When I heard the news that the new management at the Village Voice didn’t want Chuck Eddy around, I bawled like a kid. Honestly. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s deceased but I was really sad because he was definitely one of the best editors that I’ve ever worked with and I knew that I’d miss working with him.
Initially, I thought just the opposite. When he started at the Voice in the late 90’s, some of the material there seemed like bad stream of conscious high school journalism. I got so mad that I eventually thought, “Hey, even I could do better than that!”
I didn’t know what to expect dealing with Eddy. Though I loved his contrary book Stairway To Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe (which unfortunately seems to be out of print), I didn’t think his editing skills were up to his writing. I was so f-ing wrong about that.
It’s one thing to disagree with a guy’s taste but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good editor. One thing that endeared me to Eddy was that he took the time to give me constructive criticism. Believe me, a lot of editors never do that. They’ll either ignore your pitch or if they use it, just run it without any comments (which is good in a way but not helpful to your progress as a good writer). He would take the time to tell me what he thought was wrong or right and suggest some ways for me to make it better. Sometimes this was infuriating but many times, it was great food for thought. One thing in particular that was helpful was his focus on explaining references- if you cite “he” or “them” in a piece, who exactly are you referring to? That might not always be obvious to a reader. Also, he made me focus on using more descriptive language to describe artists or music- specifically, it’s always better to use more active verbs or adjectives to engage a reader more. After a while, I enjoyed doing edits of my pieces with him over the phone as we’d go through every sentence and find the best way to express what I was trying to say. Finding a good line editor is a rare thing and as such, I grew to appreciate his help more and more.
But there was something else I really admired and respected about Eddy. Another fault of many editors is that after pitching them a story, you never hear back. Eventually, you chalk this up to how busy they are and the fact that they get a lot of pitches all the time. Eddy was different in that I always heard back from him, even if it was a thumbs-down. He’d even explain why it wasn’t right- timing or lack of general interest or such. One time I pitched a review and got shot down only to see someone else write about the same record in the Voice a few weeks later. I quizzed him on that and he just said that the other guy had a better pitch/angle than I did. He was right and I respected him for being honest about that. Again, many editors wouldn’t do that. The fact that he would take the time to answer all/any pitches I gave him always at least made me feel that he also respected me enough as a writer to say something.
But there was even more to him than that as an editor. For the last piece that I did for him, we had a big argument over it. I wanted to write about Rick Moranis’ country album. I thought it was a pretty funny record and unlike most celebrity albums, Moranis understood what a joke it was to be doing this. Eddy didn’t agree. He hated the record and made it well known on the ILM bulletin board (a favorite virtual hangout of his). I still thought that I was right about the record and he decided that if I could make a good enough argument about its worth, he’d run the piece anyway. The end result is that after some more arguing and refinement, the Moranis article did run in the Voice, even though Eddy probably still didn’t like the record. Again, not a lot of editors would do that.
Though his DJ nights at various downtown spots were usually a little late for my early-to-bed ritual (a shame ‘cause he’d spin everything from 80’s pop to krautrock), the other nice memory I have of Eddy is always seeing him at the Voice holiday party. We freelancers were allowed to come and mingle with the staff and take advantage of a free buffet and open bar. Eddy was one of the few people I knew there so it was kind of comforting to see him and say hi. And argue about music. “Big Star was never as good as the Raspberries!” he insisted and though I knew he was wrong, I grew to appreciate him as a good instigator. Once he claimed wasn’t allowing mash-up’s to be eligible in the Pazz and Jop poll (which wasn’t true) just to rib a guy who swore by them (who took it seriously and got pissed). Or he’d start a conversation about which hit records had bagpipes on them (Big Country didn’t count) and continue this days later in an e-mail thread. Or how I was on my way out one time and told him “OK, gimme a kiss goodbye” and he obliged- I was kind of taken back at first (not turned on, mind you) but that’s just the way he was. Not every editor would do that.
And no, I didn’t agree with many of the rules that he (and Robert Christgau) imposed on Pazz and Jop but as I’ve said before and will gladly say again, he’s one of the best editors I’ve worked with and I’m damn grateful for the time that I got to work with him. I hope that he finds another place that lets him exercise editorial control and given his background, I think it’s only a matter of time before he finds that. I look forward to working with him again then. And telling him how freakin’ wrong he is about the Raspberries.
// Notes from the Road
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