People With Passion: Jim DeRogatis, Sound Opinions, Part II

People With Passion: Jim DeRogatis, Sound Opinions, Part II

A People With Passion series

Chicago journalism

January 24, 2012: Jim DeRogatis

In Part II of this 24th installment of my Chicago journalism interview series, Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis discusses his tenure at Rolling Stone, his return to the Sun-Times, why newspapers are dying, and why Britney Spears could deliver one of the world’s great nights of music but probably won’t. (CLICK HERE for Part I)


I went to Rolling Stone with Keith Moerer, the guy who was my editor at Request. I was approached by Jann Wenner because Request was such a good magazine for that three or four year stretch, that Wenner hired him to be the editor at Rolling Stone, and Keith wanted me to be the music editor as his deputy. I’m in Chicago. I’m still writing for Request. We are still good friends. We went there together as a package deal. We had read Robert Sam Anson’s book and Robert Draper’s book, two different great books about Rolling Stone. We knew it was a fundamentally corrupt and compromised enterprise, especially in the music –

Was it always?

Yes, from the beginning. Take a look at those books some day. Jann would never dare to dictate to Hunter Thompson, Joe McGinniss, any of the journalists. But he thought he knew music. So his tastes always dictated what Rolling Stone did. Greil Marcus, the west coast Robert Cristgau, the other dean of American rock criticism, you know, was the first record review editor. He lasted eight months. He was fired by Wenner for writing a negative review of one of those Dylan Goes Christian albums. “You can’t say that about Bob Dylan in my magazine. You’re fired.” Right?

I was fired after eight-and-a-half months for writing a negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish. This was always the case: record review editors – some great ones, Ed Ward – were always fired by Wenner. When you dared to contradict his tastes, you were out. It was his personal fiefdom. And you know, there were glaring holes. Led Zeppelin was hated throughout their heydey by Rolling Stone. Never got a good review. Progressive Rock didn’t exist. He was about James Taylor, you know, he was best friend’s with Art Garfunkel. Rolling Stone’s music tastes always sucked. And when it didn’t, it was in there by accident. Editors had snuck in Lester Bangs, or snuck in Nick Tosches.

If you look at the history it was almost bankrupt early on. After six months or whatever, Wenner had run out of money that he got from his parents. He made a deal with Clive Davis who was then the head of Columbia Records, and continues to be Satan, you know, brings us today every American Idol record. He’s 110 years old. He’ll never die because he’s pure evil. But they made this deal where Columbia gave them a loan, and then there was never a negative review of a Columbia record for that entire stretch, for a couple years.

But you have a bit of hubris. (Laughs.) You say, “Oh, we had so much fun at Request, and Jann Wenner’s, literally, stamping on the desk, (clapping hands on each word) ‘Rolling Stone needs to do what you guys do! It needs to change or die!’” And we’re like, “Okay, we’re going to be different.” And we were different. It was miserable. It was like having keys to a Ferrari you can only drive five miles per hour.

But you tried to be different.

Well yeah, yeah. And we went down in flames. Instantly. I want to do the ultimate story about Bjork and send a writer to Iceland along with like Mark Zelickman to take the ultimate photos and a photo-stylist, and instead we’re doing a hatchet job on Don Henley. We’re going to go after Don Henley’s crusade to save Walden Woods and try to tear that down because Jann Wenner had not been invited to his fourth wedding. It was miserable.

Plus, you know, there’s fucking Jenny McCarthy half-naked on the cover with a hot dog between her tits squirting mustard on it. And we’re looking at that – that was during our reign – and we’re sick to our stomachs. That’s not why we came. I hate this job. We’re both trying to get out.

I started writing for the Reader hoping to come back to Chicago and freelance on the side. The job at the Sun-Times wasn’t open. I didn’t get the job at the Reader. So Minneapolis was going to be a lot cheaper to live. I got myself fired from Rolling Stone when my wife at the time was eight and a half months pregnant. It was not a good career move. We moved back to Minneapolis, because we knew it was going to be dirt-cheap to live – you know, you can rent a house for 600 dollars. And I didn’t know if this freelance thing was going to work or not, but, once again, I can go work at Kinko’s if I have to.

Didn’t come to that. I’m freelancing. Luckily it coincided with a brief and wonderful period in the mid 90s to the late 90s where every bozo company on the net decides it has to become a content generator, right? So Yahoo Launch and AOL Music, and all of these, they’re all desperate for content. You could make like 1000 dollars a month having a column at this place, and that place, and every once in a while Keith – I got him fired too, but he got a severance package and stuff, and a clause where he couldn’t speak about Rolling Stone. I just got kicked out. I think they still owe me my last week’s salary. He got a better deal. (Laughs.)

He went on eventually to run the Amazon music store when it started selling music. You get a call from him, “We need reviews of every Neil Young album. You think you can do it by next Tuesday? 75 dollars an album.” And I was like, “Neil Young’s got 40 albums, Keith.” “Yeah yeah yeah – can you do it?” “Fuck yeah!” I fed the baby. It worked. It was a nice thing. I would have been at Jiffy Lube or at Kinko’s if that hadn’t been that period, because that period’s long-since gone. Now nobody pays for content. But initially, everybody at a loss is paying for content on the net just to get it up and running. So to this day, if you go on Amazon, you’ll still find reviews I wrote of various things, and places like Yahoo Launch, whatever Launch is now. Stuff like that.

Plus I was doing stuff for the alternative weeklies, writing for New Times in Los Angeles, and the Reader. And I wrote the Bangs book without a deal. (Laughs.) It was not a smart move. I’m sitting in Minneapolis, freelancing, supporting a newborn – my wife didn’t work – and I was like, “Okay, let’s write a book on spec.” But it eventually, when I was two-thirds done, found a publisher and that’s great.

Sun-Times calls me up and says, “Okay, the rock critic we had didn’t work. Would you be interested in coming back?” It’s a new set of management. There’d been the set that hired me. There’d been set two when I left – I wasn’t fond of set two – and now it’s set three. It’s the Brits. It’s been bought by Conrad [Black].

So there’s this wonderful Fleet Street editor called Nigel Wade, who’s this rough-mannered, wonderful white-haired, stately-looking gentleman, but cursed like a sailor and was just king douchebag. I loved him. He was pure Fleet Street, you know. I went and met him and said, “I’d love to come back, but I want the deal Ebert has.” And he rolled his eyes. And I said, “I know you’re not going to pay me what you pay Roger, but you know, I don’t want to come into the office. I gotta go out late and see shows. I can’t sit around and listen to loud music and write in my underwear. Don’t make me come in.” (Nigel Wade voice, suddenly) “Ah, you want to work at home! That’s fine! You got the job!” He later told an editor – and this was my favorite quote ever – he said, “That man could have taken a shit on my desk and I’d’ve hired him.” I love this fucking guy! I love this guy! He’s a pig, and a douchebag, but I love him! Alright? Everybody else at the Sun-Times hated him. But what a great journalism kind of guy? You know what I mean?

The problem with the Sun-Times was always just that it’s a tabloid that didn’t want to be a tabloid. Right? I grew up reading the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Big fucking pictures! “Ford to city: Drop Dead!” “Headless body found in topless bar!” Right? That was a real New York Post headline. They had energy, excitement, they were not polite. They were the fucking truck driver at the end of the bar with a shot and a beer. That to me was a tabloid. And the Sun-Times didn’t have enough of that. Ever. (Laughs.) And the Brits who owned it tried to put that in, and it was always an uneasy mix. I always wish the Sun-Times was a little more New York, you know?

When I was first at the Sun-Times, I started Sound Opinions with Bill Wyman, who was the critic at the Reader. We were on the Loop initially, and then we moved to Q101. When I left to go to Rolling Stone and Bill left not long after to head to San Francisco, Sound Opinions ended. When I came back to the Sun-Times, I called up Greg Kot – literally, I was crossing the country with the u-haul and staying somewhere… en route to Chicago – and I call him up and say, “Let’s do Sound Opinions. Me and you – it only makes sense Sun-Times and Tribune. Let’s do it right.” And he said, “Yeah, sure if you can pull it off,” and somehow we talked our way onto XRT. We were there seven years and then we moved to public radio, and now we’ve been there seven years.

To me, the idea of two rock critics talking about this was like, “Duh, a no-brainer. Why has nobody done it?” I’ve since come to the conclusion, nobody’s done it – lots of other people have tried. When we say, “We’re the world’s only rock-and-roll talk show,” we’re mimicking the Rolling Stones and Creem. You know, Rolling Stones was the world’s only rock-and-roll band, Creem was the world’s only rock-and-roll magazine – we’re the only one that’s any good, is what we mean. Real slight wink and a nod.

But I mean, Siskel and Jones wouldn’t have worked, and Ebert and Smith wouldn’t have worked. Those two worked together. They had a chemistry. I don’t think I was as good with Bill Wyman as I am with Greg. That’s why it worked. He’s kind of slow and steady and very earnest, and I’m more excitable. Two of me would be a pain in the ass. Two of Greg would be a little sleepy. In my opinion. He would probably disagree with that. Or he would just put it in different words. (Kot voice) “Jim is insane and I keep him balanced.”

So tell me then about your decision two years ago to leave the Sun-Times.

I saw the writing on the wall. The Sun-Times is dying. Not that it’s alone. The Tribune’s in bankruptcy, the Reader’s in bankruptcy, and the Sun-Times. They’re all in the lifeboat. I’m like, “What else am I going to do?” Freelancing today is – forget it. There’s so little freelance money. So, you know, I’ve always enjoyed – throughout every phase of this, any invitation from a high school class or college class that said – I mean, I always remembered that Lester Bangs had taken the time to talk to this clueless 17-year-old, and it changed my life. So it is and was karmic payback. Anybody who wanted to talk ever about criticism, I was happy to do it.

So I approached Columbia and said, “Would you be interested in having me teach a class?” And they had reviewing the arts, which is a really popular class here. I taught that, just one class a semester, while being at the Sun-Times, just because I thought, “Okay, I’m going to try to see if there’s something else.” And then they offered me a job as a full-time lecturer.

This coincided with – the Sun-Times had been bought by James Tyree and it’s in bankruptcy. Either he was going to buy it and the union was going to cave to all of his demands to allow him to buy it, or it was going to cease to exist. This is the fall of two years ago. I mean literally, the union is meeting and saying, “Either we have to agree to give up 20% of our salary, there’s no other buyer, this guy saves us or we don’t exist. So vote whatever way you want! But if you want to have a job…” You know?

I disagreed with this move. You’re not buying anything physical anymore. We sold our building to Donald Trump. We’re renting a shitty space that doesn’t even feel like a newspaper. What are you buying? I guess you’re buying us. Tim Novak and Rich Roeper and Mary Mitchell and Jim DeRogatis and Ebert, and now you’re going to take away 20% of our salary?

But the union caved. What was the final straw to me was that a couple weeks after I lost 15%, I guess it was, of my salary – I mean, I can live with that – they hired Rick Morrissey away from the Tribune for a six-figure contract. And I said, “Wait a minute. (Laughs.) You just took 15% away from Denise O’Neal, the beloved editorial assistant in Features, Jim DeRogatis, everybody has to give up all this money. I almost went to jail for this paper a year ago, right? I never got a raise in the entire time I was here. And you’re going to take away from me – okay, I can live with that – but giving it to somebody else? Fuck you.

And that literally coincided with the same week of Columbia saying, “Your two classes have been amazing that you’ve taught so far. Would you ever consider coming here full-time?” I don’t think they ever expected me to say “Sure.” Or to say “Sure, down the line.” But I’m like, “Why, what are you thinking?” “Well, we have this job as a full-time lecturer.” (claps hands) “Alright, that’s it. I’m done.”

Now that you’ve been teaching for two or three years, I read that you said you don’t have a PhD, you don’t have a teaching certificate, you never thought about going into teaching –

Well, depends on how you define ‘teaching.’ In so many ways, what we’ve done on the radio for 14 years is teaching.

But you weren’t stepping into a classroom.

But I was two or three or four times every semester to talk to classes whenever I was invited. Loyola, DePaul, Medill, U of C, I always took any invitation. If I could possibly do it, I took it. because, again, karmic payback for Lester.

Okay, well now, at Columbia, how has your criticism grown or changed from teaching everyday and hearing ideas from kids who don’t have their filters yet or everything’s new so they’re just throwing out ideas – how has that changed you?

I think it always makes you better. Whether you’re a painter teaching a painting class, you’re a critic teaching a class in criticism – I don’t care what you’re teaching. You pursue a craft, and you get to be fairly good at it, and it begins to be automatic. Same thing with cooks. You ever watch a great cook? “A pinch of this.” Well, how much is a pinch? “I don’t know.”

“It’s a pinch.”

Right! So you don’t think about it. Whereas when you’re teaching, you have to explicate every step along the way. And sometimes you have to think about things that have become automatic or that you never had to think about at all. I just always did it this way. So that’s good. That can’t help but be good.

Has it challenged your tastes? Do you show your students, “This is the good music?” and then they come back to you and say –

No, we could care less about that. And I never have. I don’t care. I hate Mumford & Sons. I hate Dave Matthews. If you can come to class with a good 500 word review – ‘good’ in the sense that you explain why this music moves you – you define ‘criticism’ as “an attempt to intellectually encapsulate your emotional reaction to a piece of art.” “This is good.” No, that’s not enough. “This is good because…” That’s great.

And that can come from anybody. The 11-year-old girl who tells me, “I love Justin Bieber,” right? “I love Justin Bieber because he’s cute.” No. “I love Justin Bieber because he sings about what it’s like to not really fit in to the world and I hear his music and it makes me feel less alone.” I want to kiss that girl. You’re completely fucked in the head. Justin Bieber’s music sucks. But you have listened to this art and it has given you a reason for living! You know what I mean?


You’re not just consuming it. Right? God bless. You don’t have to have anything remotely near my taste for me to respect you. It’s not ever about that. It’s just about the communication. Are you a good writer? Are you pulling this off as a writer? Yeah, I try to steer them very quickly away from, you know, “We know you like this, but…” No, I like good writing more than anything.

Do you try to steer them toward some sort of journalistic integrity as well?

Oh, yeah. Yeah, we have a portion of the class that’s devoted to the ethics of criticism. Yeah.

I get the sense that – and correct me if I’m wrong – I get the sense that your journalistic integrity comes from your subject matter, that it’s important to have integrity as a journalist because you’re writing about music and “music matters.” You’ve said, “It’s not just entertainment. Get that out of my face. This is important.” Is that where your journalistic integrity comes from? Is that why you won’t write some good shit about Fairweather Johnson?

No, I think it’s all the same. I mean, look, Chicago breaks my heart. It’s the greatest city on earth. I would never want to live anywhere else. But when people in Chicago, when you say, “The Daley Administration, corrupt to the core of its being, how did it last 24 years? That’s the reign of a king.” (meek Chicagoan voice) “Ah, you know, he planted parks. He did a lot of good.” There’s this willingness to accept, “That’s just the Chicago way. That’s just the way it works.” I don’t accept that, you know what I mean? (Laughs.) It’s not enough.

I think you have ideals that are fundamentally democratic. I owe the reader my complete honesty as far as my opinion about the Leonard Cohen album I just reviewed, right? Leonard Cohen’s 77-years-old. Long underrated as a genius musician. He’s going to die, and it’s an album about looking death in the face. You know what? The music sucks. There’s some great lyrics but the music is really sleepy, all right? I’m not gonna give Leonard Cohen a pass just because he’s going to die and he’s a genius and all that shit. This is my honest reaction, right? How is that any different than, “Daley might be a crook, but he’s a crook who plants trees.” There’s the truth, and there’s the truth, you know? (Laughs.) And your job as a journalist is to tell it.

Not that my opinion is perfect. But this is honestly my opinion about this record. What would kill me – I’ve gone to SXSW for more than 20 years. You get together at the Iron Works Barbeque behind the convention center, sit with a bunch of your peers, and for years going back, mmm, the first time I went – ten, twelve rock critics are sitting there, and “Alright, so what did you really think about the new R.E.M. album,” right? And people around the table would say (grumbles) and those opinions would be different than what they wrote in their publication.

I may be an asshole, you may hate me, I may be wrong as a critic and you dislike every opinion I have, but at least I am consistent. What I say to you, what I say to my students, what I say to Greg on the radio, and what I write – to me, this is my honest opinion, for what that’s worth. The stakes are even higher in real journalism. (Pause) ‘Real journalism’ as opposed to ‘criticism.’ I never make this distinction, obviously. I mean, people could say I’m an investigative critic. Certainly with what I did with R. Kelly.

Look at the last three blog posts: one is a memoirish entry, one is a record review, and one is strict reportage. Which I’m able to do in a sort of new journalistic – I mean, I feel like I’m now writing for the Village Voice. I can put my opinion in as well as the journalism. Old weeklies never pulled punches. The Village Voice was unapologetically pro-gay, democratic, progressive, right? This notion of objectivity is bullshit, and that’s why newspapers are dying. (Laughs.) And Fox News is thriving. I don’t think the world should be Fox News, but I think that if somebody is a crook, that’s a good word. Nice clear clean word. And you can back it up as a journalist, call him a fucking crook!

Is there something essential about what newspapers do that can transcend that medium?

I don’t know. It seems to me that we’re hurtling toward this dichotomy where, let us face it – at the height of Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein on the front page, brilliant investigative pieces forwarding that story – let’s be honest: 90% of the people turn to sports, or features, or the comics, and didn’t care. I don’t think that’s changed. I think 90% of the world today is going to be happy to get their quote-unquote news in 140 character tweets. GINGRICH WINS SOUTH CAROLINA. ON TO FLORIDA. That’s all they cared about. They don’t care about his funding, his opinions, the wife – well, they kind of like the wife story, because it’s scandalous. But you know, that’s all they want in the world.

Just the surface of what happened.

Right. That’s TV news. That’s certainly Fox News, and slanted their way. Just the surface headline. And then the 10% that want to go deeper, I think, will want to go really deep. And your Atlantics, your Harpers, and your New Yorkers will always continue to fill a need for deeper journalism. Thoughtful, incredibly well-written, probing – what I would call “The New New Journalism.” Whether it’s features, whether it’s Krakauer talking about a kid who dies alone in Alaska, Into the Wild, or Mark Bowden and Black Hawk Down, or Susan Orlean and The Orchid Thief, or her new book about Rin Tin Tin. I mean, I’m not interested in flowers or Rin Tin Tin, but she’s such a great writer and the reporting is so rich! Of course! This is a brilliant book, right?

Newspapers are in trouble because they’re in the middle, and there’s just not much room for the middle anymore. They’re kind of like, “We’re not really in depth, we’re not really great art, we’re more than a tweet, we’re more than television news,” but the middle is – as Joan Didion said, “The center is not holding.” Because it’s ancient news.

Do you think newspapers are pretending? Like you talked about the Sun-Times pretending that they weren’t a tabloid.


Do you think newspapers –

Well look at this business today about they’re not gonna do editorial endorsements anymore. Did you see that?


The Sun-Times has decided it will no longer endorse candidates. That “People aren’t interested in who we think they should vote for.” This is the first newspaper in America that’s bowing out of that responsibility. You have traditionally been – the editorial board had a sacred function. “We are not reporters. We digest all the reporting of our organization and every other, and then we say how things should be. We are part of the community,” okay? And I think it’s because the newest owners are fairly well-off, and the truck driver at the end of the bar remains the Sun-Times’s core. “We’re Southside, we’re working class, okay?” They’re not going to endorse Republicans. They can’t, because it goes against their brand. So now they’re just not going to endorse any candidates ever again. Startling.

Newspapers don’t know what they should be. We cannot compete with twitter and facebook, right? It’s such a full-on rush of information coming at us at all times. And it’s no longer enough to just be the first with the story in the morning, so where do we fit? The monthly magazine and the weekly newspaper all seem like ancient history by the time they come out now, but maybe the newspaper could fill that role by becoming more magazine-like. “We’re not going to give you the news first. It’s no longer even possible. That concept is out-dated. But we will give you the news in the most depth and written with the most artistry.”

But the features departments at every newspaper have been slashed. The Sun-Times is non-existent almost, and the Tribune’s is cut to shreds. And the in-depth reporting becomes less and less and less because it takes a huge amount of time and resources to do investigative reporting, and so I think they’ve kind of edged themselves into extinction. You’re never going to get news as fast from the Sun-Times or the Tribune again as you would from any of the blogs or websites or tweets.

Yeah, of course, of course. Alright, so a change of direction. People read you to learn about music.

Maybe. Or just, you know, “He’s an asshole and he pisses me off!” (Laughs.)

Right, or to just get opinions. How does the music writer follow music? Take me through your week –

It’s absolutely no different than when I started out covering Hoboken City Hall. I’m an intrepid, young 21 whatever year-old beat reporter. Four levels at Hoboken City Hall. Cop shop’s in the basement. You go in, you check the police blotter, and you know that the really good stuff is never on the blotter yet. The reports are in the detective bureau. You go back. You share that cup of special coffee – the detectives would spike their coffee with a shot – you sit there, you schmooze them up, and then they’ll show you what’s really going on.

You work your way to the first floor where the city clerk is. The city clerk’s a douchebag. He’s not going to talk to you. But his secretaries, you bring them some Dunkin Donuts from across the street and they’ll tell you what’s been filed, what’s going on with the planning committee. You work your way up to the second floor where you gotta schmooze the old Italian secretary of the mayor, and up on the third floor is the building department. I mean, you – it’s a warren, of cubby holes that each can yield a little bit of honey if you dig in them.

And that’s what – you know, you read everything voraciously. Maybe not encyclopedically. What’s on Pitchfork today? What’s going on with the Daily Swarm, which is a news aggregator exactly like what Poynter and Romenesko were to the news. started by a brilliant young kid from Evanston who is now in New York named David Prince. What Poynter and Romenesko are to journalism news, this is to music news.

You read two or three or four dozen blogs, or at least check the bookmarks a couple times a week. You listen to other people. You listen to streaming radio, college radio. You read the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the blogs and the papers, and you read the Pop Stasche fanzine, and you got your antennae up. I don’t claim to be on the cutting edge of anything in music. I just am always checking out things that intrigue me that cross my radar. And I try to keep the radar out there and in tune and able to pick up stories.

Do you still geek out over new music the way that you did?

Fuck yeah. Yeah. My number one album of the year last year, Le Butcherettes, I saw that show at SXSW and it blew my mind. I’m like a kid in a candy store. It was amazing. One of the things that’s really nice about not being at the daily newspaper anymore is that there’s a lot of soul-killing bullshit that can take away your enjoyment. By the fourth or fifth time you’ve got to go to a United Center or Allstate Arena to review Britney Spears, it can be soul-killing.

Not that you’re – you’re not prejudging it, alright? There’s always the possibility you could go, and here’s this twenty-something woman, 24-years-old or whatever, who’s been twice married, twice divorced, has twice had the state of California take her children away from her. From the age of two – have you ever read Britney Spears’ autobiography, co-written by Mom?


I have. She started taking ballet lessons at one and a half or two years old. And I’m thinking, “My daughter was still shitting in a diaper. How in the fuck do you take ballet lessons?” Her entire life she was groomed to be part of the entertainment machine. She’s taken over by Disney. She’s sexualized at age 14. She has a breast job at 16, or whatever. I mean, this woman – Billie Holliday got hit by men and took smack. Her life was nothing tragically comparing to what Britney Spears’ was. It is possible this woman could reach into the depths of her soul and produce great, life-changing art tonight. But no, she’s probably just going to come out and change costumes seven times and lip sync, and it’s gonna suck like the other four times.

But you don’t want it to suck! You never go to any artistic experience wanting it to suck. You want to have a life-transforming experience. But those are few and far between. Now I have the luxury, again, sort of like the weekly critic used to be, of just zooming in on the things that I’m interested in or passionate about, and there’s still plenty of room for surprise, because you’ve still always got the antennae up. It’s just, you don’t have to waste five or six hours in a fucking arena. So that’s nice.

I’m lucky. I get to get paid pretty much – you know, life is proportions, right? If I love 80% of what I’m doing now and 20% of it seems like work, that’s a fine proportion. At Rolling Stone, I loved 10 or 15% of what I was doing, and hated the other 85%. So fuck, I’m not sticking around. But that’s any job, right? No job is perfect. But you know, 80-20’s pretty damn good.

So you started to answer it, but that was what I was going to ask: What is it that you still love every day about criticizing music and reviewing music and being paid to write about and talk about and think about music?

Nothing more important in the world. Nothing more interesting in the world! Because every single facet of life – again, religion, sex, politics, philosophy, relationships between men and women, the search for identity and individualism – there’s nothing that this art form does not address, and I would say, you know, with more urgency and immediacy and passion than any other art form. Not to denigrate literature, but the great book about the struggle against the 1% may come in five or ten years, it may never come, but the rock song can come tonight by some fucking kid in a basement in Schaumburg with a four-track, and now be disseminated throughout the world tomorrow morning because of the net. No filters required. No even getting signed to a hip indie label. “I recorded this ten minutes ago, and now world, here it is.”

So that’s very exciting, and I think the future remains bright, if not monetarily, which has never been the case and is now arguably worse than ever – rock critic was never a profession to make money at, right? But you know, it’s necessary. I get all of these recommendations – spotify, facebook – I don’t even know where to start. It’s overwhelming. In academia and in criticism right now there’s this notion of the curated experience. Now, more than ever, like Beatrice and Dante, I need somebody to show me the way through this maze, you know? And so the critic who says, “You should hear Le Butcherettes” still hopefully has value.

Jack M Silverstein is an oral historian working in Chicago. His non-fiction novella Our President about Barack Obama’s inauguration is available at Amazon. Say hey on Twitter @ReadJack.

Check back Wednesdays at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming in two weeks: Jonathan Eig, Chicago Side.


(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)

January 18, 2012: David Drake, music writer

December 29, 2011: Tran Ha, RedEye

December 24, 2011: Sam Smith,

December 20, 2011: Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader

December 9, 2011: Chuck Swirsky, Chicago Bulls play-by-play announcer

December 14, 2011: Sarah Spain, ESPN personality

December 6, 2011: Jon Greenberg, ESPN Chicago, columnist

October 21, 2011: William Lee, Chicago Tribune breaking news crime reporter

November 4, 2011: Elaine Coorens, Our Urban Times founder

November 4, 2011: Andrew Barber, Fake Shore Drive founder

October 21, 2011: Jane Hirt, Chicago Tribune, managing editor

September 19, 2011: Andrew Huff, Gapers Block founder

September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative, video producer

September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy, former CEO

September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter, publisher

August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, editorial board and columnist

September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter, editor

August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist, editor

August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer

August 18, 2011: Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times, sports columnist

August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader, investigative reporter

December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)

August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, columnist

August 4, 2011: Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune, columnist


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  • Great interview. I like DeRogatis, but I still think Greg Kot knows nothing about music and doesn't seem to appreciate any band that isn't stadium rock.

    They're a little like Ebert & Roeper... one knows his craft inside and out and the other has no business being in the conversation.

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