An Unfortunate Descent Into Rock Criticism: GQ And Editor-Rock

There is a kind of band and musician that I like to call

There is a kind of band and musician that I like to call “editor-rock.”

They are white, intellectual (or at least semi-intellectual), ineffectual, and generally namby-pamby, albeit with occasional forays into, you know, distorted guitars. No aggression. It’s very polite and well-mannered—way too much so, in fact—for rock music. It’s music for the head, and not the hips and gut. Judging from most ratios of sales-to-coverage-in-glossy-magazines, it’s beloved primarily by magazine editors in major cities. (But, as you may have guessed, editor-rock is not beloved by me.) Editor-rock is: Aimee Mann, the entire genre of alt-country and Wilco in particular, Radiohead (the polite lunatic fringe of editor-rock), Jonathan Richman/Modern Lovers, New Pornographers, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, Fountains of Wayne … Bruce Springsteen is an older, mainstreamed version of magazine-editor rock. REM practically invented the form. A classic editor-rock move is to describe the new Bob Dylan record as being “his best since Blood on the Tracks.”

Editor rock is not: Slayer, Dizzee Rascal, Black Flag, Boredoms, Marianne Faithful (“Broken English”-era), Melvins, Funkadelic, Black Dice, High on Fire, Stooges, Public Image Limited, Magma, Nico (solo), Kyuss, and King Crimson and Miles Davis at their most aggressive and tightly-wound.

In the new issue of GQ, there is an article on the Unsung Heroes of Music, for which GQ asked a bunch of writers and (a few) musicians to submit their “unsung heroes.” Their 13 choices overweeningly tend towards to the namb:

Jonathan Richman (natch!) Sex Clark Five (a short-lived Southern guitar pop band with severe editor-rock tendencies. UPDATE 5/1: Sex Clark Five actually lasted way longer than a band that you’d describe as “short-lived.” ) The Silos (described in the piece with this question: “Aren’t they the ones who invented alt-country?”) The Wedding Present (along with The Pixies, the distorted end of editor-rock.) The June Brides Sonny Bono Harry Nilsson Kate Bush (from Outkast’s Big Boi—oh, man, what were you thinkin’?) Mink DeVille

The article is not on GQ’s Web site, but an invitation to vote on your favorite “unsung hero” is (scroll down). As long as your choices for unsugn hero are Sonny Bono, Harry Nilsson, Jonathan Richman, Kate Bush, or The Wedding Present, that is.

Props to fired radio host David Lee Roth for selecting nine-piece soul band Cold Blood, to novelist George Saunders for choosing composer John Adams, and to novelist Matt Klam for shouting-out to twentysomething soul singer Jaheim, all of whom break up the monotony a bit.

Because: What a list. Nothing aggressive, no metal, barely anything funky or otherwise seriously danceable, no punk or hardcore, nothing spacey or art-y or … well, anything that meanders far from the tired confines of editor-rock.

What a very crabbed and small view of what constitutes good music.

(Disclosures: In a previous freelance life, I wrote about some non-editor-rock rock music for GQ, which was edited [and quite well, I might add] by current editor-in-chief Jim Nelson. In an ongoing alternate life, I’ve recorded, performed, and toured with a series of bands.)

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