A Dictionary by Rock Snobs, for Rock Snobs

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David Kamp and Steven Daly are the authors of The Rock Snob's Dictionary, a guide to the esoterica in rock music that every critic and fan knows — or pretends to know. Meredith Ochs, our own rock snob and music critic, finds the book entertaining, funny and irreverent.


If you know the difference between Nick Cave and Nick Kent, you may already be a rock 'n' roll snob. If not, you're not alone. And if you care, you might want to read "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," an A-to-Z reference guide meant to help the novices among us. Music critic Meredith Ochs has a review.

MEREDITH OCHS reporting:

Do you know what band this is?

(Soundbite of song)

KLAATU: (Singing) Calling all occupants of interplanetary craft.

OCHS: I'll give you a hint. It's not The Beatles.

(Soundbite of song)

KLAATU: (Singing) Calling all occupants of interplanetary craft.

OCHS: Here's another one. Can you name this artist?

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SKIP SPENCE: (Singing) As it was been ...(unintelligible) and it was plain to see his burden was himself before the sight his eyes could be.

OCHS: If you guessed Klaatu and Skip Spence, well, you may be a rock snob. For you non-snobs, here's a little history. Klaatu were a mysterious late '70s Canadian band that some folks thought were the Beatles reuniting under an alias. Of course, it was just wishful thinking and a damn good conspiracy theory. The second song was by Skip Spence, the late lead singer of Moby Grape. It's from his bizarre celebrated solo album, titled "Oar," which he recorded in his pajamas. Now has your life changed in some profound way since you discovered these two esoteric albums? I highly doubt it.

(Soundbite of music)

OCHS: David Kamp and Steven Daly, the authors of "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," define their terms right on the cover of their book. Rock snob, noun, is a reference term for the sort of pop connoisseur for whom the actual enjoyment of music is but a side dish to the accumulation of arcane knowledge about it. And that's where I thought rock snobs and I parted ways. I'm obsessed with listening to music. I've always considered the arcane details to be an afterthought.

Still, I found the "Rock Snob's Dictionary" irresistible because it treats the reverent subject of music snobbery with such irreverence. Kamp and Daly poke fun at the British magazine Mojo, the rock snob's holiest tome, by calling it `a melanin-deficient monthly.' They describe pre-punk Detroit garage rockers the MC5 as `wild-eyed, butt-ugly rhetoricians.' And they sum up beloved folk singer Nick Drake in one incomplete sentence, `Was frequently photographed standing dolefully among trees.'

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. NICK DRAKE: (Singing) I saw it written and I saw it say pink moon is on its way. None of you stand so tall. Pink moon gonna get you all. Pink moon, pink, pink moon.

OCHS: I'm not sure that Kamp and Daly's descriptions are entirely fair, but they sure are entertaining. And to me, that's the point of so-called rock snobbery, entertainment.

(Soundbite of music)

OCHS: In Nick Hornby's book "High Fidelity," which Kamp and Daly call a comprehensive anthropological study of the rock snob, the music-obsessed characters miss out when they find greater significance to trivia over the music itself and ultimately over their relationships. In the end, it's about the music and by describing the minutiae as cheekily as they do, I think Kamp and Daly get that though they definitely push the boundaries of taste in their rock snob hall of fame, a list of musicians and writers whom they called the torchbearers of rock snobbery, and a hall of shame filled with music luminaries whom snobs are supposed to hate. Their hall of fame includes the Beastie Boys and Morrissey. Wait a second. The Beastie Boys? Sure, they sampled some amazing old soul singles, but they're also the forbearers of the appallingly bad funk rock scourge of the late 1990s. And Morrissey? Mopey, whiny Morrissey is in their hall of fame for championing The New York Dolls, while Paul McCartney is in their hall of shame for the crime of being sociopathically chipper? Come on. Listen to "Revolver," one of the greatest pop albums ever. Jack Black is in the hall of fame but Brian Wilson isn't? Oh, no, I really an a rock snob. I am so sorry.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) You don't get me.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...we--(laughs) When your prized possessions start to weigh you down. Look in my directions, I'll be around. I'll be around. You tell me that you've heard every sound...

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