to this now, Lamb Of God. Have you heard that?” [Laughs.] Thanks buddy, maybe you don’t want to come to the live show.