I’ve just finished reading Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism, by my old friend and former Village Voice editor Chuck Eddy, and it’s left my head spinning like a 45 with my awe at Chuck’s seemingly endless obsession with the churn of pop music. He actually has kept up with the radio hits in all genres of pop (just as Commisar Dave Marsh ordered us to do early on, but I rarely did), for well over a quarter century now. In this anthology, Chuck addresses the common complaint that he’s a “contrarian,” who continually espouses rightwing country artists and other such non-critical-consensus types just to buck said consensus.
Chuck insists that he thoroughly evaluates and criticizes each piece of pop, and that his wide-ranging tastes can merely make him seem contrarian, that he’s just as likely to agree with some consensus or other if the track in question does (or doesn’t) have the chops he’s looking for, and I think Chuck’s right about that. But I also think he may be something of a “contrarian” in another sense, in that he’s often seemed to like the idea of a latest-thing artist/song/genre/whatever overthrowing the old — in other words, the eternal churn I cited above. “Forever changes,” as the great Arthur Lee put it.
In some ways I envy Chuck his open-ended and catholic pop curiosity, as possesing that attitude might have extended my own rockcritical career, especially when Chuck became music review editor at the Voice in early 1999, and invited me to contribute. Which I did — he was a great editor, and the review fee was fab in those now-lost days, but I ended up not writing for Chuck as much as I could’ve, as I just wasn’t interested in the current pop scene any longer. Most of my reviews from that era were of the latter-day releases of artists I’d already known and written about in my Creem youth. My pop curiosity started to fade around 1985 (the year of the first Creem bankruptcy), and pretty much vanished after the original Creem bought the Walled Lake farm in the sky in ’88.
See, I got into rockwriting for the maybe-perverse reason of doing the writing itself, after I’d been inspired, especially by reading Lester Bangs, that here was a way we born-in-the’40s (then-)youngsters could chime in with a neobeatnik lit slant-descended from the great chain of being set out by our heroes Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso. After I got a toehold in rockcrit, I almost had to be forced (by Lester and others) to demand promo records and junkets from the companies, as I was still thinking in terms of pure writing. Though obviously the promos were great fun when I started receiving them, especially as they inevitably led to more writing opportunities, theoretically the reason I was now being showered with such goodies.
But I hedged my bet right from the beginning too, and kept my day job at the welfare department all the way through, as I was a family man and it provided regular income and medical coverage, etc.. That job also gave me another kind of coverage, as a rock critic, as since my writing didn’t furnish my primary income, I could be very choosy who I wrote about. When Creem offered me (among many others) Journey’s management’s junket-to-San-Fran to featureize Steve Perry & co., I could stop believin’ right away and say “NO!” It was fine with me if Journey got written up in Creem, but I didn’t want my byline on the piece. I reserved that for say, a $5. Rock-a-Rama (capsule review) of Nina Hagen, one of my heroine-addictions of the time.
Yet I’ve often wondered if I’d pursued rockwriting full-time and been forced to write about Journey and every other release under the sun, whether I might have achieved a much weightier bibliography, rather than just letting myself drift away from it all when my beloved Lester and then Creem were gone. I dunno. I like what I did write, and I’m glad that some of it lives on here on RBP now. Chuck Eddy did all those radio-on hours I didn’t, and lived to tell about it with flair, so I salute him now. Even if I still think that L’Trimm (whom Chuck notes approvingly in his book) possess one of THE dumbest group names in all of pop history. Sorry — that’s the Creem in me, still rising to the top.
Despite my advanced age (I’m scheduled to double Lester’s final lifespan later this year), I still love music, and find that it makes my whole mind glow neon when it’s right. Late encounters with a couple of my absolutely alltime critical idols: Human Switchboard’s Who’s Landing in My Hangar? at-long-last CD compilation, which I’ve been listening to and digging for several months now, and then (a miracle a minute!) Graham Parker played right in my own neighborhood (three blocks from my house!), at the 20th Century Theater here in Cincinnati, last Thursday evening. It was only the second time I’d ever seen him live, and he’s still got that sardonic edge I love so much, sort of Dylan without (the mindgame) tears. Yes!
In the meantime, I’m an Old Guy (and thus entitled to be eccentric, as my Grandfather Riegel certainly was), and I keep sending off to Daedalus Music for more bargain cutout CD’s, almost all of them jazz (faves John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins) or classical (faves Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak) (with Wagner snorting on the horizon, yet another Nina Hagenesque Krazy Kraut worthy of my own ethnic-identity explorations.) So maybe my path’s diverged a bit more from Chuck Eddy’s by now — maybe I’m a recovering catholic when it comes to pop music’s eternal churn.