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Book review: 'Rock and Roll Always Forgets'

Longtime pop music critic Chuck Eddy offers previous writings and fresh insights in his curmudgeonly yet entertaining style.

November 03, 2011|By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Chuck Eddy's "Rock and Roll Always Forgets."
Chuck Eddy's "Rock and Roll Always Forgets." (Duke University Press Books )

Few longtime pop music critics have been as fearlessly unhip in both their likes and dislikes, have been so willing to accept oft-ignored music on its own terms and have been as rock 'n' roll as Chuck Eddy, writer, former Village Voice music editor, self-described curmudgeon, ex-Army captain and hair-metal expert.

Eddy's work is compiled in "Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism," a career overview whose very title is contrarian: The writer's got a problem with the premise of Bob Seger's hit song "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." He offers evidence with the lost artists, one-hit wonders, egocentric blowhards and various inspired eccentrics that he's championed since writing early-1980s pieces on a budding genre called "rhymed funk," soon dubbed rap music.

The writer, who grew up outside of Detroit, rose within a discipline whose first generation — most notably Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Ellen Willis and the Creem magazine posse of Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs and Jaan Uhelszki — was gradually being out-screamed by younger critics reared on '70s punk and metal. Rolling Stone's hegemony was starting to give way to fanzine culture and serious consideration of music to the left of Boz Scaggs, Eric Clapton and the rest of the rock patriarchy that Jann Wenner's budding empire had constructed.

As polarizing as he was prescient, Eddy predicted the rise of Northwest rock a half-decade before it exploded, chronicled the first generation of Detroit techno artists — he compared electronic producer Derrick May to Cecil Taylor in 1989 — enthused about Radiohead's pre-breakthrough record "The Bends" and wrote one of the best early profiles of Eminem (without even getting an interview with him).

Eddy's writing on heavy metal, which is compiled in a section called "Umlauts From Heck," offers similar attractions as his 1991 book, "Stairway to Hell," a rousing, joyful romp through the best, worst and most ridiculous of the '80s and early '90s heavy metal bands. That tome, which listed Eddy's 500 greatest heavy metal albums of all time (including records by the Osmonds and Teena Marie), inspired at least one young North Dakota metalhead to take up arms.

And as Chuck Klosterman writes in an introduction about his first exposure to Eddy's work: "To this day, I've never found a book with as much voice-per-square-inch than 'Stairway to Hell.' It was so funny. It was so maddening. It made no sense. Jimi Hendrix was boring? White Lion was a blues band? Black Sabbath was a jazz band? Poison's second record was better than 'Houses of the Holy'? How could someone with a real job like Poison more than I did?"

"Rock and Roll Always Forgets" includes both previously published material and new interludes that connect dots and put the excerpts in a context. It's just as maddening, just as argumentative, just as random: In a single sentence, for example, Eddy cuts down nearly every canonical hip-hop group of the so-called "golden age": "By the late '80s, I was already giving up on rap music," he writes, then proceeds to dismiss Eric B. and Rakim, De La Soul, N.W.A. and Boogie Down Productions. For good measure, he adds that he once described A Tribe Called Quest as making music for "Afrocentric upwardly mobiles who didn't want to dance anymore."

Of course, another way to frame his knack for being a brave contrarian is to say that he's wrong a lot of the time. It's hard to defend, in hindsight, his contention that rapper Rakim is the Emerson, Lake and Palmer of hip-hop, even if it's a funny thought — especially armed with the knowledge that one of Eddy's favorite recent records was by a minor league party rapper named Bigg Robb.

But that's to be expected, considering what he says are his listening habits these days: "I'm that grumpy old guy yelling at all those pesky little Grizzly Bear fans to get offa my lawn."

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