The “Village Voice” Doesn’t Know Jack

A short while ago, a tipster sent us a lengthy screed that’s purportedly the opening essay of this year’s Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. It’s a defensive, angry little rant that’s directed at our own Jackin’ Pop poll, and we have no idea if this is real or not. But what the hell.

Pazz and Jop

Bill Jensen

Spit and sweat. Vodka and pills. Chunks of sod, delta mud, lighter fluid and a well-placed red snapper. That’s what popular music is made of. Oh, and this year, add plenty of piss and moan to the mix, since some people who used to make a living going to shows and writing prose about music traded in their +1s for whiny chain emails and ILM message board posts about how the Village Voice is killing music criticism.

Welcome to the Pazz and Jop poll.

In an era when dailies are cutting arts critics by the dozens, the Village Voice is hiring new arts writers for newly created positions. The paper is owned by Village Voice Media, a company that spends millions of dollars a year paying music journalists across 17 American cities. VVM doesn’t like thumbsuckers who sit on their ass and stare into their distended navels while hungrier writers are out in the clubs. It’s just a little quirk of ours. Get over it.

Many of our writers, along with hundreds from other media outlets, make up this year’s Pazz and Jop poll, the 33rd (or 34th) annual poll in which America’s top music critics weigh in on the year’s best music. Pazz and Jop is the most important critic’s poll of the year. It was only a matter of time before someone tried to copy it.

You may have heard that a local gossip website was going to launch its own music poll. You heard it because mainstream media has had a stick up its ass about the alternative weekly universe since the Voice changed hands a year ago. Michaelangelo Matos is a critic who got his start in the alt-weekly world, collecting some of his first freelance paychecks from Village Voice Media newspapers and even working as music editor of the VVM-owned Seattle Weekly before he quit rather than have to actually speak to the new owners. After fleeing the Weekly, it didn’t take long for Matos to tire of blogging snotty remarks about his successor at the paper. So he turned chickenshit into chicken salad by trying to run his own music poll on a three-month old sister blog of Gawker, a website which spent 2006 worrying whether Radar would ever publish another issue again while giving us updates on Tony Danza ‘s ordering habits at Balducci’s.

The Village Voice, even after parting ways with long-time music critic and Pazz and Jop founder Robert Christgau, was still conducting its Pazz and Jop Poll. So who gives a shit about a three-month old blog doing a poll of its own?

No one, other than 55-year-old white guys who spend their nights snapping the rubberband of their ponytail while listening to Yo La Tengo reissues that get sent directly to their apartment (since they don’t want that upstart calendar editor making 24k a year sorting through their mail back at the office).

Some of those critics, aided by carefully placed PR calls and some daily-newspaper-editor stroking, started the pile-on, attacking the Village Voice after parent company Village Voice Media decided it would rather have in its employ writers who actually went to shows and did some reporting on the artists they were writing about.

Until now, the Village Voice has not commented on any of these non-stories. But at some point, the bullshit gets so thick that you have to flush the toilet and clear the air.

Although many of the stories referred to Pazz and Jop as a venerable and cherished institution, most of these media outlets had little or nothing to say about the poll in year’s past, usually not reporting on it at all. They were only interested in our cultural treasure when someone tried to piss on it and they could add their own stream-of-conscience to the golden shower. NPR–an entity living off the teat of government subsidies and Ray Kroc’s widow’s transfat-drenched death money–decided there was a national story in a guy with a website doing a music poll just like the Village Voice.

“Many of the country’s most prominent critics, including Tom Moon of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ann Powers of The Los Angeles Times and Jim Derogatis of The Chicago Sun-Times have told NPR that they won’t be voting in the [Pazz and Jop] poll this year,” said the story. Never mind the fact that two out of three of the critics they mentioned by name have collected paychecks from public radio, one of them an old acquaintance of Matos’ from Seattle. Silly NPR, full disclosure is for kids. (NPR, which conducted a circle jerk of former Voice employees in a 2006 story, was good enough to tell the listener that Mr. Christgau is now a paid contributor of NPR.) The New York Times and the LA Times joined the whine parade as well–and if the mainstream media runs with a story, you know the conspiracy theorists at the San Francisco Bay Guardian will be right there to pick it up after a few months.

Gawker sent out its invitations to critics in November. How did they get people to contribute? With a small bribe. “As an added bonus,” Matos wrote at the bottom of the ballot he sent to more than 1,200 critics, “once you’ve accepted the invitation, you’ll be able to post comments on all Gawker Media blogs.” Translation: the once-powerless music critic who accepted the invitation would now be able to call people “douches” under relative anonymity.

Matos kicked off his cover version of Pazz & Jop with a 5,000 word essay in which he mentioned himself more than 125 times. That’s something he likes to do, as anyone who read his pamphlet on Prince’s Sign O’ the Times can attest to.

“I rooted for the Hold Steady on principle, though I do wish their most acclaimed album wasn’t also their weakest,” wrote Matos, who must have been really tired by the end of it all. Otherwise he would have never written a sentence that made him sound like such a tool (and would easily have earned “douche chill of the week” honors from Gawker, had they not been paying the guy who wrote it).

We’re all dancing about architecture. At the end of the day, you don’t want to read Matos’ rail on about how so very hard it was to put his Gawker poll together, and how he couldn’t have guessed how so many critics would have voted for Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” as song of the year” (regardless of the fact that “Crazy” was christened song of the year by every music critic back in June). You don’t want to hear how some critics are boycotting this poll, or boycotting the other poll, or voting in both.

No.

You just want to know what the best music is to dance to/drink to/fuck to/live to.

That’s what the music sections of Village Voice Media ultimately deliver.

Village Voice kills music criticism? Dewey Defeats Truman, Motherfuckers.

Yep. Gotta be a fake. Not even a hacksta’s paradise like the Voice would run this crap.

Earlier: Jackin’ Pop Survey 2006

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