Rock Snobbery Is Dead

From Pitchfork’s “The 50 Best Albums of 2008”, December 19, 2008:


From the iTunes Music Store’s splash page, January 19, 2008:


Granted, they played SNL this weekend, but still. When it takes all of a month for an album to go from the top of a Pitchfork best-of to the top of the iTunes charts, it’s pretty clear that there’s no marked difference between common and elite tastes.

P.S. Okay, the universe is just mocking me now:


Andrew Bird, a Bon Iver EP, and Animal freakin’ Collective. What. The Hell.

6 thoughts on “Rock Snobbery Is Dead

  1. Except that Pitchfork is not all that elite and iTunes is not entirely populist. (And arguably “rock snobbery” is ultimately a contradiction in terms, like “cheeseburger snobbery” or “amusement park snobbery”.) I can see why Fleet Foxes could have this kind of dual success: They have a folk music style with somewhat better musical standards and a lot less electronic production kitsch. Music like this sometimes travels better between critics and listeners. There are many historical examples, e.g., Simon and Garfunkel.
    My son, who is I think three years younger than you are, is an interesting test case for the question. On the one hand, he has had excellent classical music training in piano and some training in violin too. But a priori, he couldn’t care less about snobbery, and he is willing to listen to anything suggested by his friends or other sources. Right now he likes Voltaire, and he likes Legend of Zelda instrumentals (I think by Koji Kondo, the Nintendo composer).

  2. Pitchfork is, to say the least, a lousy and useless source of anything but rock snobbery- as opposed to rock aestheticism. I disagree with the previous poster, because it’s false to suggest that “rock music” is a part of “low culture”, like American Idol or Michael Bay films, because postmodernity dictates that what “low culture” is is itself highly thorny. But back to Pitchfork. Not only does this coterie of supercilious pseudonerds no nothing about music- as represented by their presentation of the middling Fleet Foxes (the poor man’s Wilco) as 2008’s best album, but they take no evident pleasure from music, which is why they shouldn’t be paid to write about it. Robert Christgau, for all his flaws and our many disagreements, is a rock aesthete rather than a rock snob; a man who is enormously knowledgable and, such as one can be, open-minded and lets his ears do the talking. And, of course, he can write. Which is why, unlike Pitchfork, he’s worth listening to.
    Besides, can *any* commercial failure of recent years prized by rock snobs hold up to any of the following albums, all of which ultimately operated in the “populist” rock and roll mainstream:
    Rubber Soul
    Sticky Fingers
    Off the Wall
    Born in the USA
    Sign o’ the Times
    The Marshall Mathers LP/Stankonia
    Love and Theft/Modern Times
    I’m not saying, in any way, that commercial failure equals artistic quality. There have always been and always will be, artists that sell poorly but make great music (Pavement, Nick Drake, Rufus Wainwright, innumerable others). But any kind of rock snobbery is not merely unwarranted, it is idiotic.

  3. Yikes, I meant commercial success*, not commercial failure in that last para. Apologies for the somewhat bilious tone of the comment, I was haranguing not you but rock snobbery.

  4. And arguably “rock snobbery” is ultimately a contradiction in terms, like “cheeseburger snobbery” or “amusement park snobbery”.
    Darn tootin’. My favorite is hot-dog snobbery, as in people who regard it as a crime to put ketchup on hot dogs. We’re talking about hot dogs here, the undesirable pieces of cow or pig, all ground up and packed together – yet I’ve encountered this particular snobbery numerous times. Boggles the mind.
    Getting back to rock snobbery, I think the worst example had to be Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who even wrote a song about how he hated that rednecks were getting off on his music.

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