Talk Eddy to Me, Part 2
By Scott Woods
Scott: It's incredible, the number of records in Accidental Evolution. I mean, how many records a month do you listen to?
Chuck: Oh, well--I don't know. I get between 50 and 100 in the mail every week--CDs--and I don't listen to, I'd say, not a quarter of them. And a lot of them I don't play all the way through. I mean, I mean...
Scott: Do you play it all the way through if you're going to write about it?
Chuck: Yes. Umm, yeah... well, maybe for Entertainment Weekly I play a few songs--no, I'm joking. Of course I'll play it all the way through. I wouldn't--I mean, I can joke about it, but I'm too controlled by my superego, I wouldn't feel like I could write about it if I hadn't listened to it. A guy from the Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed me a few weeks ago, it was like a big article, and I think he was kind of astounded; he said I get 100 CDs in the mail every week, which is a bit of an exaggeration--I think it's probably more like, maybe an average of 60 or 70--but he was kind of astounded that I only own about 300 CDs, 'cause I don't like to keep them around. If I'm not going to listen to them again once I've written about them, I don't see the point in keeping them, just for the sake of keeping them, for reference or whatever. But I will tape the songs I like--I call them accumulation tapes, where I just accumulate individual songs from CDs I get rid of. And umm, people have said that there's so much music in this book, but I don't see how there's more in this book than in any other [pause]...
Scott: Well, it's pretty--I mean, your index is like 25 pages long or something.
Chuck: Yeah, it is long, but so many things I mention--it's so many that's like, somebody I mention in passing just once.
Scott: Oh yeah, that is true. But I mean if you even compare it to like, well, [Richard Meltzer's] Aesthetics of Rock, which is kind of, in some ways, a similar book, you have way more.
Chuck: He had fewer years to work with. And I don't think he went back anywhere near as far as I do. Not only does his history end in, what? '68? '69?
Scott: '68, probably.
Chuck: I don't think he has much stuff before 1950, whereas I have plenty of stuff back through the '20s.
Scott: You have a lot of stuff from the '20s, but not a lot from the '30s and '40s, which I thought was interesting; you do have some references to some show tunes and stuff.
Chuck: I think 1929 is one of the great years in rock and roll in this century.
Scott: Really? Why?
Chuck: I don't know, for some reason--I mean, I think I actually mention in there, I think that the depression probably took a lot of energy out of music. And all I know is that... I don't know if I could explain why it happened, all I know is that a lot of the stuff I like, especially the white guys doing blues stuff--probably post-Jimmie Rodgers stuff--just seemed to come out in '29. There was some kind of peak. And obviously the biggest event in 1929 was that the stock market crashed, and I just don't see as much sprightliness starting, like, in 1930, as much energy or humour; I mean, music somehow lost a lot of its humour, and maybe for obvious reasons. One thing I say is that, a lot of, say, the earlier jugband stuff that I heard, I like way better than Robert Johnson--Charlie Patton I like better than Robert Johnson. It rocks more, it's got more of a bounce to it, it's funnier, it's got more rhythm to it. And umm, I mean--I don't know, would the stock market crashing have any effect at all on Robert Johnson? I don't know enough about his life, but I would assume probably NOT. So that's just like a theory, you know, I haven't researched it at all. But I do know that for some reason there are a hell of a lot of songs I like in 1929. I've thought about graphing it. And most of them seem to be in those genres: novelty type...
Chuck: Not necessarily white, but blues-related novelty songs. I don't know--it may have been similar to, say, rap in 1980, '81, or, say, garage rock in 1965. 1929 might have been like 1965 or 1981. But I know so little about this stuff; I'm not a historian. I mean, part of the reason the book is accidental is, I accidentally come across these records, or they come into my mailbox, and I listen to them, and I either like them or I don't like them. It's not like I--well, I do go record shopping, but it'll be somebody I've never heard of before and I'll try to figure out why I like it.
Scott: Okay. Having listened to so many records, I'm curious to know what you would choose as a desert island disc. Supposing Greil Marcus were to ask you tomorrow to do one for a new Stranded.
Chuck: I don't think Marcus would, 'cause I think Marcus thinks I'm a charlatan. [laughs] Actually, I don't know that that's true, but I kind of get the feeling he might. [pause] I don't know, I've thought about that--God...
Chuck: I mean, an album? My favourite album is probably that frat rock collection on Rhino [Frat Rock!: The Greatest Rock'n'Roll Party Tunes of All Time], with umm, it's got "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" , "Nobody But Me," that kind of stuff.
Scott: Supposing it did come up, would you...
Chuck: Would I dance? Yeah, I guess... what?
Scott: You'd obviously be interested in doing something for Stranded if it came up, or would you?
Chuck: I don't know, maybe I'd take--'cause I don't own very many box sets--the History of the House Sound of Chicago, because it's 12 volumes [laughs]--would that be cheating? 'Cause I'd want something to keep me occupied for a long time, and I wouldn't have to play the same songs over and over again, and that has a lot of songs on it by a lot of different people. I don't think it makes much sense to take an album by just one person 'cause I think I would get bored. I'd want to have a certain kind of variety.
Scott: Talk a little bit about genres. In your Throat Culture interview a few years back you say--I think this is a typo, actually, it says, "Maybe you should like your life as if you're not part of a genre." Is it 'live' your life?
Chuck: [laughs] I guess.
Scott: Both kind of work, I guess.
Chuck: I think, I don't know, all I'm saying there is that--I was writing about a lot of heavy metal then, and one thing I noticed was that the bands who seemed more metal were like really, really boring to me. And bands who, obviously, are orthodox punk rock, you know, are usually completely worthless. And I would say most of the artists I consider important are pretty unclassifiable. I mean, I don't know that that's any different than what any other rock critic would say.
Scott: Yeah. But now you are focusing on genres in the new book.
Chuck: One thing you have to understand, though, is that the new book was not written yesterday. A lot of it--I mean, almost all of it--was done by 1991... I think that by fall of '91, maybe it was fall of '92, I submitted the original manuscript. And most of this, outside of updating or whatever, is a chopped down version of that manuscript. So there's a lot of things in this book that are not necessarily--I mean, I disagree with a lot of it already. That should go without saying; if I wrote it two weeks ago I'd disagree with it.
Scott: Why should that go without saying? I don't understand.
Chuck: Because I'm a human being, and because I think. Which means I question myself. Which means I don't...
Scott: I know nothing's carved in stone.
Chuck: Although I think I kind of say at the beginning of the discography that if I had a hammer and chisel I would carve it in stone... Because I think if you're a thinking person you will question what you accept as true.
Scott: Yeah, you take that to an extreme in that you tend to double back on a lot of opinions--which is not a criticism, I'm just going on what you're saying.
Chuck: I change my opinion sometimes.
Chuck: I don't think I do it that much.
Scott: Okay, okay.
Chuck: I don't think I do it [laughs] more than the average person.
Scott: You certainly do it more than most rock critics.
Chuck: I think that's because they're liars. And umm--I don't mean that they lie, I mean that they used to be in that Boston garage rock band, the Lyres, or else they're the musical instrument, the lyre--but no, one of my criticisms of Christgau's Record Guide was there were so few records he had changed. Some people were astounded that he would change grades, and to me it just seems like a natural thing. My life now is not the same as my life was five years ago: I've learned more, I've heard more music, which gives me a different context in which to judge music in. When I said Neil Young and Lou Reed were two of my favourite white artists in that Rock & Roll Confidential Report book ["My two favourite white rock artists, Lou Reed and Neil Young, have both been fervent disciples of distortion from the gitgo." "Heavy Metal" essay, 1984, ed. Dave Marsh], well, I hadn't heard that much music. And maybe from what I'd heard then, and from the context I understood--I'd probably read too much rock criticism already--you know, they were. But why people think that I shouldn't change my mind a couple years down--I'm astounded that people are offended by that. To me it's just completely natural, especially if you're going to consider yourself a thinking person. I mean, it's a Dylan thing: if you're not busy being born, you're busy dying.
Scott: Okay. Getting back into the genre thing...
Chuck: Yeah--aren't I really good at evading questions? [laughs]
Scott: I wanna ask you about-- this is right from your book, but talk a little bit about what you call the 'Flashdance' genre. I guess you kind of date that from '82 to '84.
Chuck: Okay, I think that by the late '70s, obviously, disco and hard rock were inner-breeding: Donna Summer was incorporating rock guitars, the Stones, Rod Stewart, and David Bowie were incorporating disco rhythms. I think by, say, '83--it wasn't called disco anymore, the name had gone by the wayside because of all the 'disco sucks' stuff, but disco still existed, the rhythm still existed--I think a lot of the songs that were hitting the top of the pop charts by that time were, like, some middle ground between disco and hard rock. Laura Branigan's stuff, Billy Ocean, Survivor, Loverboy... and obviously Michael Jackson, even. But I think the Flashdance album even just struck me as some kind of peak--not necessarily an aesthetic peak, but it somehow exemplifies that sound. And there was a certain kind of mood, a darkness, I think, to a lot of that music, that I associate with that soundtrack.
Scott: Okay, well are you one of the--you write very fondly of these working-for-the-weekend, going-nuts-at-night types...
Chuck: Yeah, yeah, I think that that theme materialized in a lot of those songs.
Scott: Do you identify with that? Are you one of those types, or do you want to be one? 'Cause you give them this very romantic quality.
Chuck: I don't know, I mean I was probably
too antisocial to umm... I go out more on weekends now than I have in a
long time, and I'm more social now than I have been in years; actually I'm
probably more social now than I have been in my entire life, in, like, the
last year-and-a-half, two years. But I don't know that I identify with it.
I mean, I haven't had a steady job since I left the army, you know? And I
write less on weekends--the kids are around. But I'm not like Monday I've
got Friday on my mind, or whatever. When I was a kid I dreaded weekends,
because--I mean, it's a little sad, my mom used to make us play outside all
day, and I would actually dread Saturdays when I had to be outside from
sun-up to sundown, except for coming in at lunchtime; I'd have to find
something to fill my time. I guess she thought it would make us more
rounded, or whatever, I don't know. But as a kid I actually dreaded
weekends. It's a good question, but I don't think it's something I identify
with. I think in the army I probably really looked forward to weekends.
he's the greatest dancer
he's the greatest dancer
Scott: You write a lot more now than you did before about going out--going to shows with people. Before that, for several years, you were saying how you never went to rock shows.
Chuck: Right--well, I stopped going, I burned myself out on them. I got to a point in the late '80s where I'd go to a rock show and I'd just wait for it to end. But I've developed a network of friends in the last couple years, which is a new thing, and it's fun.
Scott: So you like going to shows now?
Chuck: I think it's more of a social thing. I use the music the way most people who go see live music do, it's a background, or an incidental part of a social activity. Martina and I went to see Beck a couple weeks ago and he was amazing. And I'm not a huge fan of his albums. I mean, the music's there, and I like seeing live music and stuff, but I think of it as a social activity. I guess it was a matter of, I don't know, developing friends who want to see shows with me.
Scott: And you want to be friends with Beck.
Chuck: Yeah, I do. I think that he and I have a lot in common. I think that anyone who's read this book and listened to Odelay can put two and two together. I think we have a lot of similar tastes.
Scott: But you don't think he does it too well or... ?
Chuck: I think maybe I don't do it too well; I think maybe we have some of the same problems. I think we probably both get bogged down in the collaging and have trouble making songs out of it sometimes. I think that sometimes both with my book and with Odelay you might see the references but they might not add up to a lot. I think that we both can be really funny. I don't know--I think I have more punchlines than he does, you know, but I'm a little older. He probably has a better suit than I do.
Scott: Who's the better dancer?
Chuck: I do, I dance better.
Scott: [laughs] You were quick with that one.
Chuck: No, I do, I do. He's getting better, though. But I mean, the thing is, what he needs to do, he needs to like...
Scott: [still giggling]
Chuck: You've never seen me dance, Scott.
Scott: No, I haven't.
Chuck: He does the popping and locking stuff--I can't do that. Actually, I think Scott Weiland's probably a better dancer than him. But [Beck] has a few moves that he will do over and over again, and some of them are really cool; like, he lassoed the microphone and pulled it toward him, like a whip, he was whipping the stage. And he had practised that a lot, you could tell. And he can kind of do the robot stuff, but he can't--there's not a lot of liquid hip movement or anything like that. I mean, it's a little bit too--it's kind of robotic and stiff. And I understand what he's saying [in a Spin interview last year]; I mean, the reason that Kraftwerk scored so well on black stations is because, there is a certain extent that if you're really, really stiff, it kind of makes you look funkier? Which is why Kraftwerk could be, like, the whitest band ever and have a certain kind of funk in their music. I guess the one thing I can say about him--actually, this is Martina's idea--the thing about Beck's dancing is, he's sort of David Byrne, you know what I mean? I'd rather watch him dance than David Byrne, but there is a kind of stiffness. What he needs to do, he needs to pull out--he needs to study Michael Jackson.
Scott: Well I was just going to ask you, who are some of the dancers in rock and roll that you like?
Chuck: I think Axl was great. Michael Jackson, obviously. I mean, it's kind of a good question.
Scott: Mick Jagger and James Brown?
Chuck: Yeah, I guess the obvious ones. Mitch Ryder... Mellencamp used to dance good--that's what he said. [laughs] I never saw Mick Jagger or James Brown live. Oddly enough, it's kind of weird that I've never seen either of them live--they're still alive! Maybe I'm negligent...
Scott: Well it's not really worth seeing them now.
Chuck: [laughs] Yeah, I know... I think even someone like Plant probably had a lot more liquid movement, you know what I mean? Umm, umm--I mean, that's such a weird thing to say, 'liquid movement.' But I think there was probably a sexiness to the way he moved or whatever. I can't remember if he danced.
Scott: Probably just sort of strutted. So what do you make of line dancing?
Chuck: I'm not good at it, I can't do it. I'm really bad at...
Scott: But isn't it--don't you think it's ludicrous?
Scott: I do--it's like this controlled situation where everyone's doing the exact same thing.
Chuck: I, I, I, I don't think I could do it. But no, I think it's fun to watch. It's fun to watch when you see a group of people at a wedding or at a...
Scott: In a Beck video, or something.
Chuck: Yeah, I mean, like in a mall sometimes they'll have people taking a line dancing class--I don't know, it's fun to watch. I don't think I'm good at it, I don't think I'm good at dancing with steps. Martina and I have thought about taking a ballroom dancing class.
Scott: Do you think Beck is mocking line dancing in his video?
Chuck: You know, it's a moot point. In concert he says, "I'm dedicating this next song to one of my favourite '80s bands--Color Me Badd. Now I'm not trying to be condescending." Forget whether someone's trying to mock--he's using it, okay?! It doesn't matter whether I'm making fun of Tiffany or Poison--I'm using them. Of course Tiffany's partly ridiculous--it's what you can use it for I think that matters. And irony is understood, you know? Irony is not something you impose on... I mean, I'm not even stating this good.
Scott: No, I know what you're saying. Yeah, it's kind of a lame question. [laughs]
Chuck: But I think that's something that people--"Oh, there are certain artists who are ironic." I mean, why do people...
Scott: It just happens.
Chuck: Yeah--and it's how you deal with it in real life. You can like watching line dancing and still spoof it.
Scott: Okay, well I guess the only thing that kind of comes to mind, having heard you say all that is, I mean, don't you-- you sometimes have a problem with bands who do use stuff in a way that you might say--and I hope I can think of an example--but you'll sort of say how--okay, well an example from your book is Peter Gabriel and David Byrne and how they use world music. I mean, isn't that kind of on the same issue?
Chuck: No, no. I think they drain the life out of it. I don't have a problem with them using it. If Peter Gabriel used African rhythms as well as Michael Jackson does when he does, what, the "Soul Makossa" thing at the end of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', no, I would not have a problem with it. It's not that they do it, it's that they stink at it. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Chuck: I like when rock bands use reggae or Latin rhythms or African rhythms--those rhythms have a lot of life in them; there's a lot to be used in those rhythms. The problem with David Byrne and Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel is that they're not GOOD at it.
Scott: [begrudgingly] Yeah... why do you think that, though? Peter Gabriel, I can see, but Graceland--you call him 'The Enemy' [p.186]. [laughs] chuck: Well, I mean that's an exaggeration. Actually, there was a time when Paul Simon was good at it, it's kind of funny. I mean, there were bossa nova and Latin rhythms all through Simon & Garfunkel's stuff...
Scott: And "Me and Julio"... chuck: Yeah, which I think is a great song, umm...
Scott: I think there's a lot of bounce in a song like "Boy In the Bubble."
Chuck: You know what? I haven't played Graceland in years, and I don't find that stuff as energetic as "Me and Julio" or "Frank Lloyd Wright," which I think uses a bossa nova rhythm or whatever. And I mean, we could probably talk--maybe he does it better than Gabriel, I don't know. I'm not a fan of the Graceland album--I'm sure it's not a horrible album. Maybe he just couldn't write interesting SONGS anymore; maybe his songwriting had deteriorated. Or maybe it's that I like the rhythms he used in "Me and Julio" better than the rhythms he uses--I'm not a big Ladysmith Black Mambazo fan. Maybe it's that he's not using the right rhythms to make me like it, I don't know. But for some reason, that stuff hits me as clinical and cold, whereas "Wooly Bully" doesn't--which also uses ethnic rhythms, obviously.
Scott: Okay, well, I like the...
Chuck: Oh, and Scott, it's not a matter of consciousness vs. self-consciousness. I think Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs knew that they were using Latin rhythms, I think that they were conscious of it. I think Santa Esmeralda, or whatever disco groups, knew that they were using Latin rhythms.
Scott: Okay, well, given that, what is the distinguishing factor between 'everything' rock and 'collage' rock? I take it that collage rock is stuff that does self-consciously try too hard to do the same thing that everything rock naturally does--by your definition.
Chuck: No, again... I mean, it's taken me years to learn it, but you have to get away from the use of that word ["self-conscious"]. I mean, Teena Marie knows that she's mixing up a lot of different things in her music; it is a conscious thing, she sings about it as a matter of fact. That's what the words to "Square Biz" are about.
Scott: Is there a distinguishing factor between the two?
Chuck: Yeah, yeah--I like everything rock and [laughs] I don't like collage rock; and if I like it, it's everything rock, and if I don't like it, it's collage rock! No, I think what I say is-- the thing is, you have to do it in a way that the collaging does not draw attention to itself. And there is a certain thing--what Paul Simon does with Graceland that he wasn't doing with "Me and Julio"--where he's saying, "Look at me, I'm using African rhythms, aren't you impressed?" Whereas I think there was something incidental about it in "Me and Julio"--certainly in "Frank Lloyd Wright"--it wasn't the point. The whole point of Graceland--or the later David Byrne stuff or Peter Gabriel stuff--was, "Look at us, we're using ethnic rhythms, aren't you impressed?" That certainly wasn't the point of "Wooly Bully" or the disco songs using Latin rhythms. And again, that's a matter of opinion. [A sentence or two was lost here while the tape was turned over.] "Square Biz" or "Wango Tango" by Ted Nugent mixed a whole bunch of different things into a small space, whereas a lot of the music post-"Pump Up the Volume" or post-"Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels Of Steel," I mean, that's just, like, the whole idea of it: you're supposed to be impressed by the collaging in and of itself, and there's nothing else there. I mean, I think that's the thing with Peter Gabriel; there's not enough--there's not a song there. If you're not impressed by his use of ethnic rhythms, there's nothing else to be impressed by. Whereas with "Wooly Bully" or "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" you're going to be sucked into the song first. And umm... I don't know, maybe it's an existence before essence thing or something. And again, right, it's a matter of opinion is what it's gonna come down to, and I guess it's possible for someone to listen to the Chemical Brothers and say, "Wow, I didn't realize that they sampled a whole bunch of stuff and mixed it all together--boy, this is a real surprise." But I have trouble believing that somebody listening to the Chemical Brothers or DJ Shadow would actually be surprised by that. I mean, to me that seems like the whole point of the Chemical Brothers or DJ Shadow--which, again, doesn't make them completely worthless.