This is an article from the spring 2015 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
It's spring. You're driving around Ann Arbor, not really going anywhere. You just graduated, and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do next: Take a job? Go to grad school? What do you even want to go to grad school for?
You crank up the stereo until the speakers crackle, waiting for the light at State and Packard to turn green and while you’re waiting the pressure builds and builds.
“I remember being stressed almost to the point of tears, just deciding what I wanted to do with my life,” says Christian Hoard (’00), who was listening to The Replacements’ Let It Be—his favorite album—that day while he drove around Ann Arbor looking for answers. He had been accepted to both U-M and Harvard law schools, but he wasn’t sure that being a lawyer was what he really wanted to do. He was considering an ethnomusicology degree at Columbia—where a beloved musicology professor of Hoard’s, Travis Jackson (formerly of U-M), had studied—but writing about music had always felt less substantive than fiction and poetry.
But once Hoard could see beyond his guilt from passing on law school—his mother is “still disappointed” he didn’t go, Hoard jokes—Hoard knew he wanted to pursue writing as a career.
“For a long time, I thought that music writing was just something that I would do while I was figuring out this ‘real writing’ thing,” Hoard says. “My attitude is different now.”
School of Rock
Growing up, Hoard had been a shy kid who loved writing and University of Michigan sports. When he made it to high school, he realized that U-M had great athletics and academics, and he never really considered going anywhere else. But Ann Arbor was a lot different than the Grand Rapids suburb where he grew up.
“I kind of felt like a bumpkin,” Hoard says. “Coming to a place like Ann Arbor where there were all kinds of different cultures and all kinds of fresh ideas was slightly intimidating, but it was also really exciting to be there.”
Hoard quickly made friends with fellow Honors Program students while taking the program’s famous Great Books course. He studied English literature with instructors like Arthur F. Thurnau Professor John Whittier-Ferguson and John R. Knott, Jr. Collegiate Professor of English Michael Schoenfeldt. Hoard wrote his senior thesis on postmodern fiction, which won the department’s top award for writing and research.
But music was always there. Hoard played in bands outside of school, and he spent a lot of time at record stores like Schoolkids Records and Harmony House. When a friend asked Hoard if he would write for the Michigan Daily, Hoard agreed, starting with a review of The Clash’s live album, From Here to Eternity.
“I was having an awakening as a music listener in college right at the time I started writing for the Michigan Daily,” Hoard says. “I began to read a lot of rock criticism, people like Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, and Robert Christgau.” Christgau made a particularly strong impression, and became Hoard’s favorite rock critic of all time.
Music writing took up more and more of Hoard’s time and attention. When he finally graduated and took that car ride around Ann Arbor, Hoard knew that it was something he wanted to build a life around.
And almost as soon as he landed in New York to attend graduate school, his career took off.
The Big Show
Hoard interned with the Village Voice when he arrived in New York, where he got to meet Robert Christgau, who became Hoard’s mentor. When Hoard became an intern at Rolling Stone, Christgau convinced his colleagues there to let Hoard start writing for the magazine.
Now Hoard is a senior editor. He writes and edits feature stories and oversees the front of the magazine. He has written and edited pieces on some of his favorite artists, including Miranda Lambert, the Wu-Tang Clan, and the Replacements, who recently reunited.
Hoard’s experience at the magazine has only increased his respect for the power that music writing has.
“I respect my favorite journalists every bit as much as James Joyce and my favorite fiction writers,” Hoard says. “When you are in love with a subject, and somebody can give you an incredibly insightful idea about that subject—whatever it is—it sticks in your mind and changes the way you see that subject.
“Those writers changed my life,” Hoard says. “It sounds like a big, heavy statement, but it’s true.”