Christopher R. Weingarten talks about Twitter and the death of criticism

Christopher R. Weingarten talks about Twitter and the death of criticism

In January 2009, Christopher R. Weingarten—a New York music journalist who has written for CMJ, Rolling Stone, and Village Voice, among othersembarked on a mission to review 1,000 new albums on Twitter by year’s end. Halfway into the project, called 1000TimesYes, he appeared at the 140 Characters Conference and delivered what amounted to a sort of eulogy for the profession of music criticism as we know it. (A video of his profane, relentless speech became a viral hit among critics and their followers.) With all that in the past, The A.V. Club talked to Weingarten about the ills of the industry he loves and a review project that’s wide in scope but also quintessentially New York: potently to-the-point, unapologetically acerbic, and most certainly evolved for the 21st century.

The A.V. Club: When did you first conceive the idea for your Twitter project?

Christopher R. Weingarten: Over Christmas break last year, I was pondering how internet criticism had sort of passed me by, because I spent the entire blog era doing print media. When I came out of that, it was all about RSS feeds and tags and all this stuff I hadn’t really absorbed myself in. I really was drawn to the immediacy of Twitter. It matched the way I think about records. I think brief. I think punchy. I don’t think in huge paragraphs.

AVC: You’ve said that you’ll only review a record if you think there’s significant interest in it. How do you gauge that—how do you choose what records to review?

CW: Now, it’s like everyone is pushing their product and fighting on a level playing field. Every tiny diamond in the rough is getting little teeny blurbs on blogs. You’re never going to be the first person to write about something. I like being someone who reacts to all the things that people are saying. And I’m reacting to a lot of people’s opinions, because everyone’s opinion is out there right now. I follow a lot of blogs on Twitter and I follow a lot of magazines on Twitter. I follow a lot of critics. If I see a band’s name twice, that’s when I sit down and go “OK, I should review this.” And, of course, Miranda Lambert, Lady Gaga, Kanye West—if the indie blogs are ignoring that shit, they shouldn’t be. The indie blogs shouldn’t be ignoring pop music just because it doesn’t fit into their advertising space. That shit’s culture.

AVC: Can you tell pretty soon into a record whether you’re going to like or dislike it?

CW: I could have told you two minutes into the Green Day record that I was going to love that record. It took me three or four or five listens to realize that it was an amazing record, but I knew right from the start that I was going to like it. I definitely give a more critical ear to stuff I think I’m going to like than stuff I know I’m not going to like. This isn’t about waving my giant critical wand and telling everyone how important my opinions are. This is about me finding the best music of the year.

AVC: At a 9.5, that Green Day album is so far your favorite of the year. What kept the band from that last half-point?

CW: The only thing that kept Green Day from a 10 was, pretty much, all the lyrics to “Last Of The American Girls” are so corny. “She’s riding her bike like a fugitive of critical mass.” “She puts her makeup on like graffiti on the walls of the heartland.” You putz.

AVC: Some of your readers get upset when records they think are pretty good “only” get a 6 or 6.5. Can you give a verbal equivalent of what that and some of your other ratings mean?

CW: I think I’ve only given one zero, and a zero is a record that’s completely unredeemable, not even enjoyable on an ironic level. [Editor's note: The zero was for Johnny Cash Remixed.] To be a zero, there has to be literally zero good songs on there. Like, I think Asher Roth should get punched in the balls, but [his album's] first track’s got kind of a hot beat. He got like a 1.5. A 6 is where I start with “I like this record.” You put this on at a party, and you’re straight. A 7 is something I would listen to again. 8 is something I would put into heavy rotation; 9 is something that would be one of my favorite records of the year. I think a 10 might be unattainable. I’m planning to do this for a while, and I’m not convinced I’m going to give a 10 ever. I would love to think that it’s possible. I’m not going to say it’s completely without hope. If I do give something a 10, you’re going to know about it. Because I’m going to be an annoying asshole about whatever record it is and talk about it constantly.

AVC: You’ve said you’re committed to going into the record store and buying the releases you recommend. What number is a definite “buy” for you?

CW: Everything 8.5 and above, I like to have a hard copy of. I try to get as many 8s as I can, but it’s getting kind of expensive, especially on a freelance music writer’s salary. My favorite record store to go to is my own neighborhood record store, Music Matters (413 7th Ave, Park Slope, 718-369-7087). It’s right up the street. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a brick-and-mortar place with a guy who will get you any record you want. They’ll special order it for you and you’re helping the community instead of funneling money into Amazon. I miss the days when every city had a place like that.

AVC: What is your response to the internet commenters who didn’t like your speech at the 140 Characters Conference? Some of them thought you should “just get with the times.”

CW: This goes well beyond the music-criticism industry. This is every industry right now. Where there was once jobs for 100 people in the old way of doing things, now there’s a new way of doing things where only 10 people can do it. You’re either one of those 10 people or you get fucked. I’m worried that maybe one day we’re not going to be paying for musicians. Maybe one day we’re only going to have bedroom crybaby bullshit like Wavves. I’m terrified to think the future is just going to be Pitchfork reviewing MySpace pages, because there’s not going to be anyone left to put out records or review records. It’s just going to be a series of links and an advertisement.

AVC: Do you plan to continue with 1,000 more records in 2010?

CW: I would love to one day have a Robert Christgau-style consumer’s guide of 10,000 record reviews I wrote over the course of a decade. I think that would be a beautiful 40th-birthday present for myself. I guess that’s going to depend on whether Twitter survives. I would like to continue doing this for the rest of my life, because it helps keep me in touch with music. Even if one day I have to be a zookeeper or a janitor or a failing coffee-shop owner, this is going to help me keep in touch with what’s going on and make me feel like I am making my own decisions about music instead of just following other people’s opinions on it. Even if I’m shoveling shit, I can be confident that I’m forming my own opinions on music instead of just swallowing the hive mind.