Chuck E...So Addictive, Part 2
By Steven Ward
Steven: This might be a stupid question, but how did a heavy metal writer like you avoid the teen metal fan mags like Circus and Hit Parader? And what did you think of those magazines?
Chuck: Well, a) I wasn't a heavy metal writer. And b) I don't even know that they would've had me. I mean, Creem, I liked more--I don't know if they paid more--I was living in Michigan, so Creem was geographically closer to me, but I didn't really know that much about Hit Parader or those other metal magazines. I have been printed--I think in Rip! once, but usually it's stuff I'd done--usually if I got printed in those magazines it was pieces I'd done for somebody else that got killed, so I just sort of sent them around. I had a Motorhead thing that ended up running in Rip!, an interview with Lemmy. But, I don't know--it wasn't like I was aiming for those magazines, and I think that--I honestly don't even know that much about those. My daughter now buys--who's 12--I went back to Philly last weekend, and she bought an issue of Metal Edge. It didn't seem that good, but she bought Terrorizer out of England which seemed really cool. They had their Top 50 metal albums of the year, and--this is another tangent, but, umm, humor me--and it was a pretty cool Top 50 'cause not only did it have Radiohead and Nick Cave as two of the best 50 metal albums of the year, it had three underground hip-hop albums: Cannibal Ox, Techno Animal, and 2nd Gen. Not to mention a lot of pretty cool-sounding gothic stuff. I'm kind of into the Scandinavian gothic stuff, but stuff that I'd never heard of, along with, like, the Slayer album, the Tool album, or whatever. And so, it was interesting to me because their definition of heavy metal was probably almost as wide as the Stairway to Hell definition. And it's the first metal magazine I've seen since--although Kerrang! might be that way, I don't really see Kerrang!--it was one of the first metal mags I've seen since Creem Metal that I've seen--and it's not like I look at metal magazines, so I could be completely wrong--that allowed itself to use that wide a definition. And it had Top 10s by people--you were allowed to vote for singles too--and one person voted for Moldy Peaches, one person voted for the Strokes, one person voted for "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child, one person voted for "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve and Gwen Stefani. So at any rate, my daughter's buying heavy metal magazines now, and she's a big Kittie fan. I don't know what that has to do with the question!
Steven: Well, it was just about teen metal mags.
Chuck: I don't know, I never had that much interest in them and they never had that much interest in me. Which was good, because the feeling was mutual!
Steven: You wrote for Creem in the '90s--and before that, of course--and in the early '90s you wrote a cover story...
Chuck: About Def Leppard.
Chuck: Yeah, you know it's funny, I think you said that you really liked that piece--I don't think it's all that great a piece. And maybe it is good, but I'm kind of embarrassed about it, 'cause I'm writing about this Def Leppard album that is really bad. [laughs] What is it called, Adrenalize or something?
Steven: Yes, Adrenalize. That's one of my favorite pieces by you.
Chuck: I don't remember it being a very good album, and it's weird because it's one of those deals that you have to do as a freelance rock critic, where you really liked the previous album [laugh], so, you--okay, I'm gonna interview this band! And I didn't particularly like that record.
Steven: Well, you wrote about it like you liked it...
Chuck: But, I might have found interesting things to say about it...
Steven: You did...
Chuck: But as I remember, it's kind of a lame record.
Steven: Well, what happened is, I read that article and then I backtracked to Stairway to Hell. I think that was the article where I discovered your stuff.
Chuck: See, I also find it--I mean, I'm flattered by that--but I also find it interesting because I just consider that whole era of Creem like this really…I mean, it wasn't even the real Creem. Once they moved out to L.A.--and I think I was doing maybe a monthly singles column, and occasional record reviews, I don't think I did a whole lot of features, but it's just like...for one thing, that's probably the worst era of my writing. It's all so like...I mean, the early '90s, I think my writing is probably kind of lame during those years. I think I was probably fishing both for places to write and things to write about. I mean, that's probably the closest I came, and apparently this happens to a lot of rock critics when they're around 30. I think I was feeling pretty burned out, and I think if I had gotten out of it, that's when I would have done it. And it seems to be the age where a lot of people, a lot of rock critics, do get out of it. But any rate, that has nothing to do with the article, and I'm glad you liked the article...
Steven: That's how I discovered you.
Chuck: But it's kind of funny, it just, it looks ugly, and, it's like--I wrote it for the fake Creem! But anyway, I'm glad that you liked it.
Steven: Writing for Creem--not in the '90s, but before that--was there some kind of history there for you?
Chuck: Oh, it definitely had a history. And I mean, when I say I can't remember jumping up and down the first time I wrote for them--which I might be wrong, maybe I just don't remember jumping up and down--I definitely, at least until it left Birmingham [Michigan], and when it looked like the old Creem, before it moved to L.A. and turned into that bigger tabloid piece of shit, I definitely felt part of the history. And I would seek out, when I could find them, those old Creems. And probably in some ways I was consciously molding my style off not any one particular writer, but just the writing style of that old Creem. And what's weird is that in the late '80s--it might actually apply more to Creem Metal than to Creem itself--was that you had these people who could write about music and were so knowledgeable, but at the same time they wouldn't really take it that seriously, they kind of knew that it was a joke. And it wasn't like, look at us, we're making a joke, ha ha, aren't you impressed, that kind of smug thing that you get in Spin, which is just fucking despicable! I mean, there is such a difference between the kind of humor in Creem and, you know, the forced kind of humor that Spin would attempt. But it was loose, and it was funny, and there were real individual stylists, and I don't just mean the big names, but I mean people like Gregg Turner or Richard Riegel or Rick Johnson, who were just fucking brilliant! I mean, they were unbelievably funny, and unbelievably smart. And they had unbelievably individual voices. And it's really the only time I think that happened in the course of rock criticism. And it wasn't just in the '70s; I think that probably from the '70s through to the time they went bankrupt in Michigan, there really was that feeling there. And I'm not saying it was a feeling in the offices, it was a feeling in the magazine. That's the only time--I mean, outside the Village Voice music section, which is different--but it's the only time I really felt part of something bigger, and it probably helped my writing in a lot of ways. Writing for Rolling Stone and Spin never made my writing better; it never motivated me. In Creem, you just want to be as good as those other guys. You wanted to be as smart as them, you want to be as funny as them. So yeah. And I mean, the captions were funny...
Frank Kogan has explained--and I don't know whether this makes sense or not--that, what happened to rock criticism--he might be totally full of shit as far as this point goes--but, that at first it was something that came out of rock and then it turned into something that came out of journalism. And Creem may have been the high point of, like--although the metal magazines probably still do it, and probably certain teen magazines, or whatever--it's like...Creem came out of rock. I'm not wording that right, and maybe Frank worded it better, but the magazine did what the music did, and that's such a fucking cliche, but...just the letters section in Creem was so smart and so funny. My guess is that there will never be another music magazine like that, but maybe there will--and maybe there is one, maybe it's online or somewhere, I don't know.
Steven: Of all the editors you've worked for over the years, does one stand out as teaching you something invaluable, and if so, which one?
Chuck: Yeah, there's ones that stand out for me in ways that...I would never fucking do that as an editor! Probably the editors that taught me most were the really bad ones and I'm not gonna say who they were. You know, the ones who would always insist on there being a "nut graph" for a piece, or would randomly rearrange your paragraphs, or stick words like--you know, meaningless words like "nu metal" in articles, you know? Or, you know, when you're talking to them on the phone it completely sounds like they're doing something else. [laughs] But, I mean Christgau's a great editor. Christgau is, I mean, he is almost a scarily good editor, in the sense that he can really see through bullshit. I mean, he knows...and what's weird is that he seems to be able to do this with all different types of writers--writers who write like him, and writers who write nothing like him. He's really sympathetic with their voice--he makes you do your voice better.
Steven: Yeah that's what everybody says...
Chuck: And he will really be able to single out lines, he'll be like, "Chuck, you know that that's a cliche." And I think he's the only editor who's ever been really able to see through my shit like that. I mean, I think that his opinions--I know he wasn't a fan of Stairway to Hell, and I think he's really wrong not to be a fan of Stairway to Hell. I think that he doesn't like when writing goes off in tangents, the way my writing does in Stairway to Hell, except that in Stairway to Hell it works. And Stairway to Hell would be far worse, far stiffer, far blander, and say far less about music, if it didn't go off on tangents. So, he couldn't have edited Stairway to Hell; he would've been a bad editor for Stairway to Hell. For the Voice, he was a great editor. And a lot of my writing in the Voice would not have been as good if he had not edited it. I mean, he stands out. There were other people who were definitely good, too, but he stands out.
Steven: Does Frank Kogan still publish Why Music Sucks?
Chuck: Umm, not as far as I know. I don't know. I mean, it seems like one came out last year or something, or the year before, but I think it was old stuff and I think it took him forever to put it out. I mean, I don't know 'cause I wouldn't have time to write for it if he did.
Steven: How did you become aware of Frank's magazine, and what about it did you love so much?
Chuck: Umm, oh God, you're kind of going back.
Steven: Yeah, I know, but it was a fanzine that you used to write for...
Chuck: Yeah, no, I really liked that and I really liked Radio On, Phil Dellio's thing, and...oh God, I haven't really thought about it that much lately. I don't know whether I was aware of Frank's writing through stuff he had done in the Voice [in the mid '80s]. But, I don't know...Why Music Sucks and Radio On are the two fanzines that I know of that came closest to pulling off what Creem pulled off, in that it was like the writers were having a conversation with each other, and they really spurred themselves--they spurred each other to be better writers, to be more humorous, to be smarter, and it was just like a great fucking group of people! I mean, you had--honestly, probably the best people who were writing about music during those periods were writing for those two fanzines. And they were writing way better--I include myself in this--for those fanzines than they were for the professional 'zines.
Steven: Are you talking about people like Arsenio Orteza...
Chuck: No, I'm talking about people like Rob Sheffield. I mean, Arsenio, I don't know if he ever wrote that much for professional magazines outside of the Christian version of National Lampoon. [laughs] I'm kind of--I don't know, maybe I'm giving him shit, or the Louisiana Entertainer or whatever...
Steven: Oh the Times of Acadiana--he writes for the Times.
Chuck: I don't know, who else was in those places? Jack Thompson and Michael Freedberg and Sheffield...
Steven: Chris Cook?
Chuck: I mean, a lot of those people weren't really professional critics. I mean, Chris Cook and Liz Armstrong and Arsenio Orteza and Don Allred and Phil Dellio...I mean, some of them were and some of them weren't. And some of them I can't really remember if they were, but...Sara Sherr--I'd have to pull out the issues. Plus Mary Gaitskill sometimes and Luc Sante--Now I'm talking about people who I'm intimidated about editing! They're just--they're way beyond being music critics. Those are great writers who happen to write about music once in a while--you know, Gaitskill and Sante. Those magazines worked as a conversation in the way Creem did, although it's a really tiny--a real fractional version of Creem. I think Kogan said once that if Teena Marie was the Empire State Building, Sophie B. Hawkins was an ant standing next to the Empire State Building, but she was a really great ant. And probably if Creem was the Empire State Building, Why Music Sucks and Radio On were like ants standing next to it--they were Sophie B. Hawkins. But they were better than anything else at the time, and I mean, it's a shame that they didn't get bigger...and what was really cool was that there were probably writers who were really bad in them too [laughs], but somehow the bad writers made it better too; it really was the-whole-was-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kinda thing.
Maybe they were really insular--I don't know, I don't read them that way, but maybe Creem was really insular at the time too. Maybe Creem was insular in a way that Rolling Stone or Spin aren't--I don't know. I don't believe that it was, but maybe if Creem--or to a greater extent Why Music Sucks or Radio On--had a limitation, maybe it was a really closed conversation. I don't think it was: I think people wrote in those magazines how people talk in a bar about music, or over dinner, or in the hallway. And I don't think that people in Rolling Stone or Spin, or even the Village Voice do talk that way. I mean, sometimes they do, and probably more in the Voice than in Rolling Stone or Spin. I would hope more in the Village Voice since I've taken over as Editor. But, they [R.O. and WMS] gave you the freedom to fuck around, and I don't see why people shouldn't fuck around when they're writing about music. It's how people talk about music, you know. It's like the gravity or the importance of a quarrel in a bar, or an argument on a playground. I don't mean a fist fight...
Steven: No, I know what you're saying.
Chuck: It gives it that intensity and that's what makes the music important--not some air of self-importance or whatever.
Steven: You touched on this earlier, but how many CD review pitches do you get a week? And as an editor, are you on the lookout for new writers, new voices?
Chuck: That's two different questions. I get tons. I'll get e-mails...I don't know, in a given week? If someone sends me an e-mail and they pitch me four different records, does that count as four or does it count as one? Or if they want to review two together? I get, I don't know, somewhere between 20 and 50, maybe.
Steven: Does it bother you that you get so many?
Chuck: Of course not. I mean, is it a lot of work? Yeah! But, no, I like getting them, and I'll tell writers to send me clips--I wanna be familiar with somebody's writing before I give them an assignment, and I tell them, when you send me a pitch, you need to prove to me two things: a) that the music you want to write about deserves to be covered; and b) that you can cover it better than anybody else in the world, that you can, you know, make me more interested in it, that you have more interesting things to say about it. And writers will make mistakes on both counts, you know what I mean? And I don't like when I get a pitch where it's just a list: "I want to write about the new M2M album, and…" you know, whatever, although writers I'm more familiar with I'm more open to that.
Steven: Well, the younger writers, they don't know how to make a pitch.
Chuck: Especially with new writers, it really doesn't give me anything to go on. The more familiar I am with the writer's work, the more they can get away with just saying...I mean, Joshua Clover can call me up and say, "I want to write about the new Creed record," and I'm not gonna be like, well, what do you have to say about the new Creed record, Joshua? Since, boy, I know Joshua would have really interesting things to say about the Creed record. RJ Smith can call me up and say, "I want to write about the new Eminem record or the new DJ Shadow record," you know, and I know he's gonna come up with a good piece. Whereas with new writers, or writers who aren't on the level of RJ Smith or Joshua Clover, whether they're new or not, I'm gonna make them prove it. And there's probably writers who think I'm an asshole for doing that, but the thing is, I have a really limited amount of space, there are things that have to be covered because they are important, and, especially for marginal records, I have nothing else to go on. And I have to weigh the different possibilities--I want my section to be as good as it possibly can be. And there are certain--that means that I can't assign everything to everybody. And if somebody is not a great writer, I'm gonna be really picky, and I'm probably gonna shoot down nine out of every ten pitches--or maybe ten out of every ten pitches. And there is no other way I can do my job that I know of.
Steven: Do you have any favorite rock magazines that you read today?
Steven: What are you reading, music journalism-wise?
Chuck: I mean, I barely have time to read the Times, you know, in the morning. Honestly--and this is gonna sound really haughty--I probably read more music criticism in the Times than anywhere else except the Voice these days. Since I live in New York and since I get it delivered. And honestly, I didn't even get a subscription to the Times until after September 11! But, look, I have a pile of books that I'm more interested in. I'll tell you my stack of books that I want to read, that I'm more interested in than keeping up with music magazines, although I'm really easily diverted, like when my daughter Coco brought home Terrorizer, I knew that I should be reading the Times, but [laughs] I was drawn to reading all these gothic metal reviews. But okay, I have: this book called The Testosterone Advantage Plan, which I got through Men's Health, which I subscribe to (I had to subscribe to something since my daughter was selling subscriptions for school!); I've got a book called Sports Talk by a guy named Alan Eisenstock, The Good Cook's Book of Mustard by Michele Anna Jordan, Miles to Go, which is a Miles Davis biography by Chris Murphy--a lot of these I just bring home from work; Whose Detroit?, which is a history of Detroit, the Labor movement and stuff, by Heather Ann Thompson...is this really boring?
Steven: No, it's interesting.
Chuck: Umm, Time Travel in Einstein's Universe by J. Richard Gott...I won't tell you the authors anymore. Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media in the Post-war Suburbs, a novel called All Families are Psychotics by Douglas Copland, A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow, which is a novel, it could be bad, I don't know, about hitch-hiking. Another novel, which is supposed to be the distaff version of High Fidelity, it's called To Be Someone. And my girlfriend just gave me for Valentine's Day, Ramiro Burr's Billboard's Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music. So, it's just like--when would I have time? I guess I'll read Rolling Stone and Spin because I get them in the mail--actually, my subscription ran out and I really need to get it back going. I really prefer reading Billboard.
Chuck: Yeah, I find it kind of interesting, plus it's stuff I don't really know about, you know, like the music industry, and I feel like I have to get more industry reporting in the Voice, by the way, it just seems like there's a lot going on lately. I would rather read Billboard than Rolling Stone or Spin or almost any music magazine, which doesn't mean the writing is better, it's just that it's kind of telling me stuff I don't already know, whereas Spin and Rolling Stone really aren't gonna tell me stuff I don't already know. But when I do get a copy of those, or Entertainment Weekly, I'll look and see what the lead review is, and I'll glance through to see what they review because it has some influence on me. I'll be like, "Oh! They gave the Joey Ramone album a lead review, they gave the Casey Chambers album a lead review. That never occurred to me that people would think of that as important." Those are two examples.
Steven: Plus you've got guys like Pareles and Christgau who do the occasional record review for Rolling Stone.
Chuck: I don't really read their stuff in Rolling Stone. I mean, I'll read Sheffield in Rolling Stone. And actually, the two writers, Sheffield, and now, Kelefa Sanneh--who I think is great. He's about 25, he went to Harvard, he did some hip-hop stuff for me. I think the last things he probably did were Dungeon Family and Outkast's greatest hits, he did Wu-Tang and Jay-Z. He's done a few pieces for me. But he was hired by the Times when Ann Powers left a couple months ago--those two, just because I really wish they had more time to write for me, I'll read their stuff. I mean, Sheffield's column in Rolling Stone, I assume it's still going on...
Steven: "PopEye"? I think so...
Chuck: If I'm waiting in an airport, I'll be like, oh look, Christgau reviewed these Arabic records in Rolling Stone, and I'll look at it, but usually it's stuff I heard him talk about for the last four months anyway! Like, I thought it was cool that he did the Arabic roundup in Rolling Stone, but a lot of that stuff had kinda been in the "Consumer Guide" already, so, you know...
Steven: Do you have the time to, or do you want to write a third book? Any plans for one?
Chuck: Do I want to, in theory? Yeah. Do I have the time? Right now, no. Do I know what it would be? No. Would I love having a third book on the shelves? Yes. Do I have the energy or the income to be able to write a third book? Probably not. Even as a freelance writer, I made less money the two years I wrote my books than in years I didn't write my books, 'cause I had to stop writing otherwise. If someone gave me a really huge advance, where I could take a couple years sabbatical from the Voice, to write my memoirs or to write the Great American Novel...[laughs] I mean, if someone gave me a lot of money to write a version of Stairway to Hell about, say, electronica, I think that would be really fun. You know, I lived in Germany for three years, I'm from Detroit, I know the history of techno. I do, man! I could write reviews of the 500 greatest techno albums, and it'd be, honestly, you wanna know what? It'd be better--I could write a better techno book than anyone else. And if someone thinks that's arrogant or full of shit, whatever. I could write a better guide to techno records than anybody else alive, I believe. BUT, I don't know that I'll ever do it, and I don't know that I'll ever be paid to do it. And I don't know when I would find time. I mean, I've written exactly one actual long article in the three years at the Voice--5,000 words on Kid Rock and Eminem, because it was Detroit-oriented.
I did the singles column for a while, which I still plan to do again. In fact, I woke up this morning, I have this like pile of singles, and, okay, I gotta listen to these. I have notes on about 20 singles, it's just a matter of sitting down at a typewriter and doing it. I'm at the office so much during the week, working on other people's writing--I write these little show previews, like 10 or 12 of those a week, they're in the middle of the paper--but it's like, and I have my kids every other weekend, and I have a girlfriend, and it's a matter of finding time to do it. Because I'm sitting at a keyboard--and these are all excuses, okay, I need to get these out in the air because the people want to know--but I'm sitting at a desk with a keyboard for hours and hours and hours every day, it's really hard for me to come home and do it, or to sit down on a weekend and do it. I got in a pretty good groove of doing that singles column, which is easier than writing long pieces 'cause I can kind of do it piecemeal, but then the Village Voice radio station started, and I became the Music Director, and started doing a regular show--that ended up taking a lot of time. September 11 happened, and I started putting together a benefit album that comes out in April, which I get a Producer credit for, and that took up a lot of time. I can put in a plug for it: it's called Love Songs to New York. That's why I'm doing this interview! Basically, we put ads in all the Voice-related papers and got thousands of entries from unknowns and stars and stuff, and I went through all of them--Douglas Wolk actually did a piece on the entries as a lead review a few weeks ago. My point is, between that and the radio station, I kind of got out of my groove doing the singles column, because in the time I would've worked on the singles column I wound up working on those two projects.
Steven: You miss the writing, huh?
Chuck: I absolutely miss writing, but apparently, I don't miss it enough to be doing it. Which is--I'm kind of mad at myself, but I just haven't been motivated. I mean, part of what motivated me as a freelance writer was that I had to do it for a salary. And obviously, if I write any articles on top of my editing I get paid for them, so I should be motivated the same way, but it's a matter of finding time to do it. And I miss it, I miss doing it, I miss seeing my name in print, I miss my opinions being out there, but I'm a fuckup, what can I say?
Steven: What was your take on the year 2000, the so-called "year of the rock critic"? You had rockcritics.com, you had the Bangs biography, you had the movie High Fidelity...
Chuck: It really seemed like a self-aggrandizing thing, and I don't give a shit about it. I mean, you know, whatever. But Almost Famous came out...
Steven: Yeah, Lester Bangs on the silver screen...
Chuck: And Meltzer's book...I don't know, it seems like almost coincidental that all those things happened at the same time, and I don't know. I mean, I have nothing against any of those things. There are things I dislike about Almost Famous or things I dislike about DeRogatis's book, there are things I dislike about Meltzer's book or Tosches' book, there are things I dislike about rockcritics.com, there are things I love about all of them, you know, but do I think they add up to anything? Not really.
Steven: Just coincidence?
Chuck: I mean, maybe if you're a rock critic who cares about it being the year of the rock critic, but for anyone else, I don't know. I guess it makes maybe the "profession" more visible to other people if there's a character in a movie, and I think there's another one coming out where the main character's a rock critic. I forget what it is...maybe I'm wrong. And High Fidelity came out, which has the second or third best scene about ordering records on your shelf, or the best scene about that since Diner, or whatever. And of course I could go off on a spiel, but it didn't really affect my life. Unless you're a rock critic who really wants to pat yourself on the back or you care about it being a respected profession--although what's kind of good about it is that it wasn't a respected profession, or not what was good about it, but maybe one thing that was good about it. I don't have a take on it. I guess I'm not even convinced it happened.
Chuck: No more than I'm convinced that 1991 was the "year that punk broke." Rock critics, probably like a lot of other writers, want to create some stupid headline for what the year was--that's their business--but for me it just seems like an over-simplification, and why someone would want to be drawn into doing that, I don't understand.
Steven: Any advice you'd give youngsters who want to become professional rock critics?
Chuck: Umm, I don't know. Don't. The thing is, there's more competition now than there ever has been. We sent out 1,100 "Pazz & Jop" ballots in December, I think we had 622 people vote, and there's more people writing about music now than there ever has been. I'm really kind of out of touch with how much people get paid for Web sites and dot coms and whatever you call 'em, but I'm under the impression--and this is a really obvious thing--that a lot of those went bust and people who were making money on them two years ago aren't now. Freelancing in general, with a lot of magazines in general going under, this is not a really good time to be a freelancer...
Steven: Some people don't even get paid!
Chuck: I'm a little bit out of touch with that, but that's certainly something I pick up both from writers and from what I read. But I don't know, there's more competition than ever, but if you love it and you're good at it, by all means, try, I guess.
Steven: Just don't send your pitches to me!
Chuck: Don't send your pitches to me if you suck! If you're great, send your pitches to me, send me clips. You know, people have always asked me, how do I go about becoming a rock critic? And I'm the last fucking person to ask, 'cause with me it was a complete accident, it honestly was. I mean, go to journalism school on an Army scholarship, join the Army, write an 11-page letter to the Music Editor of the Village Voice--who happens to be me now!--figure out what music no one else is writing about--preferably by people with really stupid haircuts…I don't know! It was all an accident. I mean, there were a series of accidents, but I don't know how you do it. Oddly enough, as someone who wound up with this job, which I think is probably a pretty envied job among rock critics, and I'm really glad I have it, and I love it, I really do love it, though it can sometimes be a pain in different ways--I was never particularly ambitious. It was never like, boy, someday I'm gonna be the Editor of the Village Voice, or even, someday I'm gonna be published in the Voice or Rolling Stone. I never said any of those things. If anything, I was really un-ambitious. And I fell through the right rabbit holes or something.
Steven: Chuck, I hope you're not gonna pull an Alan Light on us; I don't know if you know what I'm talking about.
Steven: Scott and I did this big long Q&A about what it's like to be the Editor of Spin, and we put the interview up, and a week later: "I've stepped down from Spin magazine." He didn't say a word!
Chuck: I thought you were gonna say he told you to pull the interview offline!
Steven: No, he just goes on and on about Spin, and how wonderful...
Chuck: Now you're making me worried that I'm jinxed or something.
Steven: No, no, no, he's the only person, but what was aggravating was that he didn't tell us in any way, shape, or form that, hey, I'm about to leave Spin...
Chuck: I'm the exact opposite, I honestly can't imagine what else I would do, you know? And if you asked me what I'm gonna be doing in five or ten years from now, it's just like, I mean, if I went back to freelance writing I wouldn't--I don't know how I could do it. It'd be like taking, you know, a salary cut of tens of thousands of dollars. And I would rather be at the Voice than at any of the other alternative weeklies, or any of the music magazines--I get more autonomy here. It's like a really dream gig. And maybe it's just for lack of imagination, but I can't figure out what else I would do. Now, other people have used it as a stepping stone to move to other places--to the New York Times or to Rolling Stone or whatever--or to bigger freelancing gigs--or to move upstairs within the Voice itself--but I don't...maybe it's even a psychological flaw, maybe it's like one of many reasons I should be in therapy, but I don't have those ambitions, you know? And it's really hard for me--in any situation I've ever been in my life--to imagine myself in other situations. [laughs]
No--I have no plans to leave the Voice, cross my fingers.
Steven: We have this three-way phone conversation thing coming out with Jim DeRogatis--in addition to a regular interview. He critiques the site.
Chuck: Did he say you guys lack integrity? [Laughs]
Steven: No. He's looking for more reportage and opinion...
Chuck: I agree with that. I think you should totally argue with me more!
Steven: He also has a problem with a lot of the people we've interviewed--guys like Gary Graff and Anthony DeCurtis.
Chuck: Well, my problem with it is why you guys are not interviewing Nick Catucci and Amy Phillips, who I think would make for really interesting interviews.
Steven: Well, you're probably right; Scott and I have talked a bit about this.
Chuck: It's like all these careerists. It's like--my biggest problem with the Web site is it's all interviews with U2 and Pink Floyd--I mean, who cares about U2 and Pink Floyd?
Steven: That's the thing--I do! That's my influence, not Scott's. We agree with some of the criticisms, and hopefully we'll make some changes. Anyway, this is actually the last question I have on my list.
Chuck: Aah, that was so fun. Okay. You didn't ask me any pointed questions! [laughs]
Steven: Well, that's true, maybe we'll do that after, but, this question, now don't say, "Well, I don't think I'm the new Robert Christgau or Lester Bangs," but, just as a premise that if you were the new Christgau or Bangs, back when you were at the height of your freelance career, who, if anybody, is the new Chuck Eddy out there today?
Chuck: I wouldn't want to say...
Steven: And I don't mean somebody who's copying you...
Chuck: I know you knew I would say that I don't think I ever was the new Christgau or Bangs, and as far as--whenever there's writers who try to write like me, I find it really really laughable. Look, I will tell you the young writers I really like, but I can't just think about one. And oddly enough, I've been blessed to have a bunch of them as interns for me at the Voice. I mean, the three that come off the top of my...okay, well, Kelefa Sanneh, who's at New York Times, is just fucking brilliant. He's great, he was not an intern for me, and I think he can end up doing--whatever he wants to do he'll end up doing. I think Nick Catucci's really good, I think Christian Hoard is really good, Amy Phillips is really good. Those last three started out as interns for me at the Voice. Umm, Irin Carmon probably could--my guess is she probably won't end up writing about music, it'll just be like a side thing; I just found out she's gonna be working at Newsweek this summer, she interviewed Elizabeth Wurtzel a few weeks ago, she's in her freshman year at Harvard, she could be really good, but my guess is she won't end up writing about music in the long run, although I'll give her assignments when she wants them. But you know, I should look at who else voted in the Voice poll, but Nick and Christian and Amy are all really smart, really funny, really original writers, I think. Umm, hmm...supposedly Ally Kearney, her web stuff, is like really great, I haven't seen that much of it. There could be people out there--Liz Armstrong could be really good, but she writes way better about herself than about music; I mean, she probably writes about herself as good as anybody, and oddly enough, a lot of girl rock critics--I mean, I wish guy rock critics...I mean, one of the reasons I was never the new Lester Bangs is I never wrote as good about myself as Lester did, and if there was a new Lester Bangs in the last 20 years, it probably was someone more like, umm--like, Sara Sherr and Amy Phillips and Lissa Townsend Rodgers all seem to write better about themselves than I ever did, and that's one thing that Bangs could do. So maybe they were all the new Lester Bangs, you know?
Steven: Yeah, I know you don't see yourself that way.
Chuck: Why was a woman not the new Lester Bangs? I don't know. I could go into stuff like why are those female writers not taken as seriously...
Steven: I guess what I was just asking is who's coming from an original and crazy place, just their own thing.
Chuck: Well, I'm a fan right now of Ramiro Burr, who's 45 years old and writes about Mexican crossover music for just about every newspaper in lower Texas, he's coming from his own place. You should look at his Top 10 in the "Pazz & Jop" poll, it's like he has a bunch of Mexican albums that nobody ever heard of, and he also votes for Incubus, Creed, and Clint Black's Greatest Hits! I mean, he's coming from his own place. Maybe Nick and Christian and Amy, maybe they're too tied up with what other rock critics like? I don't know that that's necessarily a bad thing, they're more in touch than if they were coming out of nowhere. I don't know--those are the three people that come to mind, but I'm sure there's other people that I'm not thinking of.
Steven: What about people like, I don't know, George Smith probably isn't young, but George Smith or Erik Davis?
Chuck: Erik Davis barely writes about music anymore. He wrote way more about music ten years ago. I don't know. I mean, George is great for what he does, but I mean, I believe he's in his mid 40s, and he...it's also like--and this is nothing against George because I think what he does he does great...but it's also possible to be too consciously out of touch with what everybody else does. I mean, George is good because he's really funny, and he really does have a way with language that I'm kind of in awe of, but just because none of the records you like are what other rock critics like doesn't make you good by definition.
Steven: You used to be accused of that!
Chuck: But I didn't! See, that's what's bullshit, I never only liked what other rock critics didn't like...
Steven: I know, I'm just saying...
Chuck: That's how I was perceived, but by idiots! And also, with George, music-reviewing is just a sideline hobby to his primary career as a scientist who's made a major name for himself by writing about computer virus myths and military technology and, especially in the wake of the anthrax scares last fall, chemical and biological warfare, but when it comes to music he mainly just writes about one thing, you know? And he writes great about that one thing, right? About a certain kind of guitar rock, but as far as somebody to be the "future" or whatever way you wanna put it, I would want them to be able to talk to me about bubblegum pop, techno, hip-hop, you know, emo, new no wave bands like Lightning Bolt from Providence and Brooklyn, you know? I mean, I would want them to be up on shit! I, I, I don't know, this is the first time I've gotten a little pissed--the idea of you picking those two guys out just because...
Steven: I'm just throwing names out there...
Chuck: Their musical taste basically sounds like music did in 1975--that's probably not as true of Erik--it's just like, it seems a little odd. I mean, I love Mike Saunders's stuff, too, but he's not the future of anything.
Steven: Well, the question wasn't about the future of anything, it was just, who out there today is--not copying you or heavily influenced by you--but like you in the sense that you came out of left field and had your own thing.
Steven: I have no idea who the future of rock criticism is, I don't know...
Chuck: There are probably other people I don't even know. There are "Pazz & Jop" ballots that look intriguing to me that I haven't even gone back and read, from, you know, underground hip-hop guys in San Francisco who write for the web or whatever, or some guy in Chicago who actually thinks that Tortoise is the beginning of everything else. Yeah, scoff at it, but the thing is, people scoffed at me. Wanna know what? It's probably someone who's taste I would scoff at, somebody whose tastes are so diametrically opposed to mine. It's probably somebody who thinks that alt-soul is this amazing thing, you know what I mean? It's probably not somebody who really likes teen pop and metal. I mean, I hope that their ears would be open to it, but if there is a new Chuck Eddy, I hope it's somebody who writes nothing like me and their tastes have nothing to do with mine.