Michael Azerrad Is Turning His #RockCriticLaws Into a Book

Michael Azerrad. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Michael Azerrad. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

If you follow Michael Azerrad on Twitter—and you should—it’s likely you’ve encountered his wry series of tweets on clichéd music writing, with the hashtag “#RockCriticLaw.”

For about the past two years, Mr. Azerrad, an esteemed music critic and the author of a book about the indie underground, Our Band Could Be Your Life, has been delivering his tongue-in-cheek tweets in the form of misguided literary edicts. For instance: “Rock guitar solos: ‘blistering.’ Blues guitar solos: ‘stinging,’ ” he wrote last April. “But whatever the genre a good solo MUST evoke physical pain. #RockCriticLaw.” Yesterday, Mr. Azerrad sent out this stinging tweet: “Remember: those are not ‘words’ in songs—they’re ‘lyrical content.’ .”

“Every genre has its hackneyed tropes, but music writing seems to have more than its share,” Mr. Azerrad told the Observer in an email exchange, summing up the ethos of the laws. “And lazy writing means lazy thinking, which is really what Rock Critic Law is poking fun at.”

“The one that set me off was the classic rock critic word ‘seminal,’ ” Mr. Azerrad added, “which is the subject of the Seminal Law of Rock Criticism.”

Now, Mr. Azerrad says, he is working on turning his rock critic laws into a book, though he declined to go into detail about what shape the book will take, who the publisher is or when it will come out. It is, he put it succinctly, “in the works.”

Though the series is not unprecedented in the world of meta-criticism—David Kamp and Steven Daly’s Rock Snob’s Dictionary was published in 2005—it is certainly appreciated among music writers.

“I think it’s a brilliant, hilarious and ultimately very useful project,” Ben Sisario, a  music reporter for The New York Times, told us in an email. “It’s part of a tradition of rock crit poking fun at itself and its own shortcomings, something that the profession deserves but doesn’t get often enough.”

“Plus, maybe it will help people be better writers—those poor postpunk guitars need another adjective besides ‘angular,’ ” Mr. Sisario joked. 

Since Mr. Azerrad began tweeting out his laws, other writers have jumped in to the contribute their own observations. “#RockCriticLaw,” Newsweek reporter Zach Schonfeld wrote last year, “if you refer to an album as ‘criminally underrated’ you must then go arrest every music writer who has underrated the album.”

Mr. Azerrad is the editor of The Talkhouse, a web magazine founded in 2013 that features music reviews by musicians only. It is perhaps most notable for publishing Lou Reed’s thoughts on the Kanye West album Yeezus.

“It’s interesting—I’ve now edited nearly 900 pieces for the Talkhouse, which is entirely written by musicians, and virtually none of them has observed any Rock Critic Laws,” Mr. Azerrad noted. “That should tell you something.”