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The Gig: Firing the Canon

Nate Chinen on the value of killing—or at least questioning—one's idols

Barricade Books recently unleashed Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics. A pet project of Chicago Sun-Times critic and Harp magazine columnist Jim DeRogatis, the anthology consists of commissioned essays by Gen-X rock writers, each attacking an album in the critical canon. By turns bilious, mischievous and whiny, the book serves as a reactionary measure against the dicta of older scribes—”a spirited assault on a pantheon that has been foisted upon us,” in DeRogatis’ words. From the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Nirvana’s Nevermind, nearly three dozen albums enter the crosshairs, some emerging more damaged than others after the smoke has cleared.

In his introductory notes, DeRogatis touches upon rock’s enshrinement by institutions, a development echoed in jazz for the past 20-odd years. Of course, there are immeasurable differences between Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, it’s a familiar sentiment when DeRogatis suggests that rock “would seem by definition to be opposed to the very notion of fixing in stone a canon.” JALC has heard that argument before, and it was the complaint most often lobbed at Ken Burns. Not that it mattered much to Burns. The problem with assaulting a canon is that you quickly come to resemble “a bratty kid wiping his snot on the blackboard,” as DeRogatis not-so-sheepishly admits.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).