Rock critic Chuck Eddy of Austin has written a fascinating book, containing a collection of his music reviews, essays and musings during the more than 25 years he has been in the business. This includes time he spent working for the influential The Village Voice as its music editor.
The new book is titled Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism. He has two prior books, The Accidental Evolution of Rock and Roll: A Misguided Tour Through Popular Music (1997) and Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe (1991).
I recently had the chance to sit down with Eddy at Epoch Coffee in Austin and talk with him about his career and his book. The book covers just about every music genre, and while odds are good you will find mention of some of your favorite bands you may not like or agree with his opinions.
You see, Eddy has been pigeonholed by some as being contrary, and it does seem at times in the book, at least to me, like he goes out of the way to criticize the darlings of other music critics or praise those dismissed by critics. He denies that it's intentional. More on that later in this piece.
I began our conversation by wondering aloud what it is like to make music criticism your profession. Does listening to music become less pleasurable when writing about it is your job?
He said the pleasure and joy of listening to music has never lessened because of his occupational choice.
The book does a great job of explaining his introduction to becoming a paid music critic. He wrote what he calls in the book “a 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.” The piece is excerpted in the book
To their credit then Village Voice editor Robert Christgau printed part of the letter. He soon began writing music criticism of his own, published in the Voice and several other publications. In 1999 he became the music editor at the Village Voice, a position he held for six and a half years. This meant the roles were reversed and now he was editing Christgau.
An excerpt from that letter:
"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 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.