Seattle didn’t have much beach reading weather this year, but then we don’t have a whole lot of beaches either (OK, I rarely go to the beach, I have no idea, but I do play Neil Young’s On The Beach LP a whole lot, if that counts). Even so, with dusk coming sooner and days getting shorter, the need to start hoarding reading material for those long autumn nights is becoming a necessity, and I have coming up in the next few weeks endorsements of several books about music, musicians, lost albums, transcendent POVs, politics, and rocking girls, girls, girls (and women, women, women) to suggest for your edification and enjoyment. This week we’re starting with a big boss book of often hilariously confessional and yer-temper-tempting tangents on Alice Cooper, Teena Marie, the Flaming Lips, Skin Yard and the abject influences that oozed into something environmental prophets warned us as the Seattle sound, all prism-scrunched in the very accessible vocabulary of one intensely focused ectomorph.
We really have been blessed with key lime pie-sublime collections of music journalism this year; just before summer Out Of The Vinyl Deeps, a treasure trove of rock critic-feminist Ellen Willis’ long lost rock writing, came out; in a month or so Fantagraphics will be releasing Kevin Avery’s Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life And Writings of Paul Nelson (the subject being one of the first rock zine writer/editors, Rolling Stone reviews helmsman, and most profound scribes in the music scene for decades). And right now you can sink your eyes (and ears, make lists!) into the first “greatest hits” of long-time Village Voice editor and Billboard senior editor, and freelancer for Creem and any other language-about-noise mag ever worth reading, Chuck Eddy.
Rock And Roll Always Forgets is his first book in a while (get his ubiquitously remaindered Accidental Evolution of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe ASAP), and it is pure joy, even if you don’t know of a single 12″ track he weaves an entire “king-rat” multi-ethnic dance rock milieu into, or could never be convinced that Supergrass or Miles Davis are as metal as Sabbath or Soundgarden (both the latter of whose “classics” he has the chutzpah to sharply slag to the extreme music super-fan). RARAF is a thousand-books-within-a-book assortment of tales rare and contrarian (Into The Unknown, an actual historical framework for and genuine defense of Bad Religion’s early apocryphal progressive rock album, banned by the band for years till a recent box set contained it), fearless and contrarian (the endorsement of minstrelsy entertainer Emmett Miller’s unfortunately racial profiling yet still “putting on a show”), and always funny while being (you guessed it) just a little bit against the grain (The Mentors get the same degree of coverage as bling rap; well, in terms of volume, the latter gets a lot more just because there is a lot more of it than Mentors albums. But Eddy actually assessed The Mentors as consumer fodder, whether he liked them or not, which is saying something about a “mainstream” rock critic in those times).
“Chuck Eddy likes more music than just about any person I’ve ever known,” Chuck Klosterman begins the Foreword to the book, adding at the end, “He is not the Other Chuck. I am the Other Chuck.” (That’s pretty heavy, considering half of you reading this may only own Klosterman books as examples of rock criticism in your personal library.) Klosterman reminds the reader just how influential Eddy was to rock mag readers for many years, citing him as a huge (personable, humorous, informative, unafraid to say the unpopular thing) inspiration for his own first work, Fargo Rock City. Though I was “in the moment” during those early SPIN Magazine years when our press rep was analyzing and enduring the antics of the Beasties and back-firing them with his fearless criticisms of their then-blowing-up bullying behavior, RARAF is a tight compilation of writing that has aged extremely well. Like a copy of the first double LP of Nuggets or the first side of Let Them Eat Jellybeans, it’s an irresistible enjoyment of the “rock scene.” I will never stop enjoying Eddy’s jolting surprises, subversive humor, and obsessive POV, well chopped into this book-form.
“His review of a 1985 Aerosmith album reportedly inspired the producer Rick Rubin to pair the rockers with Run DMC,” the one sheet bleats, but this is more a compliment to Rubin’s literacy and openness than an anecdote justifying Eddy’s “coolness.” Because Eddy would be the first to tell you that he is not cool — he is passionate, and engaged, and weird, and talks about his weird feelings about normal music, and even his boredom with supposedly weird music. When I called him “contrarian” earlier in this review I sort of hated doing so, because his writing persona is the least writerly persona you may ever read — I doubt this absorbed idiosyncrasy is any sort of ruse. Eddy tells you about his love for Amy Grant, SST Records, and hippie music before 1973 with no shame and plenty of game, as if he’s willing to back up his devotions with some crazy thrown punches. Point is, he can take them too, as when he regularly reassesses his attraction to some whack crap (never backing off that pop and rock music fandom is all about enjoying some whack crap openly, attempted hipster image be damned). I can think of about oh, a hundred banal bloggers and a few dozen asshole alt-weekly columnists who need to get in on his knowledge and tone immediately. I’ll be dipping back into his chapter on hip-hop alone for years to come for essential philosophical back-up.
Should I have expected him to stay with Costello past a few more of his earlier records? (Well, yeah, there’s even cool stuff on Punch The Clock.) Do I think he should like post-poof Pantera a bit more, Phil’s idiocy notwithstanding? (For a metal lover, you have to give props even to morons – ? OK, that’s a question I guess.) Did he let me down when he didn’t dig Betty Davis as much as I do? Sure, but I was her publicist. There was a check involved then. I’m sure he could have pointed that out. But you know what? He probably wouldn’t, because he knows it’s about the music, even when it’s also about the giving people the business.
And for those of you punky-scribey types who haven’t bought a rock critic anthology since one of Bangs’ (yes, there was more than one), this should be the second (non-Bangs title). (Well, maybe the third, after Willis’s, because she does such a great job at shooing away Bowie idolators and Dylan suck-liners and notion-passers with her soul music-and-VU-album-intoxicated semi-academic jabs from margins; punk produced a lot more Julie Burchills sadly than Willis’s, and her tome should not go unheralded.) But get on RARAF: There is plenty of fun strut and 4 a.m. deepness here, perhaps more than most University Press books ever have contained within. Even if you still have stacks of those old rags, and remember those cranky lines Eddy could italicize (where most would cowardly spit them out sideways). Rock and roll may always forget, but Chuck Eddy’s work should often be causing trouble in mind.