Talk Eddy to Me, Part 4
By Scott Woods
Scott: Okay, speaking of Boney M, I have to admit, I find it a little hard to believe--I mean, this is probably a moot point--but you have seven Boney M records in the discography.
Chuck: And of course you're wondering why I left that one out.
Scott: That's exactly what I was going to ask--why not eight?!
Chuck: Okay, well, I think it was Take the Heat Off Me that didn't make it; I ended up bumping it for [Bob Seger's] Stranger in Town, and the thing is, it may not necessarily be the album that had to be bumped, but I'm like, you know what, I already have a few Boney M records in, it's not gonna hurt to put one less. I know it's kind of slighting them, but you know.
Scott: But you've gotta be making a point by listing all of them.
Chuck: No I'm not--yeah, that I like the records. What do you mean, "making a point"? I think they're great records. Why can't that be possible?
Scott: I'm not saying that's not possible, but to have all seven in--that's kind of like creating a canon of Boney M.
Chuck: I don't understand. They made a lot of records that when I put them on they're as good as anything else that year. There's nothing dishonest about it. I really really wish people would stop thinking that about my writing... They're there because I like them, Scott.
Chuck: I mean, maybe I'm nuts...
Chuck: They're there because I play them a lot. And when I put them on I get a lot out of them. They're very consistent records, and I think they were doing a lot of interesting things, and--I don't know, they're one of my favourite groups. Do they get the most of anybody?
Scott: Uhh, that I'm not sure.
Chuck: What about Dylan?
Scott: I haven't done that sort of count on the discography. The reason I brought that question up is I was talking to Chris Cook, and I was asking him for question suggestions, and he said to ask you if you really think anyone will buy the three Quarterflash albums.
Chuck: Do I think anybody will? I don't know. Do I think they should? Of course. I mean, gosh, I would be impressed if anybody buys any record based on either of my books.
Scott: I can see people going out and buying some of those records--I mean, you talk a lot about Boney M, so...
Chuck: Yeah, I hope it piques peoples interest. Chris mentioned the Quarterflash thing to me, too. I painstakingly tried to get rid of one of the Quarterflash records. Whenever I would play a record that wasn't on there from one of those years, and play it up against the Quarterflash albums... the first one obviously made it very easily. The second and third ones were more marginal, but they were just... I mean, I played and replayed, and relistened to so much stuff in making that discography. It was like a completely obsessive-compulsive thing. I would get another record at a flea market, and I would think, wow, maybe this one should be in there. Then I'd go back and listen to the ones I had already listened to and play it up against them; it was a very painstaking thing. That's why I don't want anybody saying, you know, "He's just trying to prove a point." If anything--I mean, it sounded like I was joking--but the reason I decided to take Take the Heat Off Me off of there was because I already had a bunch, it seemed like I could afford to lose one. There are things I'd change--the first Foreigner album, last time I listened to it, it maybe wasn't quite as good as I thought it was. Half of it seemed pretty great and half of it seemed bleh. I'm not saying the discography's 100% what I would put now, but I tried to be as honest as I possibly could.
Scott: Okay, fair enough--or better than fair enough.
Chuck: And if it's making a canon for Boney M maybe they deserve one--who says they don't? I think I make a case for them in the book.
Scott: Do you want the list of the most popular critics in your book?
Chuck: Oh, well Frank Kogan obviously.
Scott: Yeah, 17 mentions. Greil Marcus 11.
Chuck: But some of the Kogan ones and Bangs ones are of them as musicians, right?
Scott: Yeah, I didn't account for that. Dave Marsh seven, Richard Meltzer six, Lester Bangs four, Phil Dellio three, Simon Frith two, but he has an entire chapter named after him, so he gets a few more points, I guess.
Chuck: Wait--who does? Oh Frith. [laughs] Half a chapter--it's Sigmund Freud, too. Erik Davis I think I mention once. JD Considine I believe I mention four times and spell his name wrong all four times. [laughs] Does he get deducted in points because I spell his name wrong? Umm, Patti Smith, Neil Tennant. [laughs]
Scott: Is he in there very often? I don't think so.
Chuck: What, Neil Tennant? The Pet Shop Boys are in there a lot, aren't they?
Scott: Well, that's one thing I find really interesting, 'cause this goes back to...
Chuck: I have a lot to say about them, I just don't like them that much. I do like them! I just don't love them.
Scott: Well, I was surprised because the stuff you do write about the Pet Shop Boys in the book is actually very positive--you mention that you love "Suburbia." And yet they're not in the discography, and then you have stuff in the discography like Sonic Youth, who, you know, you call Thurston Moore a twit.
Chuck: It's, it's--I don't like the Pet Shop Boys, I just have nothing negative to say about them; and I love Sonic Youth, I just have nothing positive to say about them! I've always had really mixed feelings about the Pet Shop Boys--always. Everytime I've written about them--I did a lead review in the Voice and a cover story on them in Request--I mean, I think Tennant has a completely blank voice, which sometimes he gets by with. I think they're a super super-compromised and timid version of disco...
Scott: I don't hear that at all.
Chuck: Even compared to some of the other techno-pop bands, like, obviously, Dead or Alive or Depeche Mode, who just seem fleshier or something...
Scott: More brazen?
Chuck: Yeah, maybe more brazen. They just seem fuller; they just don't seem as thin. And that doesn't mean--my favourite Pet Shop Boys songs I like better than my favourite Depeche Mode songs. But there was something, and I don't know if I can put my finger on it, that Depeche Mode could do that the Pet Shop Boys were scared to do. In some ways--bizarrely enough I probably play Depeche Mode more than I play the Pet Shop Boys now, although I didn't like them anywhere near as much at the time. And there's a certain part of me that says what the Pet Shop Boys were were singer-songwriters pretending to be a dance band. And I never get that idea from Depeche Mode or probably even Duran Duran or Dead or Alive.
Scott: I don't know so much if they're singer-songwriters pretending to be a dance band; I think they're a dance band with a singer-songwriter sensibility, maybe. The obvious hook is that Neil Tennant is the singer-songwriter and Chris Lowe is the disco guy, or whatever.
Chuck: Yeah. I have a low tolerance for quote-cleverness. If it's only there to show me how clever the guy is, usually it winds up not sitting that smart.
Scott: I don't get that from the Pet Shop Boys.
Chuck: Umm, "Ché Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat." I wince at that. I wince at a lot of things, don't I? And I actually like that song a lot--which one is it?
Scott: "Left To My Own Devices." I think that's just, like, an honest reference...
Chuck: I don't.
Scott: He's referring to things...
Chuck: It sounds like he's patting himself on the back.
Scott: Things he grew up with, interesting influences on him.
Chuck: It sounds like he's patting himself on the back for something he should be ashamed of--no, he should be ashamed of Ché Guevara, maybe not Debussy. [laughs] I don't know anything about Ché Guevara or Debussy, or even what the song is about, and neither do you.
Scott: [laughs] David Bowie mentioned Ché Guevara.
Chuck: Yeah, that's right--yeah he mentions Ché Guevara better than [Neil Tennant]--what song is that in ?
Scott: "Panic in Detroit."
Chuck: I think the timidness in the Pet Shop Boys is in the singing, mainly. The albums are also just really uneven. I don't know, Introspective, it's kind of surprising--I mean, that must've been a really good year, because I do like that album a lot--or EP or whatever it is.
Scott: Yeah, I'm surprised that's not in your discography.
Chuck: The thing is, in a different year it may well have made it. And I fudged on the years a lot--I don't know if you've noticed that--I kind of explained that in the introduction to the discography. But it's just that there was nowhere to put it; it was either bumping a record I thought was much, much better, or--you know, probably if Introspective had come out, like, I don't know, two years ago, it probably would have made it easily.
Scott: Looking at your index now, the most mentions in The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll go to Bob Dylan, which may or may not surprise some people.
Chuck: I like what I say about Dylan in this book, and I hope people pick up on that, get it through their thick skulls that I'm not just...
Scott: Not just bubblegum and heavy metal.
Chuck: Well, not just that, I'm not just trying to be contrary; I mean Dylan is the ultimate rock critic icon--and I love him, you know? And I wish people--I don't know. The Philadelphia Inquirer profile really over-simplified what my writing is up to, and it makes me really conscious of, God, if this is what people think... I mean, people try to pigeonhole me as this person who just always tries to go against the rock critic grain, and I just don't read my writing that way. I think that's part of it, that's part of my writing, and I think it does make my writing better.
Scott: I think that's true naturally. I think it's a natural thing. I mean, you might not consciously set out to do that--I have no idea--but it does often read like that, but that is what makes your writing fun.
Chuck: But again, I think that's because I tend to pick things--why would I want to write about something that I'm going to say the same things that everyone else has said? I would just prefer not to write about it. I mean I wish, I wish somebody like Spin or the Voice would assign me a Courtney Love or a Beck record--I think I could write great about Beck. I see myself in Beck--and I think Beck and I have some of the same limitations, after seeing him live--but I don't know if I'll ever be assigned a Beck record or a Hole record or a Liz Phair record.
Scott: Have you ever approached them about doing one?
Chuck: I have.
Scott: And what, they've just pegged you as this...
Chuck: No, I think they think that I would just--I sometimes get the idea that they think that any criticism at all is more than those people deserve. I think they think I would be unfair, but I don't know, I would be fair.
Scott: You have had some stuff in there, though. Like you had that Living Color review--that's not so recent--but they were kind of an exalted band at the time.
Chuck: That was a while ago, but
Spin has never given me a lead review. Which is odd.
neil young's rhythm isn't a dancer
neil young's rhythm isn't a dancer
Chuck: You didn't ask me the Neil Young vs. Bruce Springsteen question.
Scott: What was that again? I can't remember...
Chuck: Why it is that I like Bruce Springsteen better than Neil Young? I think that they're both pretty corny songwriters.
Scott: Springsteen's a little cornier than Neil Young.
Chuck: I think Neil Young's cornier than people tend to give him credit for.
Scott: Now I do.
Chuck: No, I think even the classic stuff. I think Springsteen has more of a rhythm. I think I like Neil Young's voice better, I think I like his guitars better, but I think it's possible that maybe I value rhythm more. I think Springsteen rocked more. In Neil Young I hear just this folk drone. And when you say that you hear a rhythm in some of the early stuff, like "Cinnamon Girl," I have no idea what you're talking about. I just--to me it's like folk--I hear more rhythm in Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkel.
Scott: Well, I don't know how to explain it, but... put it this way, I do definitely agree in relation to the stuff he's done since Rust Never Sleeps. I think some of the stuff he's doing now, including the stuff that a lot of the critics like, it does sound really stodgy.
Chuck: I'm bummed out that I got rid of my copy of Trans. But that's just because we're in the techno-rave era now, so I wanna go back and get all of Neil Young's and Robert Palmer's and Mi-Sex's techno-rave records. [laughs] Plus he does a really good "Mr. Soul" on there, which would've completely fit in the book, because he did it as a sell-out song. I don't know how many versions of "Mr. Soul" he did in his life, but that's my favourite song by him.
Scott: Well that song has a good rhythm--that's Buffalo Springfield, though.
Chuck: Oh yeah, definitely, "Mr. Soul" sounds like a garage band, like a Stones record. But I don't hear--I don't know... he should have kept Rick James in his band. Wasn't Rick James in his band?
Scott: Right, the Mynah Birds.
Chuck: That was the big mistake of Neil Young's life, not keeping Rick James in the band. Maybe the big mistake of Rick James' life was not keeping Neil Young in the band. My opinion of Rick James is that there's not enough Neil Young in his music, and my opinion of Neil Young is that there's not enough Rick James in his music.
Scott: Do you like Rick James much?
Chuck: Actually, Street Songs made my discography.
Scott: It's a good record.
Chuck: It's the only one I've ever liked. Although he did invent Teena Marie, or he discovered Teena Marie.
Scott: Discovered, I think.
Chuck: He gave her a job so he could seduce her or something--that's my guess, I don't know anything about what their relationship was.
Scott: What were you referring to in the Philadelphia Inquirer profile when you described the late '80s as your "worst writing period"?
Chuck: You know, they got that wrong. I think that my early '90s... he misquoted me on that. My late '80s I like. I'm talking about the early '90s, probably late Doug Simmons, early Joe Levy [former Voice editors] years...
Scott: [laughs] They sound like genres!
Chuck: You know, it's weird, I go back and look at the Voice stuff then, and I'm talking about the stuff when Creem moved to California and I was doing the singles column. There is a--the energy in my writing is there, but I'm obviously fishing, and I wrote about a hell of a lot of records that I don't own anymore: Just Ice, and, I mean, I don't know what the fuck. And it's like, Tarrie B, and some woman, who I guess was an R&B-type woman that I reviewed in the Voice--I can't even remember her name [Chuck later told me it was Alisha Randolph--scott]. I don't even know if I played the album again after I reviewed it, and I gave her a pretty glowing review. I honestly can't remember her name. And I think at that time I really didn't like listening to music. I had stopped going to live shows, I was seriously thinking of getting out of it, and I just don't think that there's the joy--I would think, I would hope it's in my writing now--that there used to be. I think that there might be something perfunctory.
Scott: What was it? Why do you think that happened?
Chuck: Maybe those were shitty years for music. I don't know--I think that maybe I wasn't hearing what was good. I think I had burned myself out to a certain extent, and I hadn't been rejuvenated. I think one thing that's probably going through a lot of that writing is, I had started to come up with a bunch of theories, and I think the problem was I was plugging the music into the theories instead of trying to hear the music first. I can't remember what the hell those theories were. And I think that in a lot of those reviews I probably tried to write about the ideas and I don't talk about the music; and I'm better writing about--like anybody, I'm better writing about music than about theories about it.
Scott: How do you rank the '90s overall compared to the last four decades?
Scott: It's probably not something you've thought about.
Chuck: No, it's something I've thought a lot about, actually. Umm, I think for the first three years of the '90s I was convinced that most of the best stuff was happening outside the English-speaking world. I think I'm not that convinced of that anymore. I think the music here is getting better; I'm liking more and more. A couple years ago I liked maybe 12 albums--you know, just a few albums--and at the end of the year I would have trouble putting together a Top 10. I've already heard far far far more than that this year, so I think things are getting better.
But I'm completely evading the question. I think the '90s are nowhere near as good as the '80s, '70s, '60s, and '50s. I don't know if I can formulate why. I think that if you took the best records from the '90s they would not be among--if I did my 100 favourite records of the '90s, if those had come out in the '80s, they might not even be in the top 1,000, most of them. I think the '80s were pretty great, in retrospect... although I don't think I criticized the '80s that much even when they were around. The '80s are seeming better and better as time goes on; maybe the '90s will seem better ten years from now, I don't know. Just on the two genres I care most about--loud guitar rock and dance music--I mean, the '90s are nothing compared to the previous decades. I mean, they're a joke--they're pathetic.
And I can admit now that, yeah, there is more to techno than I imagined, but compared to disco, I mean techno is--for one thing, techno is not disco, techno is progressive rock. It has more in common with progressive rock than with disco. And I mean, the best techno-rave records--records associated with that genre; by techno I don't mean "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer or Cerrone--the best '90s techno-rave records would not be among--I mean, the very best ones would not be among the 1,000 best disco records, I don't believe. "Born Slippy" is a pretty good record for the first three of its 35 minutes, but, you know, in the context of disco it's nothing. And that made my Top 10 last year; I think most years in the '80s it wouldn't have made my Top 50. I think my favourite record of the '90s might be "El Matador" [by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs]--I just saw Grosse Pointe Blank, they play it in there.