David Carr Asks “Is This The New Face Of Rockism?”

Posted in non-sporting journalism, Racism Corner, Rock Und Roll at 12:42 pm by

(photo by Eve Prime)

Here we go again. The New York Times’ David Carr weighes in on the continuing debate over just what’s in Stephin Merrit’s record collection. (thanks to Brian Turner for the former link)

The broader contextual argument seems to be that Mr. Merritt is a “rockist,” a term highlighted by Kelefa Sanneh in The New York Times in October 2004. Mr. Sanneh summed up the mind-set in part by saying, “Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star.”

As opposed to the terms “rockist” or “rockism” that Ian Penman and Paul Morely not-so-casually dropped in the NME a couple of decades ago.

Carr describes Abba as “perhaps the whitest band in the history of pop music,” which is fair enough. We can’t all be as multicultural as The Hold Steady.

20 responses to “David Carr Asks “Is This The New Face Of Rockism?””

  1. jesper says:

    what makes er, say, Pavement, less ‘white’ than ABBA? Did the members of ABBA have any say in what skin color they were going to be born with? What exactly is so extremely ‘white’ in their music? What makes it ‘whiter’ than Cliff Richard, The Pretty Things or Pulp? I’d be very interested in hearing David Carr’s rationale for making this fatuous statement. And while he is on this amazingly intelligent subject, perhaps he would like to let us know what band is the most black band in history.

    I am happy that the NY Times printed this article however. Now we have in plain view for all to see what complete idiots Hopper and Sasha Frere-Jones are (and Carr too).

  2. Joel Hunt says:

    the most black band in history = the space negros?

  3. tbl says:

    What’s the term for always assuming that Sasha Frere-Jones was a woman?

  4. Jim H says:

    Well, the people in Abba ARE very fair-skinned if that’s what Carr is referring to.

    But if by “white” Carr mean bands that have little discernible African-American musical elements (funk/soul/blues), wouldn’t the Dave Matthews Band rank higher than Abba in terms of whiteness?

    Having once mastered the very fun to play high-hat/snare/bass drum beat and the cascading drum and cymbal fill in “Dancing Queen” (while backing a dancing troupe in local DC talent show) I can verify that Abba music can bring the boogie.

  5. notorius says:

    I wonder where Ween falls in Carr’s racial spectrum? Is MF Doom a metallic gray?

  6. GC says:

    I just think it is funny there seems to be some consensus amongst journalists and bloggers who IM each other kind of often that being a ROCKIST is a bad thing (though presumably not as bad as being a racist), yet it’s a-ok to make fun of Stephin Merritt for liking Abba. In a daily newspaper, no less.

    I mean, that seems kinda rockist in practice.

    Though no one asked, I’ll partially disagree with J.E. in that I don’t think SFJ is an idiot, though putting any weight in Stephin Merritt’s public statements or playlists is just one of those subjects he and I will have to disagree upon.

    As for Mr. Carr, the dude was sacked 68 times last season. I think it’s a minor miracle he can type his own name never mind find the strength to diss Abba.

  7. PB says:

    I think classifying ABBA or anyone else as being “white” is basically a euphamism for saying their music has no “soul” as the term is commonly understood as a musical classfication. If we accept this, I’d have to agree with Jim H that ABBA is ceraintly not the whitest band ever as they frequently apply no small amount of groove to their bubblegum. A friend of mine has a theory that “Head Over Heels” by the Go Gos is the “whitest song ever” which certainly debatable and other suggestions are welcome.

    I also have to agree with Mr Merrit’s take on contemporary hip hop as, to my ears, most of it is fucking terrible. (Not as terrible as “The Team, The Time” though). I find the whole glorifying capitalism thing to be a lot more vulgar than anything the Geto Boys ever laid down. I understand that braggig is a hip hop MC tradition but there’s got to be something more interesting subjects than your jewelery. Some friends of mine who are few years younger than me and frequently Pitchfork readers assure me there is plenty of good hip hop that doesn’t get on the radio. Could be but I suppose I’m not interested enough to seek it out. After nearly 30 years of hip hop could it be that it has entered a period of stagnation not unlike rock n roll during the mid 70s? Do we need a “punk rock” rap movement? Does that suggestion make me really “white?”

    Oh, kudos to GC for pointing out the misuse of “rockism.” You would think that any contemporay music journalist worth his or her salt, even if they’re unfamiliar with back issues of the NME, would have picked up “Rip It Up and Start Again” by now.

  8. jesper says:

    “I’ll partially disagree with J.E. in that I don’t think SFJ is an idiot”

    I would have agreed with you two weeks ago. I didn’t think he was an idiot either until recent events definitely proved otherwise. He clearly is one. As for Hopper, well, nothing new there.

    “Well, the people in Abba ARE very fair-skinned”

    You mean they could have asked for a different hue but didn’t?

    In any case, I would like it to be explained to me what would be so fundamentally wrong with this ‘white’ music anyway (defined here as “little discernible African-American musical elements”). All music must have some ‘African-American’ flavor to it? If this is true, why? Sorry, but I gotta go run and tell Ravi Shankar, Udi Rhant, JS Bach, The Watutsis and a tribe of Australian Aboriginees that their music is by definition racist (even though their music predates any such concept as ‘African-American’). Funny too that black supposedly only means ‘African-American’ these days. Everyone has their thinking caps on this afternoon it seems.

  9. mts says:

    i SO cannot wait to write a paper on all of this for my summer class.

  10. MM says:

    The oddest mischaracterization in that article: “Mike Doughty, a blogger and a singer-songwriter.”

  11. GC says:


    the very notion that hip-hop needs a “punk rock” movement is the most rockist statement I’ve ever read. Not necessarily racist, though. So come back later!

    in all seriousness, there’s plenty of exciting hip hop stuff that neither the radio nor Pitchfork see fit to recognize — not that getting on the radio or being covered by PF makes something any better or worse. But not being interested enough to shift through it, while saying something or other about your musical sensibilites, says zilch to me about whether or not you’re a racist. Or, in the parlance of SFJ, a cracker.

    I mean, if someone of any color wanted to dismiss the entire nebulous genre of “underground rock” based on exposure to Death Cab or Snow Patrol, they’d be well within their rights as a free opinionated human. They’d run the risk of missing the boat on something else genuinely transcendent, but everybody runs that risk. It’s impossible to hear everything, nor is anyone obliged to try. There’s all sorts of bias, cultural and otherwise.

  12. mts says:

    I mean, if someone of any color wanted to dismiss the entire nebulous genre of “underground rock” based on exposure to Death Cab or Snow Patrol, they’d be well within their rights as a free opinionated human.

    “The Only Black Guy at the Indie-Rock Show”, The Cocker Spaniels

    Also, I thought all that backpack hip hop a la *was* the genre’s punk rock movement…?

  13. notorius says:

    Wasn’t the creation of hip hop in general a “punk rock” movement?

    And forgive any ignorance I have to the world of hip hop, but the Wu Tang Clan was as “punk” as a hip hop group, or otherwise, could be, without actually making punk rock music.

  14. PB says:

    GC said,

    “the very notion that hip-hop needs a “punk rock” movement is the most rockist statement I’ve ever read. Not necessarily racist, though. So come back later!”

    HAHAHAHA Totally true!!

    I do see your point with Death Cab parallel. I suppose it’s entirely possible that someone could bring a recent hip hop release to attention and it could blow me away. I guess that means I’m not a racist!! Good for me!! Now I won’t feel bad calling Mike and the Mad Dog later and saying that Omar Minaya has too many Latin players on the Mets. (And by “too many” I mean “one too many”. And by “one” I mean Jose Lima.)

  15. Jason says:

    I just have to add that any internet discussion of the “whitest rock bands” that doesn’t mention Soul Asylum is woefully incomplete. If Mike Diamond was alive today, he’d be crushed.

  16. josh says:


    can we get back to more exciting topics like gc”s rotisserie chicken intake?

  17. nh vista says:

    I’ve often assumed that, in calling music “white”, one is referring not to the racial background of the musicians or their influences, but to the audience. Therefore, the whitest band would be the one that non-whites are least likely to listen to.

  18. GC says:


    I’ve still yet to sample the delicacy in question. Though I understand many diners in the midwest serve crow, 24-7.

  19. James says:

    ABBA the whitest band?
    Did Carr listen to their Voulez Vous album of 1979?
    It’s even been partially recorded iat Criteria Studios in Miami…

    It’s so tiresome to read all those far-fetched and supposedly “intelligent” conclusions based on blissful ignorance…

  20. Matt says:

    But ABBA is rockist! Boogie in the drum fills notwithstanding, the titular dancing queen does her thing-shaking “where they play the ROCK music.”

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