July 9, 2004

Gen Xers tweak geezers' sacred cows

By J.M. Baról
Tribune Reporter

Like any organized religion, rock 'n' roll has its own dogma.

Rolling Stone magazine is the gospel.

Any male singer with big lips is worth glorifying.

To be a true guitar player, one must learn the intro to "Stairway to Heaven."

Elvis Presley was, is and always will be king.

With those tenets come a slew of albums as holy as the Bible. "Born in the U.S.A.," "Tommy," "The Dark Side of the Moon" and - amen, hallelujah - "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

But it's time, says a restless group of music critics, to look those canons straight in their beady little platinum eyes and flick them off their pedestals.

In the new book, "Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics," that's exactly what they do: debunk - no, annihilate - the myth of rock ¹n' roll righteousness.

"Rock 'n' roll's the devil's music, right? So it's absurd to treat it like a religion and have this canon that it's made of saints that we can't criticize," the book's creator and co-editor Jim DeRogatis says in that jaded, edgy tone only a rock music critic can get away with.

Thirty-four music writers - mostly in their 20s and 30s and mostly under the Spin/Rolling Stone readers' radar - took on the challenge of debunking society-in-general's cherished albums.

"Call it a spirited assault on a pantheon that has been foisted upon us, or a defiant rejection of the hegemonic view of rock history espoused by the critics who preceded us," DeRogatis writes in the introduction.

One of the book's contributors is Leanne Potts, a former Tribune reporter who now writes about pop culture for Albuquerque's morning newspaper.

Her target of choice? Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album "Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd."

What? How could one of the most memorable rock albums in history, one that includes "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man" and "Free Bird" - hello! "Free Bird"! - be on anyone's worst-album ever list?

For Potts, 38, her contempt for the 1973 album is less about its sound - although she writes that Ronnie Van Zant's lyrics "lack the sort of telling details that make a good song great" - and more about the Southern stigma that came with it.

"I didn't like the whole American-by-birth, Southern-by-grace-of-God ethos that had come to be associated with Southern rock bands like Skynyrd," writes Potts, who was born and raised in Alabama.


Leanne Potts will sign and read from "Kill Your Idols." 7 p.m. Tuesday. Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande Blvd. N.W. Free. 344-8139.


"I wanted none of Skynyrd's talk of down-home values. It sounded like Moral Majority code speak, and this teenaged member of Greenpeace and fan of musical minimalists such as the Ramones and Devo was having none of this Confederate-flag-waving, axe-wielding mob of rednecks in bell-bottoms."

And just like that, Potts buzz-saws through an institution no critic has had the gall to berate under his or her breath, let alone in a much-anticipated 300-page paperback - a book that received tyrannical criticism on the Internet weeks before its release.

Potts admits she was only 7 when the album came out and didn't start listening to it intently until she was 15 - a ploy to impress her Skynyrd die-hard boyfriend.

But she resents the notion that just because she didn't grow up with the baby boomers, she wouldn't know what Lynyrd Skynyrd or any other music of the time was all about.

"It sticks in my craw that rock is so skewed to the boomers," Potts says. "Like 'You don't know; you weren't there,' in this condescending tone, like we were born too late.

"Skynyrd's album is the one I thought of partly because of the southern connection. Because they were classic rock and because I lived in the South, they were gods. They were always there."

One of the writers - DeRogatis' wife, Carmel Carrillo - chose not to efface an album. She instead came up with a list of songs each of her ex-boyfriends cherished, therefore killing their idols.

It's important to note that just because the writers protest their least favorite album doesn't mean they dislike that band. DeRogatis, for example, who targets the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," says one of his all-time favorite albums is the Fab Four's "Revolver."

The majority of the book is criticism of albums from the '60s and '70s, a few '80s and '90s releases, and one from 2003.

So what's the gripe with classic rock?

"The business of canonizing things is a real particular baby boomer trait," DeRogatis says from his home office in Chicago. "It's the generation most reluctant to give up their youth and their place in history.

"Gen X never believed the hype."

DeRogatis, a 39-year-old pop music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, shopped the book's concept for a couple of years but soon realized publishers weren't interested in books of all-negative reviews.

"But one of my favorite books is my colleague Roger Ebert's collection of all his pans," says DeRogatis, who finally landed with Barricade Books. "When I read a negative review it makes me think about my own perspective. I'm looking for another idea. I'm looking to be challenged."

Delve into DeRogatis' history as a writer, and it's no wonder he took on such an edgy project. According to reports, in 1996 DeRogatis was fired as a senior editor at Rolling Stone magazine for writing a blazing critique of a Hootie and the Blowfish album. His review was replaced by a much happier one.

"I'll confess that in the midst of editing this collection, I had a brief crisis of conscience when I wondered if this book was too much of a childish exercise - the rock-critic equivalent of the bratty kid wiping his snot on the blackboard in feeble protestation of the injustices of third-grade life," he writes.

But in the end, "Kill Your Idols" happened, and DeRogatis "couldn't be prouder."

"It was a labor of love," he says. "It's an odd thing to say about a book about bands these writers hate."

So does even DeRogatis have his own sacred cows?

"I may have had a problem if someone in the book tried to take apart Kraftwerk or Black Sabbath or Velvet Underground," he admits.

For Potts, two of her all-time favorite albums are U2's "The Joshua Tree," and Nirvana's "Nevermind" - two albums that showed up in the book.

But she's OK with it.

"I love the spirit of argument," she says. "I don't understand people who get angry about music. Part of the benefit of music is we sit around and talk about it."




The following albums are taken to pasture in "Kill Your Idols."

"Pet Sounds," the Beach Boys (1966)

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the Beatles (1967)

"Smile," the Beach Boys (1967)

"Sweetheart of the Rodeo," the Byrds (1968)

"Tommy," the Who (1969)

"Kick Out the Jams," the MC5 (1969)

"Trout Mask Replica," Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (1969)

"Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs," Derek and the Dominos (1970)

"Ram," Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)

"Untitled ('IV')," Led Zeppelin (1971)

"Harvest," Neil Young (1972)

"Exile on Main St.," the Rolling Stones (1972)

"Desperado," the Eagles (1973)

"Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd," Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)

"The Dark Side of the Moon," Pink Floyd (1973)

"GP/Grievous Angel," Gram Parsons (1973/1974; rereleased in 1990)

"Blood on the Tracks," Bob Dylan (1975)

"Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen (1975)

"Horses," Patti Smith (1975)

"Exodus," Bob Marley & the Wailers (1977)

"Rumours," Fleetwood Mac (1977)

"Never Mind the Bollocks . . . Here's the Sex Pistols," the Sex Pistols (1977)

"Double Fantasy," John Lennon/Yoko Ono (1980)

"Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables," Dead Kennedys (1980)

"Imperial Bedroom," Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1982)

"Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce Springsteen (1984)

"The Best of the Doors," the Doors (1985)

"The Joshua Tree," U2 (1987)

"It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," Public Enemy (1988)

"Nevermind," Nirvana (1991)

"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," Smashing Pumpkins (1995)

"OK Computer," Radiohead (1997)

"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Wilco (2003)