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RC

Robert Christgau

A rock critic since 1967, Robert Christgau co-keynoted the first Pop Conference and has presented at every subsequent edition. His memoir, Going Into the City, was published by Dey Street Books in 2015 and his collection, Is It Still Good to Ya?, is due from Duke University Press this coming October.

"Robert Christgau, Enduring Love and Tonic Counterpoint in Three American Alt-Rock Bands"
With no extraneous conceptual ado, I propose to examine, celebrate. and tease out the long careers and substantial recorded legacy of three major American alt-rock bands who in differing but decisive ways are understood by both critics and audience to revolve around three heterosexual couples (or is it duos?). Two of these are obvious: the long-running New York bands Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. The other will be obvious only to those aware that I've been pumping them without surcease since a fortuitous freelance assignment alerted me to their debut album: the Cincinnati critics' band turned cult band Wussy.
I propose this paper not because I know now what its point will be, but because the raw material is so abundant I'm certain my main challenge will be squeezing it into a 20-minute presentation. A few generalizations and observations pertain, however. In both New York bands the couples are or were married. Sonic Youth dissolved after three decades when bassist Kim Gordon refused to go on in the wake of guitarist Thurston Moore's refusal to abandon an extramarital relationship with a London book editor; Yo La Tengo was impaired but not ultimately staunched by an Ira Kaplan health scare during the same period. Wussy had its beginnings in the early-2000s love affair of former Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver and his younger fan Lisa Walker, but survived the end of that affair, with both partners since married to others. All three bands were substantially changed and in the case of the first two decisively improved by changes in their rhythm sections after a few years: drummer Steve Shelley joining Sonic Youth, bassist James McNew joining Yo La Tengo, drummed Joe Klug joining Wussy. I should also mention that I see two major predecessors in the couple-band category: Fleetwood Mac and X, the latter of whom especially may merit more than a sentence when I find out exactly where I'm headed.