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On Thumbs, Stars, and Little Men

Robert Christgau: CG 70s: The Grades

I love Christgau’s original (pre-1990) explanation of how he grades the records that he reviews.

An A+ record is an organically conceived masterpiece that repays prolonged listening with new excitement and insight. It is unlikely to be marred by more than one merely ordinary cut.

An A is a great record both of whose sides offer enduring pleasure and surprise. You should own it.

An A- is a very good record. If one of its sides doesn’t provide intense and consistent satisfaction, then both include several cuts that do.

[… further explanations, then …]

A D+ is an appalling piece of pimpwork or a thoroughly botched token of sincerity.

It is impossible to understand why anyone would buy a D record.

It is impossible to understand why anyone would release a D- record.

It is impossible to understand why anyone would cut an E+ record.

E records are frequently cited as proof that there is no God.

An E- record is an organically conceived masterpiece that repays repeated listening with a sense of horror in the face of the void. It is unlikely to be marred by one listenable cut.

If every critic — ala Ebert, in his way — would disclose the yardstick by which he generates the “stars,” “thumbs,” or “Little Man” of his reviews, it would go a long way toward educating readers; as well as, I’d argue, potentially helping revive the increasingly one-star interest in professional arts criticism.

It’s not that people aren’t interested in hearing what anointed “experts” have to say about a given movie, CD, book, or what have you. And, it’s not even that the lumpenconsumertariat requires that everything be reduced to a pre-chewed paste about buying decisions.

But, disclosing the fahrenheit, celsius, or kelvin of a given reviewer’s mercury would make it much easier for readers to understand how closely a critic’s cognition maps to their own.

Because, by itself, a thumb is really just a decisive finger. And, by itself, a finger almost always benefits from a little extra context.

[Note: This post originally appeared on our daughter site, “43 Folders Clips,” and we liked it enough to republish it here.]

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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