Read: Chuck Eddy’s Latest Book

 

Rock and Roll Always Forgets, published by Duke
University Press, serves up a quarter-century’s worth of white-knuckled rock
criticism. Who could ask for anything more?

 

By Rev.
Keith A. Gordon

 

Over the
past 15 or 20 years, music criticism has become both ubiquitous and mostly
disposable. The evolution of this once-hallowed literary endeavor can arguably
be traced to the criticism of classical composer George Handel by his
contemporary Charles Avison in 1752, although it would be modern scribes like
Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Paul Williams, and Greg Shaw, among others, that would
define and develop the dubious art form known as “rock criticism”
during the 1960s and ’70s.

 

As writing
about music evolved beyond the milieu of handmade zines and poorly-distributed
magazines, it would eventually become known as “music journalism,”
and album reviews and artist interviews could be read everywhere from
syndicated columns and glossy mainstream publications to small-town newspapers.
Until recently, many big city newspapers usually had one, if not two writers
working the “entertainment beat,” talking about music and such. Not
coincidently, the downfall of music criticism can be traced somewhat to the
advent of the Worldwide Web, which allowed anybody to be a publisher, and
everybody to be a critic, albeit without editors and whether or not they had
writing chops, or even a faint knowledge of music history whatsoever.

 

Now the
Reverend has a vested interest in this unfortunate evolution of music
criticism, what with being an old-school rockcrit who teethed on Marsh and
Bangs and Metzger, and who mentored under, perhaps, the greatest of the early
rock ‘n’ roll wordsmiths – the one and only Rick Johnson. But the Rev is no aging
luddite blaming all the publishing industry’s ills on the gosh danged Internet.
While the web has definitely upset the traditional applecart as far as music
magazines go, it has also enabled low-budget, high-quality media outlets like Blurt to exist.  

 

But even
among the glut of online music zines and personal blogs, a few intelligent
voices have managed to rise to the top like cream, writers like Jim DeRogatis,
Martin Popoff, Fred Mills, and Chuck Eddy managing to bring new insight and
perspective to an increasingly noisy critical realm too often overwhelmed by
static and poorly-formed opinions expressed in too-brief reviews. Eddy, in
particular, has distinguished himself as a critic to be reckoned with, both as
music editor at the Village Voice and
as a contributor to such publications as Creem,
Rolling Stone, and Spin, among others. Eddy has also penned
a couple of highly-entertaining tomes of music criticism and theory – The Accidental Evolution of Rock ‘n’ Roll,
and the controversial and often hilarious Stairway
to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe
, which made a
strong argument for the inclusion of recordings by funk-soul diva Teena Marie.

 

 

Eddy’s
latest book, Rock And Roll Always Forgets,
is sub-titled “a quarter century of music criticism” and, as such, it
collects essays and reviews chosen from throughout Eddy’s 25 years as one of
America’s most entertaining and annoying music critics. While it suffers
slightly from a lack of an overall concept as his previous books, Eddy has
broken everything down to thematic chapters, such as “Predicting The
Future,” in which he illustrates the futility of predicting where music is
going by using his own past statements, and “Alternative To What,”
where Eddy questions the often-mindless pigeonholing of music through
reviews/essays on the Ramones, Big Black, SST Records, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson,
and others.  

 

Much of Rock And Roll Always Forgets is
entertaining and thought-provoking as only Eddy can achieve. Chapters tackle
heavy metal (Metallica, AC/DC, Def Leppard); hip-hop (Sir Mix-A-Lot, Just-Ice,
Spoonie Gee); and pop music (Debbie Gibson, Pet Shop Boys) as well as offering
perspective on the racial aspects of soul and rap music with fascinating pieces
on Eminem, Kid Rock, and the aforementioned Teena Marie. Most of this stuff is
well-written and insightful, offering a unique perspective and personality that
few music critics are wont to reveal these days. Eddy’s willingness to champion
genres often ignored or outright disdained by the typical rock critic, such as
metal and rap, is legendary, but he also displays a deft hand at writing about
pop and even vintage music.  

 

Still,
it’s easy to find evidence of middle-age dementia creeping into Eddy’s work. His
complimentary reviews of contemporary Nashville floss like Mindy McCready, Toby
Keith, and the horrible Big & Rich, among others, may read well, but they also
provides cause to suspect Eddy’s critical credentials. Sure, Eddy has covered
glossy pop like Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls before – and done so
without a hint of irony or patronizing opinions – but his dismissal of
“pseudo-traditionalist hypocrisy” as the “country party line
toed by most rock critics” as an excuse to wax ecstatically about
Montgomery Gentry is pure D bullshit.

 

Like
whatever music that you wanna like, Chuck, but the Reverend is old enough to
remember when Jon Rich was trying (in vein) to become a rock star in Nashville
and Toby Keith was the punchline to a Music Row joke. Country music really was better back in the day of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and
David Allen Coe, and its current persona as 1970s-era singer/songwriter lite-rock
with twang is a slap in the face to those that came before. That’s not a party
line to be drawn in the sand, that’s just reality. Coe might be one ugly
sumbitch, but he can sing circles around today’s crop of country stars relying
on Pro Tools and image consultants to get over with the suburban housewives
that buy their records. Don’t try and sell us sour milk and claim that it’s
aged whiskey….

 

Eddy’s critical
flights of fancy notwithstanding, he’s a solid writer of no little wit and
humor, and if we readers (such as yours truly) can agree to disagree on some of
the dreck that he immortalizes in Rock
And Roll Always Forgets
, we can all find middle ground. As music critics go,
Chuck Eddy has always been a bit of a provocateur, and his tendency to risk
ridicule with absurdist or unpopular critical stances is what has always made
him an engaging and intelligent writer. Rock
And Roll Always Forgets
certainly includes its share of those questionable
moments, but it’s also an entertaining and informative look back at the past
quarter-century of popular music.

 

 

 

 

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