10 rules of rock criticism


There are music writers, then there is everyone else. In a world plagued with suffering, sociopathic dentists, and more suffering, music critics are the last of a dying breed. They’re the answer to the question nobody bothered to ask. But what’s it take to be a no-bullshit, serious rock writer? I’ll tell you what it takes, kid. As a seasoned local journalist who went from writing for City Pages, to the Star Tribune, and back to City Pages, I think I know at least a thing or two about this business. Lo and behold, I present you my 10 rules of rock criticism.

Rule #1: Look up the album's release date on Wikipedia — you're a rock historian!

Rule #2: When you don't have anything left to say (which will often happen) deploy some nonsense descriptors like "textural ambiance" or "sonic versatility." You see, it doesn't matter if you know what you're talking about — what matters is that you're talking.

Rule #3: Before you even begin writing you must acquire an autographed copy of Chuck Klosterman’s acclaimed teenage diary Killing Yourself To Live. That’s right: autographed copy only. And eBay won’t suffice. You’ll have to get Klosterman himself to sign this in your presence. I don’t care what you have to do. Send him an email. Tweet at him hourly. Corner him at the New Yorker Festival. If that still doesn’t work, a protracted handshake with Pioneer Press’ Ross Raihala will do (they're friends after all).

Rule #4: OK, sure, you could showcase some enterprise, develop your own unique point of view, and inject some goddamn personality into your mealy mouthed, film-school-dropout excuse for prose. Yeah, you could do that. But that's not what we're here to do. If you want to be the next Ian Cohen (Don't know him? You got homework, kid), you're going to have to play it safe. Stick to the classics.

Here's some go-to vocabulary and devices for every aspiring music writer: ethereal, angular, caterwaul, Morrissey reference, atmospheric, songstress, effervescent, grandiose, wordsmith, hazy, a loosely related anecdote about some girl who made you sad once.

Rule #5: Have your Oral History of the Arcade Fire written and ready in the drafts folder. The group could disband any day now. There’s only so much Win Butler a group of human beings can tolerate after all.

Rule #6: Every holiday, use your encyclopedic knowledge of music to assert dominance over your friends and family.

Rule #7: Include two hip-hop albums on your "End of the Year" list. No more, no less. Hip-hop is not serious music. We are serious people. You think you can be caught with your No. 1 slam piece in midday traffic blaring Meek Mill? You think you could be seen enjoying yourself? Wrong. You are a rock critic. That and you’re wearing a Daniel Johnston T-shirt under a denim jacket and you’d look fucking ridiculous listening to Meek Mill. But seriously. This is about "real music."

A new Tame Impala album just came out. Leonard Cohen is still alive. And then there's that Cecil Taylor reissue that no one's talking about because you haven't told them to talk about it yet. You can't squander precious time investing in this boom-bap Fetty Wrap drivel or whatever the "kids" are calling it these days. And by "kids," I mean 85 percent of music listeners.

Rule #8: Start writing your book about Bob Dylan. If there’s one thing this world can’t get enough of it’s redundant books about a weathered beatnik who hasn't made a great album in almost 20 years.

Rule #9: Skip rules 1-8 and just read this super helpful e-How article instead.

Rule #10: Show no fear.