Robert Hilburn, the dean of newspaper rock-and-roll critics, is worried these days





He's the author of the terrific new memoir "Cornflakes with John Lennon," which describes his three decades as the rock-music critic of the Los Angeles Times, where he worked until early 2006. But now, the kind of "revolutionary" music that he grew up listening to in Louisiana and writing about in Los Angeles is a vanishing breed.

The 70-year-old Hilburn commands real respect from media colleagues, readers and musicians. "You had to read what I wrote if you lived in L.A. in 1975 and cared about pop music," he explains.
A different era of celebrity

Stars, usually wary when it comes to being interviewed, often grant Hilburn unusually close access because they know he will be knowledgeable, enthusiastic and, above all, fair-minded.

Over the years, he's been a confidante of rock-and-roll luminaries like Lennon, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson. In fact, U2 front man Bono wrote in the introduction to Hilburn's book: "Bob's role as critic was to encourage suspension of disbelief not just in the audience, but in the artist as well. That is an environment in which music grows. He made us better."

These days, though, Hilburn is lamenting the fact that so many Americans are heavily influenced by such television shows such as "American Idol" -- being thoughtful and realistic enough to fret that the public's fascination with celebrities has resulted in a triumph of style over substance.

"Editors today would give better play to a story about Britney Spears missing a plane than they would to an interview with Bob Dylan because it would get more" page views on a Web site, Hilburn pointed out glumly.

Plus, the Web has forever changed the way critics cover the entertainment industry. In his heyday, Hilburn had the luxury of measuring his copy and taking great care with the tone and substance of his reviews.

"It's a different world because of the Internet and bloggers," Hilburn notes. "Now, every editor is concerned about speed because every minute counts. Speed is more important than content. Whoever gets a review out first becomes the authority." ...


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