Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticismby Chuck Eddy
Chuck Eddy is one of the most entertaining, idiosyncratic, influential, and prolific music critics of the past three decades. His byline has appeared everywhere from the Village Voice and Rolling Stone to Creem, Spin, and Vibe. Eddy is a consistently incisive journalist, unafraid to explore and defend genres that other critics look down on or ignore. His interviews with subjects ranging from the Beastie Boys, the Pet Shop Boys, Robert Plant, and Teena Marie to the Flaming Lips, AC/DC, and Eminem’s grandmother are unforgettable. His review of a 1985 Aerosmith album reportedly inspired the producer Rick Rubin to pair the rockers with Run DMC. In the eighties, Eddy was one of the first critics to widely cover indie rock, and he has since brought his signature hyper-caffeinated, hyper-hyphenated style to bear on heavy metal, hip-hop, country—you name it. Rock and Roll Always Forgets features the best, most provocative reviews, interviews, columns, and essays written by this singular critic. Essential reading for music scholars and fans, it may well be the definitive time-capsule comment on pop music at the turn of the twenty-first century.
“Eddy’s eccentricity is not only refreshing and entertaining; it’s also valuable. . . . [S]omething compels Eddy to pay attention to music that no other music journalist can be bothered with. This is a vital counterbalance to the critical herd-mind, and a reminder of how much music making and music fandom exists outside the media radar, and never makes it into the official narrative.” - Simon Reynolds, Bookforum
“[T]his new compendium of pieces by Eddy . . . reads like an alternate history of pop's last 25 (or so) years, in which album-oriented rock is saved from itself by the Ramones' Too Tough To Die, latter-day Def Leppard isn't rendered irrelevant by Nirvana, and horn-rimmed consensus about indie darlings Animal Collective is just a bad dream.” - Greg Beets, Austin Chronicle
“You can predict what Eddy will think of something, and you’ll often be wrong, but what he actually thinks will always make more sense, will fit Eddy’s written persona better, than what you had in mind. Eddy’s taste has a deep coherence that’s close to unique among rock critics. . . . [F]or an Eddy fan, it’s a kick getting to read about his favorite music in-depth in these pages, especially when he’s in its first flush of Chuck-love. Will to Power, the Lordz of Brooklyn, Banda Bahia, and White Wizzard are all here, because who else was going to write about them?” - Josh Langhoff, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Eddy's unflinching ability to connect the dots between what he's hearing and what he's living makes Rock and Roll an electric read. It should trip wires in the minds of not just aspiring and current critics but also casual listeners who might not realize how much is below the surface of what they're hearing.” - Michael Hoinski, Village Voice
“Other anthologies of music writing leave you wanting to race to hear the music being written about. Rock and Roll Always Forgets leaves me wanting to read more Chuck Eddy. And more, and more…” - Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
“I don’t always agree with Chuck Eddy. In fact, I only occasionally agree with Chuck Eddy. But I’m always sure he cares, which I can tell not just because I know him, but because I love reading him. For more than twenty-five years he has been an original and indefatigable voice whose openness to new and unheralded music is legendary.”—Robert Christgau, Dean of American Rock Critics
“When Chuck hears a pop song, it’s like he is the first person who has ever heard it; he’s certainly aware of what the rest of the world already wants to believe, but those pre-existing perceptions are never convincing to him. . . . More than any other critic, Chuck Eddy showed how the experience of listening to music was both intellectually limitless and acutely personal. There was no ‘correct’ way to hear a song, and there were no fixed parameters on how that song could be described in print, and if that song made you reconsider abortion or the Oakland Raiders or your father’s suicide, then that intellectual relationship mattered because your engagement was real.”—Chuck Klosterman, from the foreword
An idiosyncratic rock critic curates his alleged greatest hits.
Eddy (The Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll, 2007, etc.) has acquired a curious rep through work for almost every music rag of repute over the course of his career. He honed his chops at traditional journalistic outposts, and he shines brightest in his reportorial work. The most distinguished pieces here are either straight shoe-leather journalism (e.g., a dazzling look at Eminem's music through the prism of the rapper's tangled family life or a deft portrait of the aging Ramones) or hopped-up band profiles (e.g., his hilarious give-and-take with AC/DC or his bemused sit-down with U.K. dance-pop heroes Pet Shop Boys). However, the majority of the collection comprises Eddy's criticism for theVillage Voice(where he served as music editor for several years) and various rock-centric magazines. In the last of the chapter introductions that hold the book together, he declares defensively, and stridently, that he is not the "contrarian" that his detractors have long accused him of being. (Nonetheless, in his foreword, Chuck Klosterman defines Eddy's credo as "most thoughts about music are backwards," without irony.) If not a contrarian, then he is either a wry observer who takes joy in dismantling rock-crit orthodoxy or a tiresome guy with an enormous record collection and very little taste. While he often proves he knows a jive band when he sees one (e.g., his reviews of Live and the Mentors), he raves over marginalia like metallurgists White Wizzard or pre-fab junk like the Spice Girls while kicking the stuffing out of Radiohead and Nirvana. His championing of jingoistic pinheads Montgomery Gentry and Toby Keith is simply inexplicable, and unconvincing to boot. Eddy's opinions induce both head-scratching and headaches, while his hyperventilating style and his can-you-top-this tendency to incessantly scatter indiscriminate comparisons wear out his welcome.
Despite some gems, addled aesthetics and gale-force gusts of critical wind torpedo this collection.
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ROCK AND ROLL ALWAYS FORGETSA QUARTER CENTURY OF MUSIC CRITICISM
By CHUCK EDDY
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePREDICTING THE FUTURE
If you've written as much as I have, for as long as I have, you're bound to get some things right by chance alone. But rock criticism is not a particularly predictive genre, and trying to guess where music will go five or 10 or 20 years down the line is generally a fool's game. Robert Christgau used to do pretty well now and then in his Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll essays—predicting "New Wave disco" at the end of the 1978 one and then watching M's "Pop Muzik" and Ian Dury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" battle it out for top single in the poll a year later, for instance—but just as often he seemed to be foretelling a devastating collapse of Western culture that never quite showed up, not entirely anyway. My own crystal-ball work has generally proven even less successful than his. But I've had my moments.
In early 1986, in perhaps the shortest review ever to lead off the Voice music section up to that point, I reviewed Aerosmith's Done With Mirrors—a very good album pretty much everybody else ignored, since at that point they'd been considered drugged-out toppling-off-the-stage has-beens plying an extinct musical style for years—and I talked about growing up surrounded by the band's music in the '70s, and about how songs like "Walk This Way" and "Lord Of The Thighs" were sort of rap music before rap music existed, and maybe an enterprising DJ should segue one of them into the (not yet famous) Beastie Boys' "She's On It" single sometime. Doug Simmons, a Boston boy like Steve Tyler and Joe Perry himself and the Voice's music editor at the time, thought I was just being provocative and messing with readers' heads, and told me so. Which maybe I was, but he was clearly short on copy to fill his pages that week, so the lines stayed in, and apparently future Beastie producer and Columbia Records exec Rick Rubin read them—or at least writers bound for greater news-magazine glory such as John Leland later reported that Rubin did. But either way, a couple weeks later, press releases were definitely issued saying Rubin's charges Run-D.M.C. would cover "Walk This Way" on their next album. The song became a Top 5 hit and a bigger video, with Tyler and Perry symbolically busting through a wall to lend the rappers a hand. Which both set in motion a couple decades' worth of rap-metal (yep—all my fault!) and relaunched the now-sober Aerosmith's career; starting with their next album, Permanent Vacation in 1987, they wound up bigger-selling (albeit smaller-rocking) stars than they'd ever been in their initial '70s heyday. They still owe me, and so do Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone.
And here's a story I didn't piece together until 20 years after the fact, over beers in Austin with critic Kevin John Bozelka in early 2009. Writing about Sonic Youth's album Sister in the Voice in 1987, I smart-assedly called it "Afterburner to Evol's Eliminator"—which is to say, a half-hearted Xerox of their previous album. I'm pretty sure nobody had ever compared Sonic Youth to ZZ Top before that. Over the years, as it turned out, Sister wound up being by far my favorite Sonic Youth album—just a lot of concise catchy songs that didn't drag, I guess. But what I somehow never noticed until Bozelka mentioned it to me decades later is that, in 1988, Sonic Youth wound up ending their next LP—Daydream Nation, Bozelka's favorite album of all time and probably the critic-consensus SY choice but one that I never fully connected with and that precipitated me never caring about another note of their subsequent music—with a song called "Eliminator Jr." Coincidence? Your call. (For what it's worth, Thurston Moore also put out a fanzine called Killer in the '80s in which he called me "Fuck Eddy." And he and Kim named their 1994-born daughter Coco not long after I'd written about my own 1989-born daughter Coco in the Voice. Not that I'm actually taking credit for the latter.)
Anyway, neither the Aerosmith nor Sonic Youth reviews show up in this book—while perhaps prescient, they just really don't read all that good. But I am including my 1983 Top 10 album list printed with the Pazz & Jop poll, in which I was probably the first critic ever to vote for a Sonic Youth album (namely Confusion Is Sex), and unquestionably the first one whose ballot-containing-Sonic-Youth was ever actually published. Though I'd previously voted in the poll in 1981 ("That's The Joint"!) and 1982 (um, Pere Ubu's Song Of The Bailing Man I think—actually, I never kept copies of those ballots), I'm pretty sure Christgau had no idea who I was. But in 1983, I augmented my ballot with an 11-page manifesto complaining about the state of rock criticism, declaring that everything interesting in music was already over, and mourning my having missed the whole boat. He printed a big chunk of it (the "Over and Out" piece that follows this intro) and quoted me in the opening paragraph of his own essay ("Chuck Eddy, the West Bloomfield, Michigan freelancer"—actually I was a U.S. Army officer in West Germany by then, but I little-white-lied on my ballot to circumvent potential anti-military bigotry; technically, since I wasn't actually reviewing records anymore like I had been in college, I wasn't even eligible to vote). Christgau also mentioned that my ballot had inspired him to "share [his] essay with the voters"; though Pazz & Jop dated back to 1974 (or 1971—it's complicated), he'd never done that before. But from then on, for the next 23 years until he and I were fired from the Voice, he included voter comments in the Pazz & Jop section. He also asked me to start writing for the paper; the first review I got paid for, of Bad Religion's Into The Unknown, ran a month or so later and shows up in this book's alternative rock section. The rest is history, or a sorry excuse for it.
And the rest of this section should be self-explanatory. But in case you're wondering: Rap music did turn into something more than a passing fad. Rock music from Seattle did indeed get really big on MTV and elsewhere for a few years there, after Skin Yard founding member Jack Endino produced early records by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden and the Screaming Trees, though for some dumb reason people decided to call the sound he helped invent "grunge" (a genre name I and any number of other critics had been applying to loud dirty rock for years) rather than "bigfoot-rock." The Flaming Lips, whom I'm pretty sure I was the first writer ever to profile for a national publication, got more and more famous as they got more and more boring. Radiohead became the universally acclaimed Most Important Rock Band On The Planet for reasons that never made much sense to me. Acid house and techno irrevocably changed music around the Western world, except in the United States, yet dropped off my radar after I chronicled them in January 1989. The interweb altered how artists promoted themselves and how kids learned about new bands and so on. New Kids On The Block broke up. And if you want to get technical, as of this writing, World War III still hasn't happened yet.
OVER AND OUT
Chuck Eddy: X More Fun In The New World (Elektra) 22; Blasters Non Fiction (Slash/Warner Bros.) 19; Was (Not Was) Born To Laugh At Tornadoes (Geffen) 11; Richard Thompson Hand Of Kindness (Hannibal) 9; Sonic Youth Confusion Is Sex (Neutral) 8; Al Green I'll Rise Again (Myrrh) 8; Nile Rodgers Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove (Mirage) 7; Rolling Stones Undercover (Rolling Stones) 6; Divinyls Desperate (Chrysalis) 5; ESG Come Away (99) 5.
How the fuck can you revolutionize an industry which has accepted Pere Ubu and Essential Logic and the Angry Samoans and Teenage Jesus and the Birthday Party? You can't. Nothing scares anybody anymore, nothing surprises anybody anymore, there's no such thing as a real mindfuck because people's minds have already been fucked with over and over and over again. I never realized it until now, but the Sex Pistols were the worst thing that ever happened to rock'n'roll—they demanded anarchy, and they got it. Anarchy means you can do whatever you want, and that's what everybody since the Sex Pistols has done. This has given us a surplus of interesting music, but it's also given us a situation in which you can't tell the artists from the poseurs. Sly Stone and the Dolls were able to make revolutionary music because, back then, there were dictated limits on what you could or couldn't do, and they did what they "couldn't." Now there are no such limits—what if Sly and the Dolls had waited until 1983, and everything else (the Ramones, the Pistols, PiL, Prince, and all) between 1970 and now had happened without them? Would Greil Marcus still be able to write that "there is no vocal music in rock to match" Riot, or that "nothing short of the Sex Pistols' singles has touched it"? I doubt it.
And yet, the rock critics of the world are going to spend their time voting on which 1983 videos were the most fun to watch. And we're going to accept Prince, or Grandmaster Flash, or King Sunny Adé, or Flipper, or Big Country, or Bob Fucking Dylan, or (see my Top 10) X, and we're gonna push whatever we like as the bearer of the future of rock'n'roll, as if there is such a thing. I think this is kind of what Lester Bangs meant by the "be the first one on your block" attitude; unfortunately, he died before he could offer any kind of solution or alternative, except that we should listen to old John Lee Hooker records. I wish I had a solution, and God and Lester know I need one more than the Christgaus and Marcuses of this world do—I just turned 23 a month or so ago, and I only started to listen to music "seriously" in 1979, and I haven't seen a real rock'n'roll revolution yet, and I want a There's A Riot Goin' On or a New York Dolls or a Johnny Rotten so bad I could shit. But I'm not going to get one.
What I'll probably get is World War III, and then we'll start all over again, and if I'm lucky and if I cut down on my salt intake I might live to see Prehistoric Ring Shouts II when I'm an old old man. And ring shouts will lead to spirituals and field hollers, and the Delta Blues and Appalachian banjo music and Western Swing will happen in there somewhere, and then yet another Elvis, and maybe I'll be able to see the next New York Dolls or Sly Stone when I'm in heaven. Great hope for the future of rock'n'roll, right? I mean, I might not even make it to heaven. Fuck you, Johnny Rotten.
Village Voice, 28 February 1984
RHYMED FUNK HITS AREA
Jerry Hand isn't modest. Sometimes in midsentence, he'll begin tinkling the piano keys in front of him and break into a song about himself.
"I'm not Sugarman or Discotron, and this I'm sure you know ..." chants the Columbia College music and business major who performs as rap disc jockey DJ Romancer. "But I'm DJ Romancer and I always steal the show/I've got the super action, dynamite attraction/Coming straight to you/Yes, I'm number one and I'm having fun/No, baby, not number two/ You just open up your mind, and you check me out, and I'm sure, you'll all agree/That I'm the baddest dee-jay there ever was, and the baddest there'll ever be."
Hand's ego is a valuable commodity among rap disc jockeys. But there's more than mere self-confidence behind his boasts. The transplanted Queens, N.Y., native is the most accomplished rap singer in Columbia—he, of course, claims there's none better west of the Mississippi.
He even fares well against the big competition in New York, the birthplace of rap and still the genre's hotbed. Hand may not have won the "Great M.C. Showdown" in Harlem this past August, but he says he got the most applause.
That's quite a claim, considering the contest featured such acts as Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Funky Four Plus One, and DJ Hollywood. They may not be household names in mid-Missouri music circles, but in the rap world they're stars.
Most radio listeners are familiar with rap music, though few could define it. The rock group Blondie scored a major hit early this year with a rap song—but Hand is quick to point out that rap is much more than "Rapture."
Walter Anderson, the KOPN disc jockey who calls himself "the Sugarman" and hosts Columbia's only radio show featuring current soul music, explains that rap is merely rhymed couplets set to a syncopated funk rhythm. "It works almost like a cadence," he says.
The form dates back 30 years to black New York radio DJs who boasted about their prowess against a backdrop of the day's hits, Anderson says. At the same time, Jamaican disc jockeys developed a similar form called "toasting." Their delivery was slow and the words didn't always rhyme, but Hand says they set the pattern for today's rap.
Anderson and Hand agree that it wasn't until late 1979 that the majority of Americans—black, as well as white—even heard of rapping. In September of that year, a Harlem trio called the Sugarhill Gang released its first single, "Rapper's Delight."
"The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel," which was given an almost unprecedented, five-star rating this fall in Rolling Stone, represents an apex of sorts in the rap technique known as "cut mixing," Hand says. Cut mixing is a process in which bits and pieces of hits ("Good Times," "Rapture," Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust") are doctored, then spliced into one song.
Excerpted from ROCK AND ROLL ALWAYS FORGETS by CHUCK EDDY Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Chuck Eddy is an independent music journalist living in Austin, Texas. Formerly the music editor at the Village Voice and a senior editor at Billboard, he is the author of The Accidental Evolution of Rock ’n’ Roll: A Misguided Tour through Popular Music and Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe. Chuck Klosterman is a freelance journalist and the author of numerous books, including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto and Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota.
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