It's a Start
|Robert Christgau||Sep 11, 2019|
Here starts And It Don't Stop, your last chance to enjoy and put to use the graded capsule album reviews I've been writing for half a century—almost 15,000 of them by now. This optimistically titled online subscription experiment reincarnates the monthly Village Voice feature I christened the Consumer Guide in 1969. There it ran until 2006, when new owners fired an honor roll of Voice veterans. The original concept was to add concision, provocation, and legible judgment to the countercultural aspirations of a rock press busy being born. Were albums works of art? Quite often they were. Were they also consumer goods whose target market deserved clear advice on whether they were worth their price tag? Always.
The Consumer Guide proved to generate some market value of its own, and for 13 years post-Voice it lived on in various formats—since 2010 under the sobriquet Expert Witness—at Microsoft's MSN Music (which initially paid me more for it than the Voice ever had), Medium, and most recently Noisey. But in the cheapskate business online journalism has become, cutbacks always came and I always went. Because it had been exactly 50 years since the Consumer Guide debuted in the Voice, the timing struck me. At 77, with several book ideas brewing, maybe it was time for me to give up the comprehensive album coverage that had long been my calling card.
But two reservations hung in there as several publications put out feelers that came to naught. One concerned the community of fans that first gathered around the Microsoft Expert Witness, which generated troll-free 500-post colloquies as well as many valued acquaintances and a few good friends, and has since rematerialized as the Q&A forum Xgau Sez I've run on robertchristgau.com for over a year. But the second, how about that, was money. I'm grateful Social Security and Medicare are still in place and have stashed away 401Ks and such. But the Voice never paid what it could afford, and in a capitalism where the superrich hold the big cards, I need to generate income for as long as I can.
Thus this Substack. And It Don't Stop will appear two or three times monthly, supplementing one compendium of graded Consumer Guide-style capsule album reviews with a 500-word book brief plus sometimes a show report or personal note or political call to arms. After working hard to render each weekly Noisey Expert Witness thematic—all hip-hop, all-"Americana," all fuck-Trump—I'm pleased to revive the random ecumenicism of the original Consumer Guide concept, alphabetizing eight or nine full reviews graded B plus to, I swear, A plus and mixing in four or five super-short Honorable Mentions graded ***, **, or * (fewer than at Noisey, where I expended too much ear time on them). While keeping up with recent releases and firing only when ready as always, I'll also feel freer to go back to older records I missed or put off—can even imagine, if things go well, weighing in on a few of the many '60s classics that predate the original Consumer Guide. I may even move Xgau Sez over.
Health permitting, how long the project keeps going depends on how many readers pony up. I wouldn't have put time into this notion if I wasn't certain I have fans dedicated enough to make an acceptable cash flow feasible, as many of them have tweeted and emailed to assure me. But I have no real idea how big or flush my base is. So soon I'll find out. As the Flamin' Groovies put it on an album I underrated in 1969, the first one is free. But starting in October comes the paywall: it will cost you five bucks a month to consume Christgau's Consumer Guide Mach II, with all other content gratis. If I make my nut, we've got a deal. If I don't I'll move on—perhaps even to better things. It's up to you.