July 9, 2004
Gen Xers tweak geezers' sacred cows
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
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
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
One of the book's contributors is Leanne Potts, a former Tribune
reporter who now writes about pop culture for Albuquerque's morning
Her target of choice? Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album "Pronounced Leh-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.
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs," Derek and the Dominos
"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
"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
"Nevermind," Nirvana (1991)
"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," Smashing Pumpkins
"OK Computer," Radiohead (1997)
"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Wilco (2003)