Don’t Follow Him, He’s Lost Too

Nine pm on a Saturday night in an English seaside town, Eric and I eat in Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips restaurant across from the seafront. We’re just like the other couples sipping large glasses of wine (the English equivalent of a “small glass” is a half pint) and tucking into their cod and chips and mushy peas, only Eric doesn’t drink, and told the waitress “no mushy peas”. (I tried the mushy peas and agree they belong only in a color photo or black and white film.) We’re just like the other couples making occasional conversation while the overhead speakers dotted in among the modest chandeliers play the type of music good old Harry would have liked back in the day.

“And he gave it all up for a girl – from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania” a male and female ensemble croon in a chorus repeated often enough to sound like a threat.

We’re just like the other couples, only we’re not. We’ve just finished five weeks of touring together, Eric playing in my trio, driving all over England and before that the northeast US. We’ve loaded in, soundchecked, rocked, talked, loaded out, found hotels or friends’ houses; somewhere to eat, somewhere to change clothes; decent coffee, bad coffee. We’ve listened to music or silence, or each other, or the drummer. We’re just another couple but we’ve lifted amps, packed guitars, unpacked guitars; wadded dirty clothes back in our suitcases, shared deodorant, shared Manuka honey and echinacea, waited patiently while the other did interviews on the phone.

Maybe the other fish and chip couples are ambulance drivers together. Maybe they’re doctors or own their own fish and chip shops and them coming to Harry’s is like us going to see Loudon Wainwright or Television.

“One bill or two?” the waitress asks. “One’s good – we’re married,”  I say. She seems surprised. What did she think, this was a Tinder date? The least romantic second date ever? A business meeting? It’s Saturday night on Easter weekend – who goes out looking for love, or makes deals, then?

“Ah, you married.”

Walking back to the hotel along the seafront, we remind ourselves to slow down and do our best to stroll given the wind, the rain and the temperature. We come up behind another couple a decade or two older. They amble along side by side in their overcoats. He’s wearing big white gloves. Almost gardening gloves. The gloves glow through the mist against his dark coat, attracting the moonlight.

I am transifxed by these gloves. The man strolls in his overcoat, appearing comfortable next to a woman who’s got to be his wife, they are so similar in height and gait.  But his hands in the gloves are doing a ballet. Behind his back, he clenches, he flaps, he flattens one palm and circles one wrist with the other.

“He’s signaling us, Eric!” I say. “He’s sending messages of distress: Help, I am being held against my will. This woman is not my wife. Alert the authorities. Help. Me.” He is so solid, so secure as he strolls along, but his hands say otherwise. Maybe it’s not distress – maybe it’s pure self-expression. He wishes he could be out on the seafront in a ballgown or a tutu, on a skateboard or smashing up stuff, but he can’t, so he takes his hands in their white gloves out to play.

The hands flatten and flap again and I revise – definitely distress. The couple turn into a building entrance and climb the steps. The hands flutter – we should follow them! She’s taking him to a dungeon. I mean, they’re going up stairs but there’s probably steps going down somewhere in the building…

See how I can do this? I can go off on an imaginative tangent, just like Robert Christgau. When he writes a review I’m not sure if he’s the man in the white gloves signaling what’s really going on with him, or whether he’s me trying to interpret the man in the white gloves and getting it all wrong. All I know is that it was fine when he’d conjecture about me as a single mother, my work, my songs, hell even my breasts. It was fine cause I was hungry then – I wanted what ever any critic would say about me as long as it felt sort of like a compliment.

But I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t want his praise that feels like a put down. I don’t want him talking about me in terms of my first husband who, bless his heart I have not been married to for twenty years. I don’t want him praising while panning and damning my partner, my husband, by saying he’s kept me too busy to do much work on music when he’s done nothing but encourage me to work. I don’t want him dismissing my hardworking husband for taking the easy way and living on the past when he’s done nothing but try to outrun the past.

I don’t want his readers thinking something’s a rave review when it feels hurtful and personal and dismissive.

Sure he can say what he wants. But I don’t have to feel complimented when I really feel angry. I don’t have to wear floppy white gloves to express myself.  And I don’t have to follow the older guy in the floppy white gloves. I write my own story, thank you.


46 thoughts on “Don’t Follow Him, He’s Lost Too

    1. amyrigby

      That led to me looking up who actually wrote the song (sung so well by Eric Burdon!) Turns out it was written for Nina Simone – yes, it’s not hard to find out stuff, if we’re really engaged. Maybe he’s just burnt out and can’t be bothered any more.

  1. Anonymous

    I LOVE YOU, YOUR ALBUM, YOUR LIFE STORY, YOUR DAUGHTER, YOUR VISITS and YOUR SONGS AND YOUR OPEN HEART. I ADMIRE YOUR COURAGE. YOUR DETERMINATION. YOUR ON THE ROAD SPIRIT. YOUR AMAZING ABILITY TO BE YOUR OWN ROAD MANAGER AND TOUR MANAGER… I tingled listening to you last Friday. Two people said to me, “I like your dancing.” I didn’t even REALISE i was dancing. I wouldn’t call it dancing. I would say I WAS MOVED.

  2. Steve Gibson

    Truly bizarre review. Female artists get this treatment all too often, especially from male reviewers, their work being somehow defined by their personal lives, particularly in relation to the men in them. This rarely happens to male artists. Is the gap between the releases of U2 albums caused by Bono’s devotion to or distraction by his domestic life? Does it matter? Do we care? Is it anyone else’s business? I’ll answer the question for you, Christgau, you dim wanker. No. Sod off!

    Suggestion: When reviewing an album, write about the music.

    1. amyrigby

      I actually don’t think it’s only female artists (having just finished Anthony Decurtis’s biography of Lou Reed…yes, he invited it, we all do in a way) but we’re less inclined to fight back – or were.

      1. Steve Gibson

        It seems to me reviewers tend to define female artists in terms of their family life and personal life more than male artists. And if they do mention male artists’ personal lives, there is still that good-old-boys attitude regarding their ability to bed famous women like movie stars and such.This double standard proves hard to put to rest. And again, none of this has anything to do with an artist’s creative output, which is supposed to be the point.

        Speaking of the point … this has veered far from the original. Perhaps that’s a side-effect of trying to explain the unexplainable. 😉

  3. Clif

    Think about it….he’s not a “Constructive” Critic, not an “Objective” Critic…he’s a critic (little c). Root word.
    I’m not sure why he is revered in certain small circles. My guess is that he spends more time pondering convoluted sentences that why he actually likes or dislikes a work. He certainly doesn’t do a very good job of explaining himself. Dollars to doughnuts he doesn’t know the “why” of critique.

    Kinda reminds me of….”You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
    You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
    You try so hard but you don’t understand
    Just what you will say when you get home
    Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
    Do you, Mr. Wanker?”

    PS: I love your music!

    1. amyrigby

      How about this one Clif
      “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand”…etc

      or, one of my faves:

      “I used to care but – things have changed.”

      Thanks for everything!

  4. Hal Davis

    I came across this in Christgau’s review (after wondering, “Is he still reviewing?”): “Concrete, class-conscious, cutting, forlorn or funny or both, Rigby’s lyrics…” which I thought was pretty close to true. And I noted his grade for the album: A minus.

    The rest of it was a head-scratch.

  5. Steven Manning

    Amy, as a fan of of yours and a reader of of Christgau (he was the critic who first pointed me to Diary of A Mod Housewife), I was initially pleased to see he gave an “A” to your record (and Eric’s). After rereading the review and your post I agree with you and completely understand your reaction.The comments about your personal life are inappropriate and wrong. Thanks for the honest writing and for raising my awareness.

    1. amyrigby

      I appreciate that Steven. It’s almost a knee jerk to go – phew, good, A- there was no joy in it and I felt embarrassed to share that review with anyone. I guess I could’ve just let it rest, but…

      1. Steven Manning

        I admit I had that initial reaction. Saw the A- and read the review quickly … I think I even linked it to your FB page. Oops. One hopes this might lead to productive thinking about the relationship/responsibility between critics and artists. As someone who has written criticism I know Its a fraught, occasionally uncomfortable, but rich area to explore. I recently read Lester Bangs lovely review of Astral Weeks (there’s a new book out about the record which cited it). Its beautiful and sensitive to the intent of the artist, I then re-read some of his more caustic takes on Lou Reed. They seem way off now. And Lester is one of my heroes! On the other hand Christgau wrote a profile of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley some years ago that struck me as sensitive and smart. (I should read it now and see if I feel the same). Critics clearly can go off the rails, get it wrong, even when they respect the artist (Lester and Lou). Anyway, thanks for not letting it rest … and I am so enjoying the record. It most recently helped Ellen & I get through a white knuckled drive through a snow storm in New Hampshire.

        1. amyrigby

          That’s okay Steven. Like I said, I am not one of the bashers! Just had to call bullshit, or at very least scratch my head in public. Glad you’re enjoying the record.

    1. amyrigby

      But…he’s been gone for a very long time (Lester Bangs that is)! I think Christgau had that passion too. People get burnt out, or don’t get called enough on their bullshit (although that certainly isn’t true in his case)

  6. Stephanie Chernikowski

    I have spent my life reading Christgau and Christgau bashing. I don’t always agree with him but I wish people would appreciate that someone appreciates what his subjects are doing, by which I mean thinks about them and their work carefully, which he does. He is a smart man who care deeply about his subject. Subjects/critics of him would do well to realize he takes them seriously and be glad for that.
    Stephanie Chernikowski

    1. amyrigby

      I understand that, Stephanie (and I am touched by you commenting here because I have always valued your perspective, as an artist and as a friend) I have appreciated Christgau’s writing, and appreciated his appreciation. I don’t feel I am bashing him here – just pointing out that his review is full of hurtful subtext, and rather than feeling taken seriously, I feel belittled/judged/defined by my relationship choices.

      Aside from that, I am happy to hear from you!

  7. Donald Whiteway

    Well as your entry went on I wanted to learn more about the gentlemen in the white gloves. I was hoping you found out that he may have been a conductor or maybe a policeman who directs traffic. However now I just want to kick that Robert reviewer guy in the knee. Really hard. I’d go searching for his mean spirited “positive” review, but I don’t want him to have another pair of eyes paying attention to anything he has to say/write.

    Anyway, I hope you and Eric continue to find interesting things and that you meet some more splendid souls along the way as you tour. Best wishes and happy performances!

    1. amyrigby

      Yes, there could be an alternate version where the guy notices us following him and invites us in, starts showing off his stamp collection…

      Thanks Donald!

  8. happymedium27

    All I have to add to this conversation is… Damnit Amy! “The Old Guys” has taken up permanent residence in my CD player and is showing no signs of moving out. Every time I think about playing something else, a little voice in my head says “nah, let’s give “The Old Guys” another spin. Your songs have always been heartfelt and intimate. Your songs have always made me laugh and tear up; and not necessarily for the same reason. But I think one thing that has become more and more prevalent in your recordings — something perhaps Mr. Christgau failed to “triangulate” with your personal life when he decided that it needed to be part of his review — is the sheer joy in making louder, brasher, noisier music that I think Eric has brought out (or helped instill?) in your recordings. “The Old Guys” is, I think, the perfect amalgamation of Amy Rigby’s songwriting and her knowledge and unabashed love of rock n’ roll. As always, there’s power in your storytelling, but more than ever before I think there’s a layer of punky, chaotic urgency to the music that is completely exhilarating. The old guys indeed… Where would we be without ‘em? As far as I can tell, the only one “showing his age” around here is Robert Christgau — he seems to have forgotten that the music is the only thing that matters, and everything else is superfluous static.

    On a slightly different note… you gotta release a recording of “The President Can’t Read/Eve of Destruction.”

    1. amyrigby

      This is a fabulous review and much appreciated, thank you!

      PS aiming to get a single together of that song soon, maybe it will hasten the impeachment.

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks Cynthia. At first I felt more hurt and angry about his treatment of Eric – yes an A- but always with the digs. Then I realized how the whole thing made me feel like crap…and then I got angry.

  9. Eddie Hurt

    Amy, I’m so glad you have a new record! Great newsI just caught a notice from the Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville that you’re doing a show May 15 in-the-round. When was the last time you played here? I saw you and Eric at a Grimey’s show a few years back, but can’t recall exactly when that was….my best to you and Eric.

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks Eddie! Grimey’s was 2008 – and I think that was my last Nashville show except for an in the round at the Bluebird in 2015. I’m playing my own show at Dee’s Lounge on Sat May 12 – hope you can make it out.

      1. Edd Hurt

        Thanks, Amy. I don’t think I caught your 2015 Bluebird show, but I do remember seeing you with, maybe, Bill DeMain there around 2005-2006, when I wrote about you for the Nashville Scene. Still doing some work for them, and will let you know what transpires there–I’ve pitched the editors about the 2 shows and my interest in writing about the new record. Dee’s is a great place to play, one of the up-and-coming venues in town.

        1. amyrigby

          Ah – Edd Hurt, I remember, you wrote/write for No Depression as well. Glad you are still working with Nashville Scene, thank you! Dee’s looks charming, looking forward to it & the Bluebird.

          1. Edd Hurt

            Looks like I’ll be doing a short preview of the Dee’s show. Been listening to “The Old Guys” and enjoying the heck out of it, and looking forward to seeing the show on the 12th.

  10. Janice Lim

    I just picked up the album and am really enjoying it! I’ve had it on the car CD player for miles and miles and miles…

    Looking over Mr. Christgau’s reviews (which I hadn’t done before) he clearly nurses a little crush on you — and just as clearly hasn’t matured past about the emotional age of 12. I mean how junior-high-sad-sack can you get? Objectifying subject of crush? Check. Pretending a closeness that isn’t there to impress others? Check. Jealous veiled (and not-so-veiled) digs against current relationship partner? Check. Implication that only he can fully comprehend your specialness and worth? Check.

    I share your frustration and anger (and, if it’s not too strong a word, disgust) with him!

    At least he got it right that you’re great songwriter and performer. Shame he’s such an ass!

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks for listening (and commenting!) Janice. Even in my bitching I can’t help but feel a little protective of Bob – is that bad? He and his cool wife Carola Dibbell really were supportive and on my side with my early solo records and it did mean something. But yes to much of what you said!

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