Chuck Eddy responds to Phil Dellio...

Editor's note: Chuck was given the chance to respond to Phil Dellio's critique, and he chose to do so over a series of e-mails.


Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 09:11:29
Subject: take a guess...

So anyway, I read it--and oddly enough, I think it's pretty great, hilarious, a true public service. It almost convinces ME that I'm a self-contradictory charlatan, though (just like my writing doesn't convince Phil of my likes and dislikes I guess), I certainly don't believe that Phil truly despises my book as much as he pretends. I basically take the review as a didactic exercise in debate per se (a very entertaining one.) The thing is just so obsessive, taking sentences I wrote in passing five years ago out of context and pretending their disagreement with sentences taken out of context that I wrote ten years ago proves something, that it's almost LOVING (in fact it's A LOT LIKE MY BOOK!); what it really convinces me of, in fact, is that Phil is my Biggest Fan on Earth. He's certainly the first person who's read my writing so CLOSELY, so basically right now I'm just in awe.

An awful lot of it makes sense, too--I really SHOULD refrain from mucking around in dogmatic statements (and as I think I point out somewhere in the interview--which I've yet to read on line--the chapter with all the dogma in it is one of the oldest ones in the book and therefore one I'd be most likely to disavow; as I believe even Phil admits, there's lots of stuff in the book I myself don't agree with anymore. In fact, in most cases where Phil juxtaposed out-of-context [or not] quotes from me with other ones from after I changed my mind about something [or seemed to], he ACKNOWLEDGED that he was doing so, which seemed fair, and the juxtaposition itself was fun, so I didn't mind much.)

Also, fact is, most of the stuff that I think Phil gets totally wrong is just piddly details: Just 'cause I said something negative someplace about the Pet Shop Boys or Neil Young doesn't mean I don't like them or I plan for them to be my enemies from now on (and besides, criticizing those two artists is nothing new for me--I've had mixed feelings about the PSBs since the beginning); millions of people bought Boney M and Stacey Q and Quarterflash (and now Caifanes) records, so why he thinks only Frank and I ever heard of them is beyond me; I'm pretty sure the reason I hadn't "decided" yet whether I liked that Bone Thugs song is because I'd only heard it a couple times up to that point; the quote he liked so much in that Lester Bangs essay WAS one I personally identified with (and a major reason for me e-mailing the essay out in the first place and titling it as I did); where Sebadoh are lacking sexual energy is not in their lyrics (which may well be as embarrassingly explicit as R. Kelly's for all I know--what with the timid way that nitwit Lou Barlow whispers, I've never paid attention much) but in their SOUND (rhythms and vocals mainly); I'm not sure about "Whatta Man" (which I haven't heard in a while), but I heard "Let's Talk About Sex" a couple weeks ago and was surprised by how much I liked it (inevitable, right?--hey, maybe my sex life is just better now than when the record came out!).

Still, I don't want to nitpick (except in the form of sublimated hostility against Phil for the next five years or so--just kidding), and I'm pretty sure I answered most of his objections in my interview anyway (am I repeating myself yet?), and my parenthetical quotes about Nirvana's pretty melodies and gnarly guitar parts cracked me up, so I don't expect to write a reply, at least not in the near future--I'm way too busy right now--though I may send along me and Phil's old "Yes It Is"/"Jackass" debate transcripts if I can find them in my computer; actually, I think I have the latter, not the former.

love, chuck


Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 16:04:24
Subject: p.s.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, most bizarre line in Phil's whole review, from my perspective:
"'s just incredibly ironic to hear it coming from Chuck, who has less patience with and less interest in beauty as it exists in pop music than any writer I've ever known..." This coming from somebody who I believe has flat-out stated (or at least certainly implied) that he has almost no taste for anything remotely Latin or Gothic (genres which are responsible for, to my ears, an inordinate amount of the most beautiful records on earth.) I would never suggest (nor have I ever written) that it's impossible to like the Beatles or R.E.M. (both of whom I oddly admit in my book to liking myself sometimes) except "in theory", but Phil apparently believes if you disagree with him about what songs are the prettiest, you obviously just have no use at all for prettiness. (And here I was afraid "ugly", as applied to metal and rap voices especially, was one of my more overused insults these past couple years.)



Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 23:32:21
Subject: the tooth is out there

So I just got back from a 33-mile bike ride (Valley Forge and back; last four miles through the woods in the dark!), and that gave me, I'm sad to say, a lot of time to think. Anyway, basically I think the deal with Phil is that I'm in a no-win situation: He complains because my writing never surprises him by saying good things about artists that critics are supposed to like, but then when I DO surprise him by saying good things about artists that critics are supposed to like, he gets all flustered because my mind changed and he decides that that's against the rules. (Naturally, it was him who wrote the rule book. I guess I'm sunk if Radiohead win the Pazz and Jop Poll this year, too, since I've already insulted their boring new album in my London Suede/Mansun review for L.A.Weekly; maybe I should root instead for Erykah Badu, who I still have no musical opinion about whatsoever. Does it count against me if I think her wearing a towel on her head is pretentious?)

Phil somehow comes up with this twisted idea that I think Frank Kogan's hallway/classroom dichotomy means the hallway is for insults and the classroom is for compliments (or maybe that's what HE thinks the dichotomy is about; if so, it's a gross and lazy misinterpretation), then he ignores the fact that I probably spend 30 pages of my new book trying to explain what makes the music I like worth listening to for every one page I spend criticizing music I DON'T like (or music I don't like as much as I'm told I should anyway); in fact, he makes no mention AT ALL, I don't think, of my atomically detailed MUSICAL RATIONALE for liking Loverboy or Will To Power or Boney M or Bob Dylan or Donna Summer or fill-in-the-blank, hardly a minor oversight, since that's what the vast majority of the book happens to be ABOUT. He suggests that my not being a big Shoes fan means I have no use for musical beauty, somehow ignoring not only the Latin and Gregorian Chant and Power Ballad stuff I devote entire chapters to, but my love of doo-wop, flamenco guitar, Debarge, the Stylistics, Dionne Warwick, Saul Hernandez of Caifanes, Eurodisco in general (which I guess PHIL doesn't hear beauty in but big deal), Axl Rose's high notes, Sam Cooke, "Two Occasions" by the Deele, "Masterpiece" by Atlantic Starr or Midnight Star or whoever that was...can I stop now? In the Garden of Eden chapter, I even talk about beauty in Boney M, but since to justify his goofy thesis he has to pretend that the music I embrace is purely arbitrary, he of course conveniently ignores that passage along with all the rest. (I'm not by any means claiming, by the way, that I'm GOOD at writing about beauty; beauty's not an easy thing to describe, and I'd certainly count that as one of my weak points. But Phil's complaint isn't about my writing skills; it's about my tastes.)

And when I say he "conveniently" ignores passages like that one, I do mean conveniently--he's certainly read and re-read enough of my writing to know damn well what he's leaving out. But then he STILL has the nerve to get on some high horse of integrity and pretend that he, like his hero Bill James, is on some pure and holy X-files-like quest for the Truth-Which-Is-Out-There, and of course the Truth he's talking about is the Truth that agrees with HIS tastes, the one and only true tastes, since unlike mine, apparently, his musical tastes just kind of-- poof--HAPPEN, free of any prejudices or outside influences or other environmental factors. In fact, when I concede in my interview with Scott that, in my case, such factors might indeed have a bearing on why I like or dislike (or change my mind about) certain records, Phil lets loose with a great big "A-ha I told you so!," as if my admitting such proves I'm a music-hating liar...Which would of course, again, explain, too, why I pretend to like Boney M or Loverboy, who are obviously more "obscure" than Sonic Youth or Hüsker Dü even though they've sold significantly more records and have names recognizable in far more households, and why I like records nobody's ever heard like "Two of Hearts" or "Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley" but not everyday standards any non-record-collector walking down the road could hum like "Yes It Is." (Except for me, that is; naturally, I forget what it sounds like.) The only possible explanation is I'm perverse, and Phil is honest.


p.s. Scott, I remembered when I was bike-riding that you'd left certain things out of the interview, like for instance when I talked about my first Pazz and Jop ballot (featuring Confusion is Sex) and when I compared Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes favorably to the Beatles. In light of Phil's review, I would think that both of those passages are somewhat important, and I hope it's only a matter of time before you put them up.

p.s.s. Want to know what I think is weird? Lots of times in the last few years I'll be talking to a female friend, and she'll say she "hasn't decided yet" whether she's physically attracted to some guy. I've never heard a male say anything similar, I don't think--either they're attracted, or they're not. (Though it's possible to change your mind. I wonder if Phil ever does.) Ann Powers even told me once about when she was a teenager, and she had to decide what "kind" of boys she'd be attracted to. I sure don't remember any similar thought process; do you? It just kind of happened.

Scott: Indeed, I did leave those things Chuck mentioned out of the interview. Obviously, space was a consideration--I really did try to hone it down to the essential stuff. But yes, Chuck did run down his first (printed) Pazz & Jop ballot from 1983, but that section is not worth a full reprint here (point already well-taken). (For the record, his ballot that year included: X, the Blasters, Richard Thompson, Was Not Was, Al Green, ESG, Nile Rodgers, Rolling Stones' Undercover of the Night, the Divinyls, and Confusion is Sex.)

The Disco Tex segment of the interview was more entertaining. Again, I was concerned about the word count; and because Frank Kogan talked a lot about Disco Tex in my interview with him, I thought I could pass on it with Chuck. This is not to suggest that they say identical things about Disco Tex--they don't--but I've already received one anonymous threatening phone call outlining the ramifications of turning this website into a Monti Rock III tribute. Nevertheless, I'm obliged to reprint it now.


scott:     ...I want to ask you about Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes. I've listened to that album a few times, and I listened to it again after interviewing Kogan...
chuck:     It's just non-stop energy, there's so much stuff coming out of every tiny little corner.

scott:     Now this is obviously a matter of personal opinion, we could go on forever with it, but when I listen to that album--to me, that album is an idea of a clever disco album. That's what that album is to me.
chuck:     Well for one thing, it came out when disco barely even existed, in 1975...

scott:      Which I agree does make it kind of interesting.
chuck:     It'd be kind of like saying, in 1955 making the idea of a clever rock'n'roll record, which in itself would be a pretty ingenious and difficult thing. [laughs]

scott:     But that doesn't make the album sound better.
chuck:     I think most of my favourite records are based on great ideas. I don't find it--I just find it, like, non-stop, everything-coming-at-you-from-all-different-directions, I think it rocks from beginning to end, I think it's hilarious.

scott:     I just don't think there's good songs on it. The single ["Get Dancin'"] is great, but the other things, they sound to me like vamps--I guess I need more than a vamp or something, ultimately.
chuck:     You like techno-rave and trip-hop better than I do, so I don't want to get into how you think songs should be more than vamps. [laughs]

scott:     No, but that's actually a criticism I would level at a lot of techno--I don't actually like that much trip-hop; I can't stand Tricky.
chuck:     I think a lot of disco, probably even Chic songs I like, might just be vamps, I don't know. Although you know what? I probably hear Chic songs as vamps more than Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes. There's just too much going on in Disco Tex to say it's just a vamp. It's just so multi-directional, so--it's a rock and roll record. Honestly, there's as much going on in that record as, say, in Paul's Boutique...

scott:     Yeah, I can hear that.
chuck:     I mean as far as just little things happening in the middle of little things; something in the middle of something in the middle of something in the middle of something--like hidden surprises. Except that I don't get the feeling at all that I get from Paul's Boutique, where they're highlighting it with a yellow magic marker and saying, "Aren't you impressed that we're throwing all this stuff in." And again, that's like a matter of opinion or whatever. But I think Disco Tex was working in a context where he didn't have to do that. I was at a flea market last week, the first flea market I've been to this spring, and there was this guy selling this box of disco singles, 7" ones, almost all from Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, from like 1976 to '78, for 20 cents each. I bought 50 of them. He must have been a DJ at the time. And just going through them it just impressed me that, I think what got played in discos that early on--I mean, some of it was sort of Latin stuff, some of it was, like, covers of "Sympathy For the Devil" by some woman who couldn't sing, or some bad version of "Low Rider" by War, or Robert Wyatt doing some sort of art rock thing that had sort of a rhythm to it--these were all 7"singles--this group called Androsingers, the song was called "Androgynous Sound"--you know, sort of late, weird glam stuff. I mean, "Rock and Roll Part 2" and "Ballroom Blitz" were hits in gay discos; anything that had a certain beat--or not even a certain beat, a certain ENERGY to the beat, a certain propulsiveness to the beat--would get played in discos, whether it was coming from soul, from rock, muzak circles--you know, Kraftwerk--and I think Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes--or Sir Monti Rock--were making that record when disco had not been defined. And he just somehow took advantage of this freedom and made everything into disco. Probably a better comparison than the Beastie Boys would be what the Beatles did with rock and roll; he took EVERYTHING and he made it into disco. I don't think the Beatles--I mean, we could get into a Beatles discussion or whatever, if you want to--I'm not talking about the late-60s Beatles, I'm talking about the early Beatles, where they could take girl group stuff and show tune stuff and rockabilly stuff and R&B stuff and turn it all into, you know, the Beatles. The Beatles were a genre unto themselves. And I think what Disco Tex did with disco was probably similar. Again, I can't say it'll have that effect on everybody. I find it just non-stop, hilarious energy, and none of it seems stilted at all.


Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 23:32:29
From: EdCchucky@aol
Subject: stuff written to Phil last December, (mostly) ignored in his quest for truth

(1) Okay, me and Martina just re-listened to "Jackass" and "Devil's Haircut" (she likes them both and says "Devil's Haircut" reminds her of Eno, but we both prefer "Sissyneck," which she says sounds like the Grateful Dead and I say sounds like the Marshall Tucker Band.) And I was wrong--I actually slightly prefer "Devil's Haircut." "Jackass" to me seems pleasant enough but neither melodically nor vocally especially beautiful, and the words don't really affect me positively or negatively--I've played Odelay all the way through more than a few times in the past few months, and that cut usually just goes by without me noticing it. I guess I'd say it feels more Allmans than garage rock. And "Devil's Haircut" feels to me more Nine Inch Nails (albeit a much BETTER version of Nine Inch Nails, until the blatant Reznor-ugliness parody at the end) than garage rock, and its Captain Beefheart garbageman tree mouthwash jukebox gasoline poetry really gets on my nerves. I've never heard (or heard of) any of the Them songs that you say these two cuts refer to; if indeed those are garage rock guitar riffs in there (I'll take your word for it), the songs certainly don't have a garage voice, or a garage push, or a garage rhythm, or a garage (i.e.: punk) emotion to them. If anything, if I was giving them Radio On scores, I'd probably cut both songs SLACK for coming from Beck, who I'm probably more a fan of than you are; if they came from, I don't know, Guided by Voices, I might well hate them.

(2) Tastes really do change over time, as somebody's world and the context in which they hear stuff changes. And I guess the part of my tastes that ARE kneejerk, the part where I do have a bit of a mental block (I admit it! But so what?) is the part that, initially, hears overrated records in the context of that overrating, while the overrating is going on, and all the slavish ass-kissing reviews frustrate me to an extent that I find it hard to detach my opinions of the music from them. So initially it's the flaws in those critic-embraced records that I gravitate toward, I guess. As far as Hole or Phair or Nirvana or PJ Harvey (I like only her first album) go, I haven't changed my mind into believing that the flaws aren't there; I've just come to notice things I like about the records, DESPITE the flaws, over time. Why you think that's an integrity issue of any sort whatsoever really confuses me--my tastes simply evolve as the world turns. And though I'm not claiming that any PARTICULAR reviewer, certainly not yourself, is being deceitful in his praise of any of those records, I do find it kind of fishy when there's such an overwhelming CONSENSUS as to that praise; it really starts looking like a game of follow-the leader after a while. I'd think the same if, say, the OMC record came out in the States in March and every critic in the country started devoting 2000 absolutely positive words to it and it became the unquestioned toast of the rock critic community, and you're damn right that, if that happened, I'd point out its flaws in next year's Pazz and Jop; and yes, those flaws do exist--if they didn't, I would've given it more points than I did on my ballot. (It wouldn't make as much sense to devote ballot space to OMC's flaws when I'm the only person voting for the thing, would it?)

And as okay as I think Exile in Guyville and Live Through This are now, I'd be much more interested in reading critical reviews of those albums at this point, even a few years down the line, than positive ones. If I read a positive one that DID manage to interest me--as your Beck and Phair and Hole comments have always tended to do--I'd be pleasantly surprised about it, and it might make me rethink my opinions further. At least you forced me to RE-LISTEN to Beck, Phil, which is more than I can say for anybody else who's written good things about the record lately. But more likely, if I read a positive Hole or Phair or Beck review, I'd just find it a depressing regurgitation of stuff I'd heard a million times before. Oh yeah, for the record--I never much disliked "Fuck and Run"; I gave it a 7.5 in Radio On, hardly a bad score, and now I'd probably up that score to 8.0 or maybe 8.5. I honestly can't remember what "Miss World" sounds like off the top of my head, and I don't have a copy of the album handy to check; last time I listened to Exile (maybe a month ago, in the car) I liked "Divorce Song" okay--maybe my fourth or fifth favorite thing on there; I really like "Girls Girls Girls" a lot, and the one about being like a pit bull in the basement or whatever, where she's five foot one and he's six foot two--but for a lot of "Divorce Song" I oddly have trouble figuring out it's about a divorce! Sheffield's right--"No Guilt" by the Waitresses is much better, as divorce songs go. But Liz's one really isn't bad...

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah...If, by some miracle, some editor assigned me 2000 words on the OMC record, like almost every editor does with every Beck and Harvey and Phair and Hole and Tricky record that comes out, I would MOST CERTAINLY talk about what I disliked about the record as much as what I love about it, just like I did with, say, Insomnia by Green Day in my Voice review last year. (You haven't heard the OMC album, I know, but let me say that I basically love three songs--"On the Run," "How Bizarre," and "Right On"--and there and two or three more that I really like a lot. I'm not so crazy about the more P.M. Dawn-like stuff on it, but there's nothing I really hate; one reason Pulp didn't make my top ten is that about half of that album has stuff that I just plain can't sit through without pressing "track forward." Come to think of it, maybe I should've complained about that one on my ballot, too, along with Beck, Sebadoh, DJ Shadow, the Chemical Brothers, Ani Difranco, Garbage, the Foo Fighters, and all them....I don't really see the point in wasting ballot space complaining about music that everybody already AGREES is bad, unless I had something really entertaining to say about its badness. Though you'll notice that this time I took some swipes at easy targets like Dave Matthews and Marilyn Manson and Korn.)

My Spin review of OMC, on the other hand, is pretty purely positive, for fairly simple reasons--it's only a 400 word review, not a 2000 word one, and obviously given the limited amount of space I'm going to want to accentuate the record's good points, since it's a review of a record that nobody here really knows anything about but that will rank among my top ten of the year. Negative reviews of records that nobody will otherwise care about one way or another would seem pretty pointless to me, but unquestioning reviews of imperfect records that everybody is talking and thinking about strike me as lazy, irresponsible, or maybe chickenshit (or just dumb; again, I'd really like to leave integrity questions out of this). So I don't think you can really compare my 400 positive OMC words with the 1000s of positive words Beck got this year; the analogy itself is flawed.


  • Phil Dellio responds to Chuck Eddy

  • Interview with Chuck Eddy