Music

Chuck Eddy Will Piss You Off with 'Rock and Roll Always Forgets'

Buy this infuriating and brilliant book. But get it in softcover. You'll be throwing it against your wall.


Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism

Publisher: Duke University Press
Length: 368 pages
Author: Chuck Eddy
Price: $24.95
Format: Softcover
Publication Date: 2011-10
Amazon

Chuck Eddy. Is there anyone who has written about music over the last few decades who manages to be so brilliantly contrary? To write with such cauterizing, strident and beautiful prose? To be so unrepentedly full of bullshit?

Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism will convince you that the answer is no. This collection pulls together around 100 essays, reviews and occasional pieces by this mad genius and former Village Voice music editor known for his early, incisive writing on New Wave, his rants against “indie” music and his unlikely appreciation of pop country constructs like Toby Keith and Montgomery Gentry.

You’ll find some of the most insightful and revealing rock-crit you’ve ever read, here. There’s a short piece on the Flaming Lips self-titled debut that sums up the early work and promise of Wayne Coyne and his fellow masters of psychedelic dreamland rock. In “Def Leppard’s Magic and Loss”, Eddy hangs out with Joe Elliot and Phil Collen around the time Adrenalized appeared and in the aftermath of the band’s series of bizarre tragedies that still left them fusing big hair metal with rhythm and blues like nobody else. Its movingly written and, best of all, we learn that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” on me was inspired by Elliot’s love of the 1969 hit “Sugar, Sugar” the bubblegum classic of fictional band “The Archie’s”.

Rock and Roll Always Forgets also features a long piece on AC/DC that is perhaps the best exposition of the band I’ve ever read. The book includes an essay/interview with the Pet Shop Boys that completely captures that band’s authentic phoniness, their desire, to paraphrase Eddy, of only taking their own version of integrity seriously.

In another piece, Eddy maybe sums up good music circa 1984 when he claims that “West End Girls” is “All the Young Dudes” for the mall generation. Nailed it.

There’s a recent piece from 2003 that explains the weird dynamic of The White Stripes. This obviously feels more than a little elegiac, now. But I can’t get enough of Eddy’s description of how Jack White’s love of the blues has helped create the band’s “hostile boogies…deliberate, all evil boll-weevil eight-bar Geroge Thorogood have-love-will-travel backdoorman jellyroll prowess.” This is classic writing and exposition at its best and most insightful.

Some of these pieces are classic for a different reason. They are just plain dumb. Actually, they are not “plain” dumb. They are exotically dumb, fascinatingly dumb, Einstein on a whisky and barbiturate cocktail and scribbling stuff on a napkin dumb. Eddy is irritating dumbness you can’t ignore because it comes in the form of strikingly and oddly written pieces of critical craftsmanship.

Eddy’s writing about the death of Kurt Cobain is a prime example. This piece, written soon after the grunge bard’s suicide, set out to infuriate the cult of Cobain. It succeeds by being mean and nasty, funny and iconoclastic and ends on a note of near imbecility.

OK, fine, make a joke about how the world would be better place if Lou Reed had killed himself after White Light/White Heat and then suggest that maybe Cobain did us a favor. Whatever, dude. We get it, no pious sanctimony and Keatsian “in memoriam of the dead boy-god” for you.

Having at least scored some serious shock value points, Eddy goes on to say a series of stupid things. He complains that he can’t locate the blues standard “In the Pines”, played by Cobain at his now famous MTV Unplugged appearance. I only have four different versions of it and am listening to it right now on The Legend of Lead Belly Everest Tradition album.

Then Eddy suggests that Dave Grohl is a bad drummer (he doesn’t actually use Grohl’s name when he takes this swipe) and wonders aloud about why people think the lyrics on Nevermind contain so much sarcasm. Oh yes, and In Utero isn’t great but had “some cool guitar parts.”

Is this guy serious?

Yes, and we see the roots of his irritating contrariness in his description of his own early encounter with music. He was a guy who fell and fell hard for early Elvis Costello and started writing about music almost as soon as he started listening to it seriously. He ended up rejecting Costello for reasons that are unclear to the reader and following a path that took him through hair metal (he’s an inveterate Poison lover) to Mexican rock to avant garde jazz to, well, mainstream country, to …who knows what…almost everything?

Actually, maybe what we learn about Eddy doesn’t explain where the hell he’s coming from and he remains the mystery of mysteries, a crazed rock crit version of the Oracle of Delphi sputtering wisdom and nonsense all at once.

And I’m thinking some pop culture vultures who haven’t met his work will love him. The counterintuitive assertion from a smartass (emphasis on smart) has its appeal. It can sound not just correct but prophetic. It sometimes even points out those places where the orthodoxy has turned like milk left in a hot car.

Take for example the fact that he may have been the first critic to praise Sonic Youth, way back in the early '80s before it became de rigueur to praise Sonic Youth to keep your rock snob union card. Or, take a piece he wrote in 1987 for the Village Voice rightfully commending the work of John Cougar Mellencamp and describing his “Scarecrow “ as giving him the “closest thing to a spiritual experience” he’s ever had.

Now, sure, everybody today recognizes Mellencamp as a real-live, rootin-tootin roots rocker, his stuff produced by living deity of musical authenticity T-Bone Burnett. But Eddy was saying this in fucking 1987 man, when everybody still called him John Cougar and had “Hurts so Good” ringing in their ears.

Now, most of the time, Eddy is just making shit up. And, it’s hard not to admire his ability to construct an alternative universe. He’s that guy smart enough to get away with outrageous claims because you know that almost any argument you try to ward him with will be demolished in a freaking torrent of indisputable, disconnected and largely irrelevant, fact. And in every essay, Eddy indeed puts on a clinic, displaying his encyclopedic mastery of the history of rock 'n' roll and of music itself.

At the end of the day, you’ll wake from your trance and realize that, wait a second, Poison’s second album is not better than Houses of the Holy and that Sergeant Pepper is not “pompous mush.” But, while he’s talking, he’s as convincing as any schizophrenic who’s constructed his own private, illusory kingdom with its own laws and possibilities, all of which make sense on their own terms. Crenellated sandcastles of irrationality.

Its hard to take seriously the critic who literally damns an indie group like Grizzly Bear as utterly worthless while suggesting that redneck thrush Mindy McCready was “driven, ravished, and marinated in the vinegar of Stevie Nicks.” Then you remember there are a hundred reasons that you have no choice but to take him seriously.

What is most astonishing is how much verbiage goes into defending the indefensible sounds that leaked and dribbled out of country radio in the '90s and early '00s. He does this while issuing a wholesale condemnation of lo-fi and really all of Sub Pop’s children and grandchildren.

He then proceeds to mount an apologetic for people who are not actual musicians, the likes of Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney and the whole hat-wearing twang-gang. Obviously ,these hick heartthrobs are publicists creations whose overproduced garbage is to Cash, Haggard and Kristofferson as Muzak is to, well, music. But Eddy writes about Shock-in Ya’ll (hurts my head to write that) like its Led Zeppelin IV. He does this while rightfully disdaining Keith’s brainless jingoism but still…arggghhhh!

See what I mean? Chuck Eddy makes you mad.

So why bother with him at all? Hipster scribe Chuck Klosterman writes a fulsome introduction to this collection and says it better than I could. Klosterman credits some of Eddy’s early work on metal (Eddy wrote the classic and indispensable Stairway to Hell) as inspiring his own classic Fargo Rock City. Klosterman probably phrases it best when he says that his experience of reading Eddy was like “some brilliant weirdo was talking directly to me, yet with no regard whatsoever for how much I enjoyed the conversation.”

For that reason, I’m highly recommending this collection. You can’t know music criticism unless you know Chuck Eddy. I’m going to try and read every infuriating thing the guy’s ever written, tracking down his books and all the bits and pieces not collected here. I’ll probably be angry the whole time.

On a side note that’s not really a side note, let me give a word of praise for Duke University Press. University presses are real torchbearers for the printed word when it seems like no one gives a shit, anymore. And they publish work that, while unlikely to have a very wide commercial appeal, has to be available to smart people who love good books. Even when those smart books drive you fucking crazy.

Buy this book. But try to get it in a soft cover edition. You’ll be throwing it against a wall. A lot.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.