Chuck Eddy, the music critic with the sensationalist, foaming-at-the-mouth viewpoints, has spent the past 30 years voraciously consuming new records. And he is almost full.
“The first litmus test is looking at the press release, and if it compares the band to Bon Iver, Animal Collective, or Grizzly Bear, chances are that I’m not going to get to that one,” Eddy says. “And that’s going to be a lot.”
In an essay accompanying the 2009 Pazz & Jop poll that appears in his new book, the idiosyncratic and tireless Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism (Duke), Eddy bemoaned the decline of “salt-of-the-earth stuff” like Bruce Springsteen in “the most whimsically insular prissy-pants indie-rock-centric Top 10 albums list in Pazz & Jop history.” Eddy blamed a contracting journalism industry for forcing out career music crits in favor of will-work-for-free Internet avant-gardists who follow Pitchfork’s every move.
Eddy had a good vantage point: He edited the Voice music section from 1999 to 2006 and was obsessed with Pazz & Jop. While at the University of Detroit in the late ’70s, his discovery of the annual critic’s poll turned him on to rock and roll and diverted his attention from his parents’ deaths. Later, while stationed in Germany with the Army, he submitted to then-music editor Robert Christgau an 11-page “manifesto” that inspired Christgau to start routinely publishing critics’ comments.
But since moving to Austin, Texas, in 2009 with his second wife and their three-year-old daughter, Eddy’s priorities have shifted. He listens to music of yesteryear, he has stopped going to therapy, and he has curbed his worst addiction. “The last couple years, I haven’t submitted comments to Pazz & Jop,” Eddy says. “I’m detaching myself from the conversation in some ways. Like, I kind of don’t care about having an opinion about the Jay-Z and Kanye album.”
Eddy, 50, is still in the game: He works as a contract editor for the online music service Rhapsody and continues to serve as a go-to expert for heavy metal, the topic of his cult-classic book Stairway to Hell. But as a matter of the shrinking music-crit landscape, Rock and Roll Always Forgets feels like a swan song.
It will leave behind a legacy that at first blush seems devoutly contrarian, though according to Eddy, that definition has been misapplied his whole career. “A lot of what I write about—this goes for Debbie Gibson, who I wrote about in 1988 or whatever—is stuff that’s out there that just seems like it’s part of the world that’s being ignored,” Eddy says.
Rock and Roll champions a number of these acts with proprietary arguments, whether heralding Huey Lewis’s Sports in the context of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint or asserting that country acts Montgomery Gentry and Toby Keith were tops in all music genres in the ’00s because of their anti-red politics “in a nightmare conservative decade getting its wars on.”
At the heart of the book, though, is a man dealing with the loss of his parents. This is a refrain in many of the chapter introductions, written last year in a state of life-spanning reflection. The subject also figures in his profile of Eminem, “The Daddy Shady Show: Eminem’s Family Values,” in which Eddy tangentially equates the rapper’s against-all-odds struggle to be a good dad with his own.
Eddy’s unflinching ability to connect the dots between what he’s hearing and what he’s living makes Rock and Roll an electric read. It should trip wires in the minds of not just aspiring and current critics but also casual listeners who might not realize how much is below the surface of what they’re hearing. “This,” Eddy says, “is what music criticism used to be capable of.”