Kill Your Idols abandons nostalgia

Originally published July 15, 2004

by Jedd Beaudoin

Recently, a friend shot me an especially maudlin e-mail, closing it with "Do you know how it feels when someone pees all over the music you love?" Sure. We all do. And it never felt better than it does in Kill Your Idols, a collection of 34 essays, each one a reconsideration of a classic, hyped-to-the-hypest album such as The Who's Tommy, Nirvana's Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. (All of them albums I don't hate.)
     Edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmél Carrillo, the collection asks some of rock criticism's best minds to explain why, exactly, they hate the albums that Rolling Stone magazine shoves down our throats about every six months or so. (And yet we still subscribe!) DeRogatis, a former RS writer, points out that the magazine's shifting priorities and tragic nostalgia for flower power and music industry mechanizations have blinded it from the truth — Hootie ain't no Dylan but Dylan ain't no Cobain, either. At times, the magazine can barely see beyond Christina Aguilera's bellybutton nor can it resist the temptation to genuflect whenever some rock 'n' roll Hall of Fame inductee breaks wind.
     So what's that got to do with the albums that get dissed here? Well, one could argue that Rolling Stone created the hype that surrounds most of them. After all, no other magazine has established itself as the kind of authority that Rolling Stone has. Creem folded long ago (despite its current online incarnation), Spin has become a fashion rag and others have become increasingly genre specific. (Harp, to which DeRogatis contributes may offer some hope, though it seems to be aimed primarily at aging X-ers such as myself.)
     Could it be that DeRogatis harbors some resentment toward his former employer? Maybe. But the real reason for this book is to allow writers to express their disdain for the things we've been told since our teen years that we should love with all our might. (As an English major, I listened to innumerable conversations where people worked themselves to the brink of an orgasm at the mere mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Me? I hate that fuckin' thing. And still I read it about once a year just to see if I can figure out what the hell I've been missing all this time.)
     Many writers claim that penning pans gives them much more amusement than crafting raves and the group that DeRogatis and Carrillo have assembled here is certainly no exception. Tom Phalen tears into Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram (Who the fuck died and made that album classic? Shit.) with an unbridled ferocity that not only provides great arguments against the splattered platter but is an entertaining-as-hell read. Allison Stewart states the obvious with her take on John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy (C'mon! People've been calling this Single Fantasy for years.) but pulls it off with style. And the vitriolic vitriol that David Sprague spews over Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run is as fun as getting a sponge bath from five supermodels during an ecstasy binge. (And I don't mind that album.)
     But the best of the hardcore disses comes from Jim Walsh, who delivers a painstakingly detailed and delicious account of Fleetwood Mac's assassination at his own hand. It's not only hilarious, it's written with a punch and clarity that in ideal world would make hotshot fiction writers such as David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody hand their ball-point crowns to him. Leanne Potts delivers a take on Lynyrd Skynyrd's Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd that leaves you wanting to read as much of her work as you can. And while there are out-and-out attacks, writers such as Arsenio Orteza (he takes on Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back) provide thoughtful accounts of the work in question, raising compelling points that may or may not sway you. (Orteza's sees racist rhetoric in Public Enemy's racism and its history of anti-Semitism proves unsettling.)
     And just as you're likely to find filler on a Mick Jagger solo album, there's some, albeit very little, here, namely Chrissie Dickinson's ripping of Gram Parsons GP/Grievous Angel. Like a freshman composition student trying desperately to reach a 750 word count, Dickinson stretches and stretches for something to say but ultimately emerges with a piece that's as painful to the reader's eyes as Dickinson says Parsons is to her ears.
     For those who've always hated Born In The U.S.A. or OK Computer, this anthology should provide far more entertainment than much of what's at the top of the pops this summer (or on the silver screen). Those who love Pet Sounds, Blood On The Tracks and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, will probably be less amused. Love it or hate it, Kill Your Idols is the greatest gift you can give the rock fan (and Rolling Stone subscriber) in your life.