Journalist-Musician Feuds: A History by Judy Berman
The Village Voice’s Sound of the City blog recently published an article with the provocative headline, “Michael Musto to LCD Soundsystem: ‘Suck it, James Murphy!’” Now, what in the world could have happened to provoke that? It seems LCD’s new track “Pow Pow” contains the fighting words, “Eat it Michael Musto; you’re no Bruce Vilanch!” And while the Voice’s Zach Baron had to explain who the band was to Musto, we think his retort to a somewhat nonsensical jab sounds about right.
The Musto-Murphy beef appears to be all in good fun, but it still reminds us of some great moments in more serious (not to mention more seriously entertaining) musician-journalist feuds. After the jump, peruse some of our favorite battles, from Lou Reed vs. Lester Bangs to Pitchfork vs… well, you’ll see.
Lou Reed vs. Lester Bangs (1970s)
The battle between Lou Reed and the late Lester Bangs was practically eternal. For years, the pair went back and forth, as Bangs called Reed’s Berlin “a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancor” but couldn’t stop praising Metal Machine Music . But the real gold is in Bangs’ “interviews” with Reed — which were really more like extended rhetorical death matches. (For a good taste of the back and forth, we recommend the entire chapter devoted to Reed — tellingly named “Slaying the Father” — in the Bangs anthology Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung .) Unlike many subsequent musician-journalist battles, Bangs’ struggle with Reed was especially fascinating because it was complicated by the writer’s fundamental respect for his subject. At their core, these pieces are about a die-hard Velvet Underground fan trying to make sense of his idol’s erratic later work
Winner: Both. The feud was good publicity for Bangs and Reed, and we like to think it also kept both of them on their toes.
Courtney Love vs. Lynn Hirschberg (1992)
Way back in the early days of Kurt and Courtney, nearly two years before Cobain’s death and the release of Live Through This , Lynn Hirschberg published a damningly juicy profile of Love in Vanity Fair. Among such sins as lateness and bad skin, Hirschberg held that Love had done heroin during her pregnancy with daughter Frances Bean. Child protective services trusted the writer’s word enough that they briefly took the baby away from her parents before dropping their investigation. (The now-17-year-old Frances Bean is now in the custody of Wendy O’Connor, Cobain’s mother after a legal battle that ended in December.) Love has never forgiven Hirschberg: As recently as last year, she included the New York Times writer on her MySpace list of “people I would hit if I saw them.” The only other person on that list? Ryan Adams.
Winner: Hirschberg, but hers is a Pyrrhic victory
Billy Corgan vs. Jim DeRogatis (1993-present)
Remember when we took The Smashing Pumpkins seriously? In those days, the heady mid-’90s, the band had few detractors. But one especially vociferous critic of Billy Corgan was a music writer for the Great Pumpkin’s hometown paper, the Chicago Sun-Times: Jim DeRogatis. Notoriously cranky and hard to please, DeRo published an ambivalent profile of Corgan which led his subject to claim the critic had “betrayed” him. Then, the Pumpkins’ publicist went to the trouble of disinviting DeRogatis to the band’s performances and claiming he would never again be allowed another interview with the group. And that’s only the beginning: You can read about the entire dust-up in this excerpt from DeRo’s book, Milk It! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, DeRo is still trashing Corgan regularly.
Winner: DeRogatis, whose original piece wasn’t especially mean in the first place.
David Byrne vs. Jon Pareles (2009)
To say that New York Times music critic Jon Pareles was not impressed with a February 2009 David Byrne performance is to be unnecessarily tactful. Frankly, he found the whole thing fussy and “gimmicky,” closing his review with the implication that Byrne had lost his touch. “Far too much of the concert was just clever and neat,” wrote Pareles. “What the songs once had, beyond that, was an irrational, illuminating spark.” the only problem? Back in the day, when Byrne and Brian Eno released the collaborative album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts , which the author referenced in the Times as an example of the pair at their best, Pareles reviewed it for Rolling Stone. And guess what? He (somewhat notoriously) hated it. As Byrne pointed out on his blog, “This… is the same reviewer who leveled charges of ‘cultural imperialism’ against Bush Of Ghosts in his Rolling Stone review back in the early 80’s. For years afterwards, almost every interviewer asked me to respond to his charge, and many press articles quoted it.” Byrne muses that perhaps it will take the critic another 30 years to understand the performance and ends his thumping of Pareles with the suggestion that the writer has “psychological issues.”
Winner: Byrne, for doing his homework
Marilyn Manson vs. Buddyhead (2009)
Sure, they may be sophomoric and occasionally mean-spirited, but, all things said and done, we’re glad that Buddyhead came back from the dead last year. They’re known for their merciless reviews and unfiltered criticism, so it’s little wonder that a writer known as “meathead” managed to piss off fading goth-pop star Marilyn Manson. In a post hilariously titled “Marilyn Manson is a big man on the internet!”, meathead realized that Manson posted a nutty MySpace rant directed at him. [I]f one more “journalist” makes a cavalier statement about me and my band,” Manson wrote, “I will personally or with my fans help, greet them at their home and discover just how much they believe in their freedom of speech. I dare you all to write one more thing that you won’t say to my face. Because I will make you say it. In that manner. That is a threat.” Meathead’s entire response is worth reading (especially if you need a laugh), but here’s the crux of it: “Just humor me here for a minute. I’m trying to visualize a scenario in which Marilyn Manson actually acquires my home address, achieves a mental state that’s close enough to sobriety to allow him to successfully type it into Google and print out the directions, and then makes it all the way over here without getting distracted and sucking off a vagrant along the way.” We assume Manson never took him up on his challenge.
Winner: As long as meathead hasn’t yet been stomped by goth teens (and since he’s still writing for Buddyhead, we doubt that), we’re going with him.
Das Racist vs. Sasha Frere-Jones (2009)
We won’t bore you with the details here. New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones, to the surprise and horror of fans everywhere, declared hip hop dead last fall. And while many expressed their disagreement with his assessment, no one was more creative in using the medium against him than Das Racist — who published their response in our very own pages. If you haven’t seen this yet, enjoy.
Winner: We may be biased here, but we think Das Racist got the last laugh.
Pitchfork vs… everyone (ongoing)
The internet’s leading source of indie-rock snark has become public enemy number one for bands who feel they’ve been misrepresented or otherwise judged too harshly. Take M.I.A., who lashed out at the site for perpetuating the myth that Diplo is the primary creative force behind her albums. Airborne Toxic Event sent a classy missive to a reviewer who bestowed upon them a painful 1.6 rating: “[I]t’s fun to slag off bands. It’s like a sport — kind of part of the deal when you decide to be in a rock band.” Then there’s Stars’ response to a review of their 2007 album In Our Bedroom After the War, which basically accused P4k of killing art criticism as a whole. (Interestingly, the review in question received the fairly generous score of 7.4.) Even more hilarious was Decemberist Colin Meloy’s suggestion, after his The Hazards of Love scored a mere 5.7 last year, that fans send Pitchfork photos of their butts. Apparently, the Best New Music vet just couldn’t deal with the sad reality that Pitchfork giveth and Pitchfork taketh away. But by far our favorite response comes from Sound Team, who made a minute-long silent film chronicling the saga of their abuse at the hands of (a very literal) Pitchfork: