Introduction: Criticism and commerce
The talking machine, as is well-known, found its first sponsor in the cycle trade – the music trade would have none of it.
Phono Trader and Recorder, 1911
For about twenty years, between 1972 and 1992, I practised as a rock critic. While this did mean reviewing concerts and sometimes talking to performers, to be a rock critic was to be a record critic. My first published work was a record review in Rolling Stone, and rock, as a new kind of musical institution, was centred on the record. The founding fathers of rock criticism, Greil Marcus and Jon Landau, both edited Rolling Stone's record review pages, while Robert Christgau, the self-titled Dean of Rock Criticism, started his Consumer Guide, capsule reviews of every rock record released, in 1969.
Towards the end of my time as a critic I began to notice articles about the decline of rock criticism. ‘Where have all the rock critics gone?’ asked Ed Ward, editor of the Rolling Stone history of rock ‘n’ roll, in August 1988, following up his question later that year with the more assertive ‘Rock Critics RIP!’ This was to become a recurring feature-story line. In 1998 Gina Arnold, a leading voice in the next generation of American rock critics, reflected in her turn ‘On the death of rock criticism’ (‘Once it was about passion. Now it's all puff’) in the online Flagpole Magazine, while veteran Italian rock critic, Gino Castaldo, deplored the ‘strong decrease in the demand for critics’.