Living With War


In a perfect world, we could fixate entirely on the narrowest and gnarliest finish in Pazz & Jop history: Bob Dylan by 14 points and -4 voters. He is George W. Bush. Lost the popular vote, but prevailed via the fine print. TV on the Radio, doomy dilettantes in the realms of love and theft but indisputable masters of war, captured more minds but failed to completely win their hearts. With fellow New York dynasties Ghostface Killah and the Hold Steady—representing the siren songs of snow and the amorous anthems of alcohol, respectively—lagging respectfully behind. And a pair of flagrantly deranged movie buffs (whose skin tones are awfully difficult to recreate in MS Paint) rounding out the Top Five and, over in the singles category, beating their competition like gongs.

Plenty of fodder for discussion and con–jecture and wankery there, but alas, first there is virulent rock-critic infighting to be done, much of it in the name of a guy who seems to enjoy it the least. That other Bob.

He started this poll in 1971, abandoned it for some reason until 1974, and from there dragged it through the next three decades and change. For the first time, he is voting in this year’s model but not providing other editorial input, including his once customary essay. This has been frequently brought to my attention and, evidently, his. He sounds a bit wearied by it all lately, and I relate.

“Do you have any more questions?” he asks. “I have to get on with my work.”
—Conclusion of a interview with Robert Christgau

I thank him now, for everything, and wish him well with the knowledge that he doesn’t need the help. And with that, it’s time to let him go. Let his looming shadow lift so he can get back to work, and so can we. I suspect he prefers it that way. Those who won’t accept this without him have left. Maybe we can lure them back, but Bob (either Bob, really) would be the first to point out that that won’t happen through endless supplication and paralysis. And certainly not by letting the stable of staggering talent collected here get endlessly shouted down by meta-critics who denounce our alleged hostility and vapidity and cynicism by tripling it. On an occasionally related subject, we have a rival poll now, courtesy of the Gawker entity Idolator, with a name (Jackin’ Pop) very similar to ours but with stronger echoes of masturbation—which is a fine way to sum up this whole feud, really.

For my part, I’m focused on what we’ve got here, and who gave it to us: Greg Tate, whose command is so magnificent we can only coax him back into newsprint when it’s time to praise the few artists who can match it. And Tom Breihan, who conversely will confront and analyze anything or anyone, with the kind of intensity and enthusiasm most writers lose after a fraction of the outlandish word count he’s racked up. To heap further accolades on Selah, Ott, Romano, Weingarten, Lewis, Davis, etc. would be a bit embarrassing and self-indulgent, maybe; consider it a onetime deal (promise) to convey a confidence—my confidence—that what’s assembled here can honor a tradition without constantly looking over its shoulder. Both this paper and this poll are fiercely beloved institutions who’ve endured a tough, divisive year. Everyone has their motives, and we’ve gotten as good as we’ve given sometimes, but for me, the fray is getting a bit self-congratulatory and self-involved. When NPR deems you worthy of somnolent they-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be scorn, it is time for deep personal reflection. It is also time to move on. I look forward to those defined by their opposition to us defining themselves by something else, and not just by copying what they seek to preserve as exactly as possible. Do what you gotta, everyone, but here’s what we did in the meantime: Pazz & Jop 2006. Have at it.

On a final note, this entire operation is a complete catastrophe if not for Zach Baron, Pazz & Jop’s technical and emotional anchor. He deserves twice the amount of beer that Craig Finn has consumed in the past decade, a lifetime of massive nights to pay back the massive debt he is owed. In other words, if you don’t like something about this, you know who to blame.