Weingarten is thirty. He grew up on Florida’s Gulf Coast and studied journalism at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. There, he wrote about music for the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, and fronted a band called the Christopher Weingarten Basement Funk Allstars, where he was known, according to the Web magazine Ink19, for “running around like a maniac, hilariously insulting the audience” and “playing the roto-toms, keyboards, and yes, the Theremin.”
After finishing school in 2002, he quickly made his way to New York, where he set about finding work as a music writer. While “rock critic” has never been a particularly lucrative career choice, it made much more sense back then—there were plenty of outlets for which to write, and reviewers could supplement their income by reselling the advance CDs that came in the mail. (“I do not get as many records as I used to. Labels are sending less CD promos every year,” he complains.)
From 2002 to 2006, he held various positions at CMJ New Music Monthly—intern, associate editor, editorial coordinator, music editor—where he wrote features, reviews, and columns, before leaving to edit a new Web site called Paper Thin Walls. Unlike some other music sites, Paper Thin Walls—which was purchased by Getty Images in 2007—made a point of paying its contributors; because of that, the site attracted several well-known names—Frank Kogan, Michael Azerrad, and Michaelangelo Matos among them. “We had all the best writers,” he says. “We paid writers what they’re worth to write.”
Perhaps predictably, the site shuttered in September 2008, and Weingarten left music writing behind for a while, taking a job writing for a celebrity photo and gossip site called Jamd. The work didn’t suit him, and he was laid off soon thereafter. “I didn’t feel right doing it,” he said. “I don’t feel right doing anything I’m not passionate about.” It was around this time that he started his Twitter account.
When Weingarten began the 1000TimesYes project in January 2009, he was out of professional music writing, on the brink of unemployment, and looking for a way to rejoin the critical conversation. By the time he reviewed his final record of the year, on December 22 (“1000)Susan Boyle/I Dreamed A Dream: Fuck you, 2009.#2.5”), over 5,000 people were following his tweets. He had received multiple speaking invitations, inspired an homage Twitter account, “1000TimesNo,” and was the subject of interviews or feature articles in numerous publications (“If there were a congressional medal for rock criticism, this year’s recipient would be Christopher R. Weingarten,” wrote Toronto’s Eye Weekly). “I did not imagine it being as big as it was,” he says. “I did not expect people to buy fucking boxes of tweets.”
Twitter, he found, was a medium that played to his strengths. “I like short, punchy. I like one-liners,” he says. “I would so much rather write and read a very crisp two hundred words than read a twenty-graf bleating. To me, it’s more important to make those words count. I learned that writing headlines in journalism school.”
Packed with references to other bands, often impressionistic, many of his tweet-reviews will confuse people who aren’t already steeped in modern music culture. Yet when they work, they work well—concise, funny, communicating all you need to know about a record in 140 characters or less, with a one-to-ten rating at the end of each tweet. Take review number 845, of Carrie Underwood’s Play On: “The most complex human emotion rendered as a hilarious puke-stream of pop cliches.#2.” Or 497, of Soft Black’s The Earth Is Black: “Far too soft and not nearly black enough.#4.5.” Or 176, of Bibio’s Vignetting the Compost: “A fourth album of drone-and-strum that’s gorgeous enough for art, not otherworldly enough for bliss.=6.”
Much of his success in the medium is due to the fact that he uses it well. Yet if his tweets work as music criticism, they also work as parody, as rejoinders to the glib, callow enthusiasms that characterize much of the music blogosphere. “They’ll go with whatever comes fastest,” he says, referring to people who like to read about bands on the Internet. “I could spend the whole night trying to find the right words to say something, and they just want information.” With 1000TimesYes, one could argue, Weingarten is both warning the music world of where it is headed and embracing that future as best he can, if only because he has no other choice.