Christgau and Sonic Youth

Kevin Mattson writes:

I was reminded that evening of what I knew about Christgau by this point. His trademark was turning record reviewing into “grading”—literally doling out an A- or B+ to rock albums, and thereby fine-tuning, I suppose, the five or less stars prevalent in other forums. (Now a college professor myself who dislikes quantifying and slapping letters next to students’ names, I cannot imagine why anyone would choose this method of assessment voluntarily.) I also remembered—though more vaguely—how the noisy punk band Sonic Youth, back in the early 1980s, got the better of Christgau. After Christgau gave their debut album a measly C and refused to cover the band’s performances in the New York City area, Sonic Youth laid down these anti-rock establishment lines: “I don’t know why you wanna impress Christgau. . . . Let that shit die and find out the new goal: Kill your idols.” (The song became the title track of Sonic Youth’s 1983 EP Kill Yr Idols, which Christgau gave a B-.) My young, punk, democratic heart sided with Sonic Youth rather than with the man who liked to call himself—why, again, the love of academic decorum?—the “Dean of Rock Critics.”