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Robert Christgau: Grown Up All Wrong

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The dean of American rock critics" may be a dumb nickname, but Robert Christgau has earned the title—for its aptness, obviously, not its dumbness. One of the first to approach pop-music criticism from a serious, neo-academic angle, Christgau's knowledge and confident articulation possess a sense of assumed validity generally reserved for field experts in academia. While reading Greil Marcus, another great and pioneering music writer, is sometimes akin to accompanying the author on his own personal exploratory journey, Christgau's witty, erudite writing exudes an air of distinct and sometimes hilariously didactic authority. Grown Up All Wrong is a collection of manageable essays from throughout his career—mostly drawn from his work as the Village Voice's chief rock critic—that have been revised, streamlined, and otherwise rendered (re)presentable. As one of the first critics to support world music and other "semi-popular" formats, Christgau's choice of subjects is suitably varied: The book begins with Nat "King" Cole and ends with (of course) Nirvana, before making a final case that Al Green, Neil Young, and George Clinton are perhaps the most talented artists of the past 30 years. Though in his introduction, Christgau admits that his regular Voice "consumer guide" was named with irony in mind, there is a modicum of cheerleading to be found in his work. More than any other music writer, he has a tendency to drive his devotees toward jotting down shopping lists while they read his reviews and essays, and it's hard to imagine making it through his chapters on B.B. King, George Jones, or James Brown without wanting to take a trip to the store. Since Christgau generally mentions the key records to pick up somewhere in his essays, reading Grown Up All Wrong may prove prohibitively expensive. But given his incredible grasp of his subjects, it'll be money well spent.