Editor's note: This photocopied zine from 1988 rocked to Internet stardom in October 2009 when it was subjected to forensic investigation by Daniel Nester (archived copy).

The following version, posted 2009.10.27, was copy-edited from a barely-legible transcription on Usenet. The presumed author is Charles Aaron; the zine is republished here without anyone’s permission.

Kool Thing: The Rock Critical List
1998’s Top-Ten List

  1. Neil Strauss (NEW YORK TIMES, ROLLING STONE, SPIN). No writer better exemplifies music criticism’s pathetic, post-alternative slide into irrelevance than this balding, dickless imp. Always an obvious thinker and clunky stylist with shaky-at-best tastes, Strauss once got over on enthusiasm and pluckiness (i.e., he listened to lots of records and interviewed lots of folks). But these virtues only get you so far, so your ol’ pal Neil decided to develop some vices – namely, a taste for schmoozy self-mythology, including dumb wigs, a stand-up comedy “act,” and an open flaunting of his female “friends” (which he wasn’t really fucking, but hey, who could be sure?). His writing quickly abandoned any pretense to reporting or insight, turning to the more pressing question of how the artist felt about NEIL! Was Neil bright, cute, or witty? Had the artist heard about the rare vinyl that Neil just discovered on a press junket to [fill in city]?

    Did the artist know that Neil breakdances? But trying to snicker under your breath 24 hours a day is a grueling job, particularly when you’re supposed to be producing a weekly column for the TIMES, and, eventually, Strauss crumbled. In the past two years or so, vis his DAMN YANKEES floor show with Marilyn Manson, and, most recently, his goo-goo-ga-ga bedroom session with Jewel for ROLLING STONE (welcome to the nadir of ’90s music journalism), Strauss has become the most craven, punch-drunk phony in the business. Giddy publicists think he’s just so cuddly, and really intelligent, despite all the, you know, bullshit. Artists can’t wait to get a gulp of his thin, drooling Q&As. Young writers stare in awe of his best-seller status, lofty pulpit, and unlimited free records. Meanwhile, Strauss openly rewrites press releases for his “Pop Life” column and counts frequent flyer miles as the competition (LOS ANGELES TIMES’ Chuck Phillips) mops the floor with his lazy ass. Careful, kids, don’t let this happen to you. Rock Critical Quotable: “Yeah, totally... heh heh... like, that really blew me away... uh-uh... heh heh heh... but yeah, you’re, like, a total workhorse, but... I know... well that’s what I was going to ask... uh-huh... yeah, totally...” (Strauss, interviewing Beck on THE MUTATIONS CONVERSATIONS CD, 1998)

  2. Josh Clover/Jane Dark (VILLAGE VOICE/SPIN). The only award-winning poet ever to turn to music writing as a cure for menopause, Clover was the rock critical darling of ’98, appearing out of nowhere (the poetry scene) to pen lyrically glittery lead reviews for the VOICE, and later procure a writing contract with SPIN, despite a series of vapid, awkwardly quippy pieces that betrayed his potential talents. Biting from both Frank Kogan (minus the philosophical heart; Clover’s zine SUGAR HIGH was a Puffy-esque sample of Kogan’s classic WHY MUSIC SUCKS) and Chuck Eddy (minus the obssessively catalogued stylee), this horny, graying brat is the Urge Overkill of music journalism – an enjoyably vampy ironist who too often descends into desperate, amoral starfucking.

    “The faker the better” is Clover’s suspect credo, and until someone informs him that the joke’s not funny anymore, he’ll keep milking it in lamer versions. Extra points off for the most cringeworthy impression of a woman since Vince Vaughan in PSYCHO. Will pay for sex with a Dixie Chick. Rock Critical Quotable: “Despite what the hardcore Lydonheads would have us believe, little sign that any McLarionettes have cold-rocked a party since parting ways with him.” (Clover, incoherently preening, on Malcolm McLaren for “The Svengali Hall of Fame,” SPIN Dec. ’98)

  3. Joe Levy (ROLLING STONE). Known for his enormous head, tiny feet and fluid line-editing, Levy was once... oh, who can remember anymore? After fleeing the VOICE for the designer swag of DETAILS, this would-be confidante of John Spencer went into a men’s room at Spy Bar, flushed his Royal Trux records down the toilet, and became an unabashed, self-righteous propagandist for pop music’s ephemeral pleasures. In other words, indie-rock was over, he had a reservation at Union Square Café with Elastica, and, hey, we’re a winner, baby! Now at ROLLING STONE, with Boz Scaggs’ son bringing him coffee, he mulls over existential dilemmas such as: Does Sheryl Crow have a boyfriend? Though once a master of balancing his sarcasm with sincerity, Levy now comes off like a morning-radio zookeeper – smirky, self-hating, and wound a little bit too tight. He resents any definition of success but his own, disarming naysayers with a pensive, buffalo-headed nod, followed by a disingenuous leer, “Come on, [fill in name of astonished rock critic], you know all music’s good, just relax and enjoy it!”

    In the “You Can’t Go Home Again” department, his VOICE review of Rancid’s latest album featured a key paragraph in which the writer and the boys dined at one of Say It Ain’t So Joe’s preferred East Village ristorantes, apropos of absolutely nada. Hey, Big Spender, we know you can get a table, but can you get a fucking clue? After years of jocking Mike D’s dick to out dismay, Cotton-Eyed Joe managed to place the Beastie Boys on two ROLLING STONE covers, and then, for a VH-1 promo spot, graced the corridors of publicity firm Nasty Little Man to present the Beasties’ Adam Yauch with a ROLLING STONE “music award,” adding that Li’l Joe’s favorite group was being honored for “service above and beyond the call of ‘booty.’ ” Yock yock, rimshot, fart noise.

    Rock Critical Quotable: “Bozo the clown can sing? Who knew!? Who knew?!...” (Levy, grinning like a mental patient about to receive his noontime feeding, on the success of Prodigy’s Keith Flint, for an MTV year-end program)

  4. Simon Reynolds (ex-SPIN, author of GENERATION ECSTASY: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture). Proudly, almost militantly, ignorant of American post-punk and alternative rock, not to mention hip-hop, this shaggily taciturn, rave-glazed Englishman somehow managed to helm the record reviews section of SPIN for almost a year. How? Because it was assumed by outsiders and oldsters that Reynolds was the chosen oracle of “electronica,” and if anyone had the key to unlocking its Next Big Thingness, it would be Simon Sez. Unfortunately, Reynolds resents any term he doesn’t coin himself, so “electronica,” unlike his still-born babies “post-rock” and “neuro-funk,” was, per Simon, a tiresome sham by which he refused to be sullied. His editorial imperative boiled down to a dour import column and page after page of hip-hop record reviews by an army of aggressively misinformed British fuckheads. On more familiar ground with the release of GENERATION ECSTASY, Reynolds slipped back into his role as heady, raver-rific tour guide – popping Es, worshipping speaker cabinets, and blabbering about poststructuralism. As a history of rave culture, his book is good, clean pretentious fun – an authoritatively info-crammed, Eurocentric fan’s notes (though his decision to exclude hip-hop is a fatal flaw, he apparently doesn’t give a shit).

    As a cultural manifesto, however, which is how Reynolds would obviously like it to be viewed, GENERATION ECSTASY is a long, breathless slog; its adjective-addled, “post-human” theorizing about the pre-eminence of sensation over identity is repetitive and tiring. No writer has ever made dance music seem so hysterically important, yet so impenetrably dull.

  5. Thomas Frank (HARPER’S, WASHINGTON POST, NATION, BAFFLER, author of CONQUEST OF COOL: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism). Though Frank’s lengthy essays demythologizing “The Sixties” and its romanticized life partner, “The Counterculture,” are somewhat admirable, if turgidly written, his music criticism is sentimental, pro-forma claptrap. Still holding a wee torch for the artistically scrappy, “independent” epoch of ’80s underground rock (boy, was that paradise!), Frank’s basic thesis is this: As evidenced by the co-opting of indie rock into alternative rock (like the co-opting of punk into new wave, etc.), corporations are now so thoroughly and quickly marketing all aspects of youth culture that music is tainted beyond anything but guilty, “middle class” pleasure. “Rebellion,” as traditionally defined, in “pop music,” as traditionally defined, is “dead,” as traditionally defined, matter-of-factly proclaims Dr. Frank (hey, close your eyes and it’s like Noam Chomsky, if he’d seen Big Black at Maxwells in 1987! Cool!).

    With today’s multimedia complicity, our unequaled economic largesse and ’60s-fetish elitism now part of the mainstream, yada yada yada... Get it? There IS NO UNDERGROUND! Give it up, kids. Your anger and dissatisfaction are meaningless cliches (and if you’re black or Latino we’ll get to your hypocritical whining later). For his most asinine throat-clearing to date, Uncle Tom wasted thousands of words in HARPER’S bemoaning the artistic frustrations of University of Chicago bud Chris Holmes (aka Yum-Yum, aka Sabalon Glitz, aka Ashtar Command, etc.), and how his friend’s failure to strike musical platinum symbolized the overall Death of Pop Music (Holmes once “pranked” a major record label by dressing up a bunny suit and playing sugary pop songs, only to have his genius go unrecognized). Meanwhile, Frank continues to wear his father’s ties, but not ironically.

  6. Matt Diehl/Touré (ANYONE WITH AN EXPENSE-ACCOUNT BUDGET). No matter how you dress ’em up, a bitch iz a bitch iz a bitch.

  7. Robert Christgau (VILLAGE VOICE). Though I refuse to believe it’s an age thing (being decrepit and disillusioned myself), it’s notable that Funk Doctor Bob’s late-era writing has been tripped up less by his sadly clotted prose and populist autism than by his total lack of feeling for today’s most important youth musics – hip-hop and electronic dance; try as he might, the man just has no ear whatsoever for digital beat-science or vernacular poetics. If it ain’t got a traditionally defined point of view – left-resistant (Chuck D, KRS-One) or party-hearty (Puffy, Mase) – the Dean is left flapping his dentures in the breeze. And his annual Pazz & Jop handwritings are case writings in what’s all wring with pop criticism-the need (mostly on the part of aging white guys) to tabulate an officially tidy history of events, a canonical text in which ambivalent/irrational/comical passions are viewed as petty typos. That said, the nearly universal critical acclaim that greeted the publication of Xgau’s long-awaited essay compilation (GROWN UP ALL WRONG) was cowardly and inexcusable. The man may have his head up his pseudo-academic colon, but he deserves a fair hearing, certainly as much as overrated frère Greil “The Nutrageous Professor” Marcus.

  8. Eric Weisbard (VILLAGE VOICE, SPIN). The Boy Who Wanted to Be Christgau, and then changed his mind. Presently abandoning editing after a tumultuous run at SPIN, and then a rather bland tenure at the VOICE, Weisbard appears to be somewhat humbled these days, or at least less of an arrogant, post-collegiate pinhead. It could be that insulting, tone-deaf critiques of other writers’ works finally caught up with him, or maybe it was his insistence on the artistic merits of Garth Brooks, or possibly it was his own inability to produce any music writing that made one smidgen of impact or sense at all (check out, if you’ve got some caffeine pills, his incoherent VOICE book report on THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC). His laborious assessment in SPIN of a recent Bruce Springsteen reissue was so blindly literary that one could’ve walked away thinking that this Springsteen guy just played music to write cute little vignettes about cars and chicks (which may be the case, but...). Maybe, as some say, Weisbard’s heart is in the right place. But in 1999, that and a dollar won’t get your ass on the F train.

  9. Ethan Smith (NEW YORK). From SASSY cabin boy to EW sniglet editor to NEW YORK pop music critic, this emaciated young lad has risen steadily to his current level of total incompetence. Issuing consistently jaw-dropping summations of music he’s obviously never heard or felt or understood, Smith is probably what the Seinfeld-mourning consumers of this Hamptons leaflet deserve, but he should still be ashamed of himself. Much like Thomas Frank, Smith has the profitable ability to prattle on like a mid-40s patrician (therefore pleasing his mid-40s patrician editors), yet still front like he relates to the wounded, channel-surfing troubadours of his generation (Beck, Elliott Smith, other nerdy white people).

  10. Danyel Smith (VIBE). Once a stridently poetic yet level-headed critic of hip-hop and r&b, the editor-in-chief of Big Willie Inc.’s periodical division has evolved into a remote, two-timing industry prickle-puss. With the introduction of glossy hip-hop stepchild BLAZE, she’s now free to pursue her dream of transforming VIBE into a touchy-feely, art-directed celebration of faux-bourgeois splendor (free of rap-related grime). These days, if you read a cover feature by Smith, expect the following: Powdery boudoir boy-bonding, wine-sipping diva-lectical coos and whispers, lovingly extensive hairdo deconstructions, and absolutely, under no circumstances, any critical evaluation of THE MUSIC, or how its sound might inform the artist. And while she has faced inexcusable physical threats, Smith’s implication that brutality against hip-hop journalists is an African-American “family matter,” and that the mainstream press is blowing it out of proportion, rings extremely hollow. It’s a power thing, not a race thing, which is why SPIN’s Craig Marks gets choked by Marilyn Manson’s goons, and not ROLLING STONE’s Joe Levy. More bothersome is the fact that Smith, like so many writers/editors, would rather get a hug and a pound from an artist rather than a nod from a fellow journalist. Therein lies the hugest chunk of the problem.

JoJo Dancer, aka MC House Shooz
c/o The Rock Critical List
122 Front St., Apartment Zero
Your Mother’s House, USA

AND ANOTHER THING: For years, mediocre feebs have mewled about the New York–based “cabal” that controls thought and drives agendas and keeps “new writing voices” from emerging. These feebs are usually underachieving whiners (or closet “experimental” DJs) who spend their spare time getting drunk and clawing the anuses of NYU or UCLA (or whatever) students down at the local “underground” boho emporium or open-bar listening party, exclaiming how it’s a crime that Uncle Tupelo or Sonic Boom or Silver Apples or Charles Gayle or the Fastbacks or Freestyle Fellowship never hit it any bigger than they did (which was often bigger than they could’ve expected). CHECK IT! It’s a goddamn wasteland out there, and if somebody has something to say, the forum will find ’em.

But these whiners do have one point-music scribbling out of New York-based national publications at this exact moment IS unnecessarily lifeless, artless and idiotically panglossed, unless even as a “consumer guide” (no props to Grandaddy Xgau, who’s got the blood of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY on his hands). Nothing’s at stake, hearts are Cosloy cold, minds are zipped up in Nike windbreakers, ideas are messier than Nelson George’s PalmPilot, the halfway decent people seethe in a vacuum, and our pitifully compromised editors get their heads koshed, hair pulled, and necks throttled by Puffy underlings, Lil’ Kim wannabes, and Marilyn Manson steroid cases. So, in lieu of yet another over-analyzed, self-serving, year-end wankorama (that would be the Pazz & Jop; and it’s Lauryn Hill best album, Aaliyah best single, Nuggets best reissue, if you need to care), we’d like to announce our first annual ROCK CRITICAL LIST, a self-serving circle jerk/séance on the grinding, but not irreversible, decline of POP MUSIC JOURNALISM. Our motto: If it ain’t worth a fat lip, then shut the fuck up...

JoJo Dancer, aka the Gay Rapper