Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

So ... who's the new guy?

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5-20-10 Hein Conner-crop.jpgI'm told I'm supposed to let you, dear readers, know something about myself -- where I'm rooted musically, what critics inspired me to be one, where I stand on Lady Gaga, whatever. I trust if you've dialed up this particular blog at this particular moment, you might be interested in a little exposition about the new guy -- but that, like me or loathe me, you'll be back and that this is a relationship we can develop over some time. Eventually, I'll go on about one of the Wainwright family for the umpthousandth time or you'll realize I reference '80s college rock a little too much (and that I still hearken to it by the term "college rock") or you'll discover that, hey, I like Vampire Weekend, and you'll have a pretty good idea about my where I'm coming from.

But, to get started, here are a few things, on the off chance you care ...

Long live DeRo
I arrived at the Sun-Times five years ago, hiring in as Jim DeRogatis' editor. Worked with him, worked him and worked for him through some interesting times, and thank heavens he didn't have to go to jail. I know exactly how big the shoes are I'm expected to fill. But I have a fairly well-traveled pair of my own. I suspect many DeRo loyalists will find me positively golly-gee by comparison. But you'll deal.

Other rock critics I wanted to be
Unlike Master DeRo, I'm not a Lester Bangs kinda guy. As as aspiring teen writer, I realized via the scientific method that I didn't have the constitution to truly emulate my hero, Hunter S. Thompson. Tom Wolfe's fly on the wall journalism was more my style than Thompson's fly in the ointment. (Wolfe's journalism, I adore; his novels, meh.) Bangs' similarly gonzo approach was fun to read but never ultimately inspiring to me, or sometimes even believable. Greil Marcus' academic outlook I often find impenetrable and usually insufferable. I've been fortunate to have a handful of conversations with Robert Christgau by virtue of the two of us having once been in the same arts-criticism fellowship program; he is indeed the dean of this low line of work, and I've felt rewarded watching his insights expand and evolve through these decades.

My future was written, however, by Ira Robbins and his Trouser Press magazine (1974-1984) and later record guides. That's the mag that molded me. Robbins & Co. proved you could write about pop music for an American readership while still loathing Springsteen and maintaining that Patti Smith is more than a little overrated. So there was hope for me (though I've fallen for Bruce's shtick a few times). Trouser Press wrote about music from a historical and frequently genealogical point of view. They connected so many dots and made me want to buy records by bands I'd never heard of, much less heard. I devoured those pages, and I threw them away, and now I'm on eBay every so often buying them back.

Another guy I discovered late in the game and really love: Richard Goldstein (Village Voice in the '60s, not the one of today's NYTimes). A friend lent me Goldstein's Greatest Hits a while back, and I really dug into it. Goldstein on Leonard Cohen: "He suffers gloriously in every couplet. Even his moments of ecstasy seem predicated on hours of refined despair. Leonard does not rant; he whispers hell and you must strain to hear his agony." Goldstein on Janis Joplin: "To hear Janis sing 'Ball and Chain' just once is to have been laid, lovingly and well."

One summer, I shadowed a rock critic at The Arizona Republic named Sal Caputo, a guy in his 40s who illuminated to me how age improves music criticism. "If you can't put it in context," he once advised me, "you're just a twitching bug reacting to stimuli."

Dots on the resume

The peanut gallery
This Web site allows readers to post comments to articles and blog posts, and I encourage it. But if we're going to have a dialogue, c'mon, let's actually have a dialogue. Call me names, if you must. Just remember: I put my real name and legitimate e-mail address on everything I write. Please man (or woman) up and do likewise.

The iPod question
Since people have already asked, and since I actually don't mind this question, the current playlists on my iPod: "Fred" (a 24-hour-long New Wave playlist, named for the like-minded channel on one of the satellite radio networks), "36" (a mix made for that birthday, just haven't deleted it yet), ABC, "Africa Hot" (African artists and songs about the continent), Lily Allen, American Music Club, "Avenue Q" soundtrack, B-52s, Brendan Benson, Andrew Bird, the Blue Nile, David Bowie, British Sea Power, "Buckingham/Nicks" (complete recordings of Lindsey Buckingham, most of Fleetwood Mac and a few things LB did with Stevie), Calexico, the Cars, the Chameleons UK, "Chi Songs" (from Sinatra to Common), "City Jazz" (bebop and jazz-inspired electronica, great for walking in the city), Close Lobsters, Coldplay, Lloyd Cole (complete), Julian Cope, Elvis Costello, "Cowboy Bebop" (music from the anime show), Cowboy Junkies, "Cowpoke Tunes" (classic country mix, compiled by Bobby Reed!), Crowded House (complete), Camper Van Beethoven (complete), Ray Davies, Chris Difford, "Django!" (Reinhardt), Dogs Die in Hot Cars (great band, horrible name), Nick Drake, Francis Dunnery, Duran Duran, Bob Dylan, "Dylan XM" (a couple of his themed shows), "Echo/Ian" (Echo & the Bunnymen plus solo Ian McCulloch), "Eno/Cale" (the "Wrong Way Up" album), Donald Fagen, Jason Falkner, the Fall, the Frank & Walters, "Gay Cabaret" (an odd collection of tunes, from Peggy Lee's "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" to Morrissey's "Come Back to Camden, plus a lot of Frances Faye), Gene (complete), Great Lakes Myth Society, Guadalcanal Diary, the Hidden Cameras, Robyn Hitchcock (nearly complete), Ho-Hum (complete), Indigo Girls, Interpol, INXS, Mark Isham, Joe Jackson (mostly complete), Japan (mostly complete), Al Jarreau, Jazz Butcher (nearly complete), Jonathan Fire*Eater, Joni Mitchell, "July07" (a steamy mix), Paul K. & the Weathermen (not quite complete), Earl Klugh, Gladys Knight, Mark Kozelek, Love Tractor, Magnetic Fields, "Mama(s)" (Mama Cass, with and without the Papas), Marcy Playground, Eric Matthews (complete), David Mead, "Meditate" (a friend recorded an album of meditation music), George Michael, Mocean Worker, Monroe Mustang, Morrissey (complete), the Mysteries of Life (complete), New Order, Ocean Blue, "Oklahoma" (songs that make me think of home, "Oklahoma U.S.A.," "Land Locked Blues," "Red Dirt Roads at Night," etc.), Old 97s/Rhett Miller, Tom Petty, Poi Dog Pondering, the Police (complete), Prefab Sprout (complete), the Pretenders (nearly complete), the Primitives, R.E.M. (complete), the Raconteurs, "Rain: Storm Clouds" (an hour-long DJ set by an acquaintance o' mine), "Rain: Crystal Spires" (songs for a rainy day, "Ashes the Rain & I," "Dixie Storms," "Bus Stop," etc.), Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, the Sea & Cake/Sam Prekop, Shdowfax, William Shatner, the Shins, Horace Silver, Nina Simone, Sloan (complete), Smart Brown Handbag, the Smiths (complete), Squeeze, Stars/Memphis, Steely Dan (complete), Cat Stevens/Yusuf, Sonny Stitt, Strength in Numbers, "Sunday" ("Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon," "Sunday Service Hengistbury Head," etc.), the Sundays, Supergrass, Tahiti 80/Axe Riverboy, Talk Talk, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears (complete), Traveling Wilburys, Dwight Twilley, the Tyde, Ultravox, Uma, Vampire Weekend, the Verlaines, Loudon Wainwright (complete), Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright (complete except the Judy concert), Sloan Wainwright (complete), Walter Meego, Wheat, the Woodentops, XTC (complete), Yaz, Zero 7.

That's mostly bedrock stuff. New stuff rotates through another device.

Apropos of nothing
I'm a tea fanatic. In my copious free time, I write a blog about tea. (Tea and rock do cross paths occasionally ... and here's a connection to the aforementioned Goldstein.)

Enough Facebook data for you? OK, let's get to it.

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Good luck to you, Thomas, the new guy. Someone who digs Camper Van Beethoven and Prefab Sprout can be too bad. Just beware of Phish fans!

Welcome Thomas! Thanks for sharing your history, inspiration and influences. It's always good to know where you're coming from and I look forward to reading about your adventures in rock writing.

I didn't see any hip hop in your iPod playlist so I was curious what we can expect from you regarding coverage of local and national hip hop?

Wish you well and hope to see you at a local Chicago concert some day soon. ;)

No Smashing Pumpkins in there? Please tell me we do not have another Billy Corgan hater.

Do you know who Naked Raygun is ?

Hell yes I know Naked Raygun. New 7-inches coming next month!

Ron: I'm no Corgan hater. Not a huge fan, personally, but critically respectful. I just got the "Teargarden" songs and am catching up with that.

Wow you have the blandest taste in music ever. BARF.

Really, relly bland list there.

+1 on blandest taste ever.
There are people who still listen to INXS and Marcy Playground?
Deeply disturbing.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on May 24, 2010 8:00 AM.

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