The Village Voice's famous Pazz and Jop poll -- minus Christgau
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SONIC REDUCER Icons come and go, with all the fanfare, dressers, and folderol that legends demand, you know with a wiggle of a ruddy nose, the flash of a cape, a blast of TNT, the slam of the estate gates. Goodbye, James Brown (RIP Godfather of Soul, Dec. 25, 2006), may you work a little less in heaven than
you did on earth. Fare thee well, Village Music (music geeks' vinyl treasure trove), readying to close Sept. 30, due to the high rent demanded in Mill Valley. Next?
I was ready to say hasta luego to that mammoth warhorse of all critics' polls, the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop. The massive compendium of top 10 album and song lists and legitimizer of toiling, stinking music crit midgets the nation over, the creature seemed to be next on the list of endangered species when creator-caretaker Robert Christgau (dean of American rock critics) and Voice music editor Chuck Eddy were fired last year after the New Times' purchase of Village Voice Media.
Still, the yearly e-mail appeared again early last month "Hello. You are one of the 1,500-odd critics we'd like to include ..." this time signed by the Voice's new music editor, Rob Harvilla, who got the NT corporate relocation orders from the East Bay Express.
Is it the same poll without Christgau keeping tempo? Honestly, few envy Harvilla, who has had a tough shoe to polish in pleasing Voice readers and filling his well-established predecessors' boots while boasting little of sheer record-reviewing chops and logging a fraction of the critical thought that has gone into the careers of Eddy and Christgau. The latter for good reason dubbed his graded music review column Consumer's Guide. Ever the idealistic, outraged, yet overthinking lot, music writers were conflicted torn between their loyalty to the old Voice editors and the scent of a continuing or future paycheck. The notion of alternate polls was batted around on the blogosphere.
Still, when Gawker Media actually began one, who suspected the brouhaha that would ensue? Gawker's music blog, Idolator, announced its startlingly similar Jackin' Pop Critics Poll with the cheeky, gauntlet-tossing headline "Time to Raze the Village," called out Christgau's and Eddy's cannings, and issued the salvo "For those who had long turned to the Voice to help guide them through the realm of pop, rock, and hip-hop, the 51-year-old alt-weekly now had about as much musical credibility as, say, a three-month-old blog." Shortly after that, Idolator poll editor and exSeattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos was informed, through a multiple-source grapevine at the NT-VV Mediaowned MinneapolisSt. Paul City Pages (the alt-weekly at which he began his career) that he has been banned from that paper.
Gawker-Idolator later reported that word quickly went out to NT-VV music staffers that they're not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll. "When we announced the poll, that day, I saw an e-mail from John Lomax, who is the Houston Press music editor he's head of New Times music editors instructing all music editors and staff writers that hourly and salaried staffers of New Times were not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll," Matos told me from Seattle.
Matos added that despite NT-VV being "obviously hardball kind of guys," he took umbrage at the fact that "they didn't tell me I was banned. I heard it from somebody else. I think the way they handled it was chickenshit, but from the way I can tell, that's one way they operate, through fear and imprecation." At press time, Lomax and City Pages music editor Sarah Askari had not responded to inquiries.
Is this just a matter of new media versus New Times? Corporate print media fending off the pricks of a million busy blogging digits? To make matters even more complicated, Christgau himself, whose Consumer Guide was recently picked up by MSN, has voted in both polls. "I have told people who've asked to do what they wish," he e-mailed me, adding that Eddy, now at Billboard, is not voting in P&J.
Yet other aboveboard and down-low boycotts of P&J abound, Matos said. ExVoice staffer and current Pop Conference organizer Eric Weisbard is skipping the poll because, the former P&J pooh-bah e-mailed, "participating in Pazz & Jop validates the New Times neanderthals who now run Village Voice Media. They may want to keep alive a poll that generates more Web hits than anything else they do, but in all other ways, they hate and are trying to eradicate everything that the Village Voice music section stood for: intellectual discussion of popular music and popular culture."
"A number of people who aren't voting in the Voice poll are older and better established," added Matos, describing an argument he recently had with a friend. "I heatedly called it a labor issue, and my friend said, 'If I vote in the Voice poll, am I a scab?' It's probably not that cut-and-dried.... Everyone in New York knows how bad the Voice has gotten, but for a lot of people, the Voice still represents a decent paycheck. It's a hard thing to argue with. People who don't want to piss off the Village Voice, and frankly, till this poll came along, I was one of them."
Vote in both, don't vote in P&J, or vote in P&J and pen protest too? I've always internally chafed against the voice of critical authority, inclusive yet contentious, implied with P&J. Perhaps that sense of center is a bastion of the past, along with traditional music industry models. Yet even the first P&J Matos ever read from 1990, with De La Soul on the cover included an essay by a writer who refused to participate in the group grope. The gathering was that quirky and open to dissent.
An alien concert in the new order of NT-VV? "Good going, champions of the free press!" Idolator crowed after announcing the NT-VV response, excerpting a supposed example e-mail from a NT-VV music editor to writer. "To get revenge, we plan to not patronize the porn ads in the back of your magazines for the next week. You have no idea how much that's gonna cost you."
One long-tenured P&J pooh-bah continues to watch over the proceedings, if from afar. "I look forward with considerable curiosity to both polls," Christgau wrote to me. "I very much doubt either will be as good as the last PJ, but we shall see." Nonetheless, it seems unlikely the boycotted and participation-by-dictate P&J will, as Matos put it, "open things up for you," as good critics and past polls have. *