Milk It!

Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the 90s




COOL BOOK: Fans — and detractors — of acerbic pop music writer Jim DeRogatis may want to find a copy of Milk It!, a collection of Dero’s rantings and musings on the alternative rock explosion of the 1990s. DeRogatis, whose last book was the thrilling Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic, is a heck of a writer. DeRo’s disses of the rock music elite — Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Courtney Love, Clear Channel Entertainment and tired ol’ Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner — are in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. DeRo says what many writers are afraid to say for fear of falling from grace with magazine editors, labels or the reading public. (What? No more phoners with rock stars?) I don’t always agree with the guy, and sure, I’d be scared to sit down to lunch with DeRo, but I relish his candor, passion and spunk. I’m glad he’s in print and, in the way of his idol, Bangs, telling it like no other. — Gina Vivinetto, St. Petersburg Times


DeRogatis is not contemporary rock criticism’s great gonzo journalist, gutter poet, or romantic visionary—that is to say, not its Lester Bangs. But he’s enthusiastically assumed the role of its most dedicated journeyman and unapologetic gadfly. And when the problem with music is that one has to settle for Stephan Jenkins instead of Lou Reed, that might be a worthy enough charge. — Bob Mehr, THE CHICAGO READER FOR THE FULL REVIEW, CLICK HERE


Hes one of Americas best-known music writers, he has a program on the radio and television, and he’s the author of four books... Milk It! collects DeRogatis’ writings from the early nineties until just recently, touching on everybody from Nirvana and Mudhoney to the Flaming Lips and Urge Overkill. While compiling the book, he didn’t change his opinions from the time or update anything that he might not currently agree with. Even in retrospect, he won’t pull punches or glamorize the age. Dave Chamberlain, NEW CITY FOR THE FULL REVIEW, CLICK HERE


AUSTIN CHRONICLE: DeRogatis is one of the most candid, passionate, skilled, and entertaining music scribes working today. In fact, Milk It! comes dangerously close to making rock critic sound like a downright respectable occupation. FOR THE FULL REVIEW, CLICK HERE.


Milk It! is like having a really well-informed friend over to your house on a Friday night, pawing through your music collection, never shutting up and leaving you with a list of things to check out the next time you’re in the record store. — POWELLS.COM


Milk It! is an excellent book for all music fans to read as well as those who are looking to write good music criticism. In this era of Rolling Stone and Spin puff pieces, we could stand a few more Jim DeRogatises. — EPINIONS.COM


MILK IT! consists of various pieces DeRogatis wrote for publications like The Chicago Sun Times, Option, Request, Spin, New Times and numerous others during the ‘90s and beyond. As the title implies, the book reads like a stinging indictment against the corporatization of rock during that era. He saves particular contempt for such manufactured “events” as the Woodstock 25th anniversary which, as he notes in the preamble to the chapter entitled “Lollapalooza Nation,” “finalized the perverse blueprint for the giant corporate concert promoter, Clear Channel Entertainment, which dominates the industry today, the Microsoft of the live music world.” And don’t miss his hilarious take on the Hootie record review controversy at the hands of Jann Wenner and Company. As DeRogatis writes: “[Wenner’s] objection to my not-really-that­mean pan of Hootie was ... mostly about making sure his magazine greases the wheels of commerce by pandering to what’s popular.” What Milk It! makes ominously clear is that the subversion of rock personified by people like Wenner and Clear Channel was not only widespread but irreversible. — Joe S. Harrington, HARP magazine


“I received [Da Capo’s] Music 2004 catalog in the mail today and was rather disgusted that your company would choose to create a cover with a cartoon figure declaring: ‘Let me go to hell! The devil’s waiting for me!’ Others who received this catalog may have been amused, but I wasn’t.  Does this truly reflect your company’s character? I would be greatly surprised and saddened if it does.” — EMAIL FROM BONNIE THORNTON, LIBRARIAN AT THE MIDAMERICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY



The cards were stacked against me liking this book. I don’t like 90s music, I don’t like people making a buck off of nostalgia. But once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Bottom line: Jim DeRogatis is a great subjective rock critic, and an even better writer (perhaps for being so subjective). This book collects many of his essays, interviews and reviews during the alternative period, categorized by subgenre and tied together with interesting introductions that help place things in context. His pieces are written artfully and insightfully, if often cynically, which not only make them interesting to read today but prove his observations were dead-on when viewed with the power of hindsight. What I like about DeRogatis is that he tells it like it is. He never joined the sheep that automatically had to love every hip band that came along. Pearl Jam are self-righteous and oh-so-important, Smashing Pumpkins whiny and absorbed, Rage Against the Machine hypocritical. He doesn’t hesitate to call out a band as being a fraud or a clone or contrived. He reviews albums based on how his felt about the music, not by how many units were sold (and that integrity got him fired from Rolling Stone, stemming from an against-the-tide negative review of Hootie & the Blowfish). — Adam Liebling, READ MAGAZINE


 Agree with him or not, Milk It! is certainly worthwhile from the standpoint of it being a collection of he-was-there documents from the period that still resonates. And it certainly is a whole lot more handy than shuffling through a stack of newspapers or Rolling Stones. Stephen Macaulay, GLORIOUS NOISE (CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL REVIEW)


DeRogatis you may remember as the author of the exceptional Let it Blurt, a book that sought to demystify and clarify canonized rock journalist Lester Bangs’ short yet passionate life. Here, DeRogatis examines the course charted by underground rock bands in the ‘90s. DeRogatis spends time with Courtney Love (he was the first journalist to hear Kurt Cobain’s unreleased demos), Steve Albini and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, to mention only a minuscule number of his subjects. DeRogatis’ gestures are proof positive that being honest will not endear one to the rock stars. When reviewing Siamese Dream, he identified some lyrics as “sophomoric” — to which the thoughtful Corgan countered by barring him from shows and responding by fax, “I’m very sorry for you that you are fat and that your career choice (Wire cover band) didn’t work out.” — C. Nystrom, CHICO NEWS & REVIEWS


What makes the book interesting though, is the author’s contribution to the scene. Sure, we were all there, but DeRogatis was on the front lines; he was there with a lawn chair. He even added a little fuel to the fire I believe. — MOVIE POOP SHOOT.COM


In Jim DeRogatis’s Milk It!, he engagingly traces what amounts to a case study for Danny Goldberg: the trajectory of Nirvana (who Goldberg managed), and their ilk from their moment of unarticulated rebellion to total, cultural absorption. In light of Orlean and McDermott’s examples, the altemarockers’ political forays seem strangely useless. But not entirely; sometimes a good scream is as expressive as a vote. And the cream of DeRogatis’s crop know exactly who to scream at. — Jesse Jarnow, RELIX magazine


Starting with Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind (what else?), Chicago Sun-Times pop music critic DeRogatis crafts a lively, opinionated account of the birth (and subsequent mainstreaming) of the alternative rock scene of the 1990s, including choice bits on Courtney Love, Woodstock ‘94, and the 90 best albums of the past decade. — Anjula Razdan, THE UTNE READER


He’s critical of the bands, which is good. His articles on REM, for example, reveal their careful manipulation of the media. He lets Courtney Love bury herself in outbursts, he slams N.W.A for selling hate, and he attempts to portray Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist as some sort of socialist dupe. That’s the kind of entertainment journalism we need --- something skeptical, not the usual fawning over celebrities and rock stars.  — AtoZee.COM


Opinionated, articulate, brash, funny, idealistic—these are all words that describe Chicago Sun-Times pop music critic Jim DeRogatis and the 100-plus articles, reviews, and interviews that populate this anthology of his work from the 1990s. Pieces on the era’s more prominent artists (e.g., Nirvana, Courtney Love, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins) are grouped into their own chapters, followed by thematic chapters that include DeRogatis’s musings on the Lollapalooza music festival, “Brit Pop,” and the decade’s most conspicuous hypes and frauds. (Incongruously, DeRogatis prefaces a chapter devoted to women in rock by saying that discussions of female rock bands should not be segregated from those of male rock bands.) DeRogatis is unswerving in his criteria for what makes great rock music—passion, artistry, and rejecting the complacency of nostalgia—and he is unafraid of angering artists whom he thinks fall short of these ideals (witness his unflinching debate with Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins), a stance that got him fired from Rolling Stone after only eight months. DeRogatis is unquestionably a talented and entertaining critic, and this collection serves as one of the few primers on the 1990s “alternative” music scene. — Lloyd Jansen, THE LIBRARY JOURNAL


Jim DeRogatis, a music scribe who has written for Chicago Sun Times and Rolling Stone, is a graduate of the Lester Bangs school of journalism, convinced his opinions are often more entertaining than those of the musicians he’s interviewing.  This collection of his writings form the 90s spans every genre (with special emphasis on grunge), and like any self-respecting Bangs disciple, DeRogatis loves to take rock stars to task, whatever the consequences.  And there are consequences: Billy Corgan considers him a “sniveling, jealous...fat fuck”; Courtney Love thinks he’s a “dick”; and Rolling Stone fired him.  With bile like this flying from its pages, Milk It! is variously entertaining, exasperating, and, when discussing Sinead O’Connor, even sensitive. — Nick Duerden, BLENDER MAGAZINE


Renowned music critic DeRogatis sounds off on alternative music, the ‘90’s, and well, just about everything else he wants in MILK IT! As pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times he spent long evenings with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. He witnessed the devolution of Lollapalooza from an invigorating celebration of diversity and weirdness to yet another attempt by the forces of marketing to profit from a generation’s dissent. DeRogatis really tells it like it is. — The John Shelton Ivany Top 21


Not many people who write about rock music earn the respect of Courtney Love, but even that outspoken singer says that Jim DeRogatis has “got balls and takes on the man.” High praise indeed. DeRogatis--pop-music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, cohost of the Sounds Opinions radio show, and frequent contributor to Penthouse and other magazines--is the author of the recent Milk It: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the ‘90s (Da Capo Press). The book’s essays on artists and trends offer a penetrating view of the turbulent music biz of the nineties, covering rap, riot grrls, rock, and more. Compared to the social upheaval sought by the Woodstock generation and the palpable anger of punk rockers, the alternative-music trend was born of boredom and discontent, often with appropriately hollow results. But as DeRogatis says, “ ‘Alternative to what?’ is a question that cynics asked over and over again through the nineties, and like many punks, my answer was, ‘Absolutely nothing!’ But as I compiled the ‘best’ [sic] of my writing from that era, I realized that there really was something special about the music of that period--at least the best of it, like Nirvana and Hole, the Flaming Lips and Mudhoney, P. J. Harvey and Sinead O’Connor--and that spark, individualism, and life force seem all the more vital in contrast to the current pop-music climate, besieged as we are by the likes of 50 Cent, Clay Aiken, and the dreaded Britney Spears.” DeRogatis also takes on that ever-present Woodstock generation in Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock (Hal Leonard). DeRogatis draws upon the parallels between the summer of love and twenty-first-century stoner rockers, between sixties acid tests and modern raves, to illustrate the enduring legacy of the psychedelic era. So whether you’re a member of the baby boom or of the “baby boom echo” generation, check out the balls on this writer.  — Barbara Rice-Thompson, PENTHOUSE magazine


Let me preface this review by letting everyone know that not only is Jim DeRogatis a former contributor to Jersey Beat, but he’s also one of my oldest and closest friends.  So take this with a very large grain of salt, but here it is:  This book is even better than I expected it to be - and that’s saying something, since I’m not only the author’s friend but one of his biggest fans.   You might know DeRogatis as the author of last year’s Let It Blurt,   his biography of Uber-rock critic Lester Bangs.  What you might not know is that Jim has been obsessively writing about music since his first by-lines in Jersey Beat back in 1982, which were followed by pieces in larger zines like Matter and The Bob, editorial positions at Request and - for a short time - Rolling Stone,  a whole lot of freelancing,  and two separate stints (the second still ongoing) as rock critic for The Chicago Sun-Times.   As you can tell from the title  (which comes from a largely-forgotten album track from Nirvana’s In Utero, by the way), this collection of interviews, essays, and reviews focuses on the “Alt Rock” Nineties.   Each chapter is set up by an introductory essay, in which DeRogatis adds context and  occasional  hindsight, including quite a few self-deprecating  “behind the scenes” stories that in many cases tell more about those times than the actual articles.  There’s  DeRogatis’  infamous feud with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (which DeRo admits threatened to turn into “a sort of low rent Lou Reed - Lester Bangs routine;”)   the even more infamous “Hootiegate” review that got him canned from Rolling Stone;  Sonic Youth’s intemperate DeRo-bashing, inspired by  a negative Lollapalooza review;  and the errant quote that turned Steve Albini into a sworn enemy.   But it’s the writing here that really stands the test of time.  DeRogatis started out covering City Hall for the Hoboken Reporter and The Jersey Journal before he ever got into music writing, and his skills as a reporter and journalist are what set him apart from so many of his peers. Add to that a feisty “fuck you” attitude toward the music industry’s hype machine that he developed in his early years as a fanzine writer, and you’ve got a rock critic who writes more than press releases and isn’t afraid to skewer a few sacred cows when he sees fit.  The best pieces here do just that - whether it’s  deconstructing Lollapalooza not as a post-hippie love fest but as a corporate marketing machine, a profile of R.E.M. that reveals these cherished alt-indie icons as money-grubbing careerists, an unsentimental look at Patti Smith’s hugely overrated comeback, or a media criticism piece that savagely attacks the ethics of The New York Times’ Neil Strauss and his  celebrity bio of Marilyn Manson.    And at the end of the book we leave the Nineties for the new millennium and a hilarious piece that gives Britney Spears the critical spanking she so richly deserves. Mostly, though,  what you’ll find in Milk  It!  are opinions, many of which you’ll disagree with -sometimes violently, especially if you’re a Deadhead or a Marilyn Manson fan. More people hate Jim DeRogatis than anybody I know - especially publicists, but musicians and even fans too.   That’s one of the reasons I love him. As Dorothy Parker once said, this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly;  you might find yourself throwing it all the way across the room.  But ask yourself --  when’s the last time you even remotely cared about anything in Rolling Stone  or Spin ?  There’s the reason to buy this book. — Jim Testa, JERSEY BEAT FANZINE




Steve Edwards of WBEZ-FM’s “848 “ interviews Jim DeRogatis about Milk It!  CLICK HERE FOR THE AUDIO ARCHIVE