Our ’70s Week continues with this excerpt from a May 1975 [More] journalism review feature:
HOW TO BECOME A ROCK CRITIC IN 7 EASY LESSONS
By Deanne Stillman
1. ISOLATING THE PRIMARY FACTS
Just as college journalism students learn the comprehensive “Five-W” lead, the rock journalist must learn the multifaceted “Two-W, One-H” lead, which swiftly dispenses with at least one of the following crucial queries: Where were you when you received the record album? What were you doing when you received it? How many times have you listened to it?
2. CREATING A VIVID SCENARIO
Occasionally the setting of your story will overshadow the rock star about whom you are writing. When this occurs, you will most likely be on assignment in the state of California, covering an important rock concert, interviewing a rock personality on tour, or assessing a onetime rock star’s attempt to make a comeback. As you write your review, remember that an exact and vivid word picture of the magnificent California geography will draw immediate reader response. For example:
The searing California sun turned a brighter orange as it set slowly behind the mountainous moustache of David Crosby. — Robert Smith, Crawdaddy
3. THE FUNCTION OF VOICE
Readers of rock criticism like to know exactly who is reviewing their favorite musician. As a rock critic, you will have ample opportunity to let the reader know you. For example, during your career you will often find yourself inside the very hotel room of a particular rock personality. If mentioned in or near the beginning of the review, this interlude will subtly establish your credentials by implying that you may have actually watched Alice Cooper apply his mascara, snorted the cocaine of Iggy Pop or shared a bottle of Ripple with a famous blind blues singer.
Shifting his wooden leg on the Holiday Inn bed and reaching for his fifth of whiskey, Furry Lewis eyed the cans of beer in the plastic wastebasket that had been packed with ice and pressed into service as a cooler. — Walter Dawson, Rolling Stone
4. VARIETY THROUGH COLLOQUIALISM
Rock criticism that displays a sense of history is always popular. Many reviewers make sure to color their criticism with stylistic references to the early days of rock culture, flavoring their prose with a dramatic mixture of street slang and New Journalism. Originated by critic R. Meltzer, this type of review bears a particular hippie-to-hippie tone that is important in preventing outsiders from understanding it. Here, for example, is R. Meltzer demonstrating “Meltzer Prose” for The Village Voice in a review titled “Doodoo Plus Weewee Equals Haha”:
In the spring of ’67 early ancient primordial days of the rock crit bandwagon as critters up at Crawdad Magazine always knew there was still one place to go after freebie feelers for any stuff in town had been summarily nipped in the bud: just take our asses over to the Cafe au Go-Go for the Mothers’ nitely whatsit and they always let us in without much complaint even tho we never reviewed em even a paragraph worth.
5. EMPHASIS THROUGH REPETITION
Often, an important point can be made most effectively by repeating certain key words and adjectives. In rock criticism, the culinary lexicon is a never-ending source of inspiration, enabling you to repeatedly stress the oral nature of rock and roll. Do not submit a review for publication without at least one conjugation of the infinitive “to cook,” or several variations thereof (synonyms such as “to brew,” “to sizzle,” or “to smoke.”) Types of food should be mentioned for added emphasis, particularly if you possess a singular knowledge of soul food.
Rod Stewart may have been at his essential best … with that high pressure cooking band, The Faces. — Jan Holdenfield, New York Post
6. STYLE WITH PUNCH
Many rock groups engage in such onstage activities as the smashing of guitars and amplifiers, and mock murders and mutilations. Hence, it is often difficult to avoid the subject of violence in a rock review. While piecing together your critical composition, you will undoubtedly discover that the musical emphasis on destruction has forced you to bend and twist your language to describe it. Be inventive and follow your impulses. Bear in mind that specially created hypenated adjectives and military hyperbole add sparkle and punch to rock violence.
With twin guitars hammering out catchy mondo-distorto riffs and bass and drums amiably bringing up the rear, Kiss spews forth a deceptively controlled type of thunderous hysteria closely akin to the sound once popularized by the German panzer tank division. — Ed Naha, Rolling Stone
7. BUILDING A VOCABULARY
The creative rock critic will want to pepper his or her reviews with words and phrases that demonstrate thorough knowledge of the rock world. Let the reader know, for example, if the subject of your review has “paid a lot of dues.” Let the reader know if the music in question has “classical roots.” (It is not necessary to name the source of the roots.) Mentioning the make of the guitar, as in “Fender Stratocaster” or “Chet Atkins Gretsch,” lends resonance to any review. Refer at least once to the rock group as an “aggregate.”
(c) Deanne Stillman
* Earlier: Journalists’ attribution definitions from 1975