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.
In June 2009, Weingarten gave a very short speech at the 140 Characters Conference, a two-day gathering of Twitter users and enthusiasts in midtown Manhattan. Rick Sanchez, the spirited CNN reporter, was there; so was Ann Curry of NBC; so was Wyclef Jean. In keeping with the medium’s inherent brevity, no speaker was allowed to go for longer than ten minutes. Weingarten’s topic was the Internet’s effect on music criticism, and, from the top, it was clear that he had no interest in pandering to his audience: “I am Christopher R. Weingarten. I am a freelance writer for Rollingstone.com, The Village Voice, Revolver magazine, Decibel magazine, [the Web site] Idolator, and more. By this time next year, I’m going to need a new job.”
He went on to speak about how the Internet was destroying decent rock criticism; how the tide of online enthusiasms tended to elevate not the best music, but the music the most people could stand; how, without professional critics to champion legitimately praiseworthy material, that material would never find an audience. “If you let the people decide, then nothing truly adventurous ever gets out, and that’s a problem,” he said, pounding the podium for emphasis.
The speech drew cheers from the crowd, but Weingarten thinks it likely that, rather than cheering his message, they were simply excited to hear “a lot of apoplexy and swearing.” He was serious, though. “If I could wave a magnet over the whole Internet, I would do it in a heartbeat,” he says. “We all wanted to democratize art. And now that we did, nobody’s making money off of art, and art’s not as good.”
The trend toward musical mediocrity, he thinks, is epitomized by the blogosphere’s adulation of guitar-rock bands—“This boring, bland, ‘white people’ guitar music. It fucking sucks. I hate it. This NPR bullshit”—and singer/songwriters like Conor Oberst and Iron & Wine—“James Taylor for people with hoodies.” In bands like these, largely popularized by the Internet hive mind, he finds nothing interesting, nothing daring, nothing necessary.