Everybody's A Critic

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Interview With The Critic

A brief e-mail "interview" I did with American rock critic (Village Voice, Stylus) Phil Dellio.

Rohan --

I'm really sorry for the delay. For what it's worth, I have a very good excuse: I'm incredibly lazy at times.
1. When did you first start really taking notice of rock criticism? How old were you? Was there ever a point where the criticism and the magazines became more important to you than the actual music?

The middle to late '70s--there was Lillian Roxon's book, which I used to look at in my high school library, and then I bought a British rock encyclopedia (by Bob Woffinden and Nick Logan) that had a big influence on me, where I first found out about Gram Parsons and Little Feat and Family and lots of other (what my friends and I call) "older-brother" music I'd never heard of. Woffinden and Logan's book also had lots of great album photos: just seeing the covers for things like Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky and the Blue Ridge Rangers LP left a lasting impression. By the mid-to-late '80s, I was totally immersed in the Voice and the yearly Pazz & Jop; I wouldn't say rock criticism was ever more important to me than the music itself, but it was a close call for a while.

2. Where were you living when you first got into rock criticism?

At home with my parents, like most 17-year-olds. It wasn't a big topic of discussion around the dinner table.

3. Do you personally know many people who share your interests? Or is it more of an internet-driven subculture? (I'm using the word subculture here very loosely, I don't mean it in an obsessive or underground way or anything:p)

I have a couple of rock-critic friends here in Toronto, and when I put out a fanzine called Radio On through the '90s, I corresponded reguarly with most of the contributors--letters initially, e-mail towards the end. I interviewed a couple of well-known critics when I first started writing about music in the mid-80s; I later met three critics who came up to Toronto for a visit. Generally, though, I don't know all that many people who write about music.

4. Who are your favourite writers? What are/were your favourite magazines? Which era of rock criticism interests you most?

This question doesn't mean as much to me now as it would have 15 years ago; I'm more and more out of touch all the time. Greil Marcus was a big influence early on; almost anything he writes still commands my attention, although his interests have parted ways from my own over the years. Chuck Eddy was a big influence at one point, but that dissapated within a few years' time; ditto Robert Christgau, ditto Frank Kogan, ditto just about anyone I could name. So the criterion for being one of my favourite writers now is whether or not you're a friend of mine. That leaves Scott Woods and Tim Powis, and Tim hardly ever writes about music anymore. What a stupid answer, right?
My favourite publications were Radio On in the mid-'90s, Jeff Pike's Tapeworm from the same time, the Voice in the mid-late '80s, and Creem in the early '80s (I came late to Creem, so I missed its more celebrated '70s period). Right now, the only thing I read regularly is Scott's rockcritics.com site; I was looking at the ILM board regularly for a time, but I do so more sporadically as of late. My loss of interest has more to do with me than what's out there, which I'm sure is the usual mix of whatever's worthwhile and what's not.

5. This is a stupid question, but it's kind of a crucial part of the assignment: in your opinion, is there a particular style of dress observed by rock journalists and rock journalism readers, or a socio-economic group that most of them belong to?

Hmmm....the cliche is a cliche because there's a lot of truth to it: many males who write about music look and dress a lot more like Elvis Costello circa 1978 than David Lee Roth circa 1984. Female critics, I don't know--maybe the great majority look like Lisa Loeb. I look most like Paul Splittorff, who pitched for the Kansas City Royals in the early '70s, and if you had taken away Paul's wire-frame glasses and given him horn rims, and if you had gotten rid of his curls and shortened his hair, he probably would have looked a little bit like Elvis Costello circa 1978.

Take care,

Check out Phil's 'High Fidelity'-style Top Five lists compilation here.


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