I WAS A MIDDLE-AGE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL CRITIC

By: Wayne Robins

E&P’s Own Wayne Robins ‘Graduates From High School’





It was a great relief to hear that Richard Harrington settled his age-discrimination lawsuit against The Washington Post on apparently favorable terms.



Harrington, 53, the rock critic for the Post’s “Style” section since the age of the LP (1980), had been put out to the pasture of part-time work in February, his pay and hours cut in half. He was replaced by David Segal, 36, who had covered legal issues at the paper.



Harrington sued, and in mid-August settled with the Post. As E&P’s Todd Shields reported, details of the settlement remain hush-hush, but Harrington has returned to work full-time, and a Post attorney said the paper was “very pleased” to resolve their “misunderstanding.”



Coincidentally, the American Journalism Review’s July-August issue carried a long feature by its 29-year-old assistant managing editor, Lori Robertson, about the graying and balding of rock criticism, asking the question, “Can fiftysomethings relate to hip-hop and Limp Bizkit?”



I can relate to the question.



Until six years ago, I was a rock critic for almost all of my quarter century in journalism. I started the day in 1968 when the editor of the Bard College newspaper opened a box of rock albums that had arrived in the mail. “Music critics get free records,” he said.



For 25 years, I never looked back. I dropped out of school for a year, did the hippie jaunt to California, and reviewed a Rolling Stones concert for the Berkeley Barb. I studied journalism at the University of Colorado and practiced journalism at the Colorado Daily.



With a vibrant alternative press, it was an accessible, wide-open field. I graduated with a portfolio of clippings from Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and counterculture publications both memorable and forgotten. For a few years, I survived writing for an assortment of publications from Creem (where I was briefly editor) and Crawdaddy (where E&P Features Editor Greg Mitchell was managing editor) to Zoo World and Zygote.



By 1975, I found myself back in Long Island, N.Y., where I grew up, as the rock critic for Newsday. But, around 1993, having covered everything from Sinatra to the Sex Pistols, from punk to funk and from disco to death rock, I felt my biological clock ticking. I was 43 years old. I looked ahead for the first time – and did not like what I saw.



Even with earplugs, my hearing had taken a battering. More important, I didn’t feel the same passion for rock music as I did when I was a teen-ager. Although on some newspaper beats you can get by on intellect or habit, even the most cerebral rock demands an emotional connection.



I remember when a friend’s 12-year-old son, thrilled to hear I had personally met many rock stars, asked if I knew Billy Joel. I had met Joel, Long Island’s rock ‘n’ roll favorite son, many times. I told the boy a few anecdotes before I noticed him staring at me blankly.



“No, not Billy Joel,” he said. “Billy Joe. From Green Day.”



There may have been other people in their mid-40s who would have loved writing and thinking about Green Day, but not me. It wasn’t just the new acts in hard rock and hip-hop that were eluding my gut: It was the constant series of retread pop stars making comebacks.



When the refrigerator-size phenomenon of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” fame returned to the limelight, I decided I’d rather write about meatloaf than Meat Loaf, so I joined Newsday’s food staff.



How I got from there to here is another story. I never stopped loving music. I even write about it occasionally. I do it for the fun of it.



But music is no longer the story line guiding the narrative of my journalism career. In the AJR piece, New York Times critic Jon Pareles, 46, said that “rock ‘n’ roll is an endless extension of high school.”



Which is exactly why, after 25 years, I came to realize that it was time to graduate.





Wayne Robins (wrobins@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering new media for E&P.





Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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