Thursday, April 20, 2006

END OF AN ERA, FOR GOOD OR ILL

Effective tomorrow, Chuck Eddy is no longer the music editor of the Village Voice. He's being succeeded by Rob Harvilla, of the East Bay Express. I have a few thoughts about this.

When I first began pitching reviews to Chuck (before I realized that Chuck was much more likely to run things I simply wrote and sent him, on spec), I was very nervous about my prospects, for two reasons that didn't quite match up. On the one hand, I thought I wasn't well-known enough to write for the Voice. Even though I wasn't intimately familiar with the work of a lot of the reviewers there, I figured they had to be "somebodies" within the rockcrit world I still viewed myself as standing on the fringes of. (I still kinda see myself that way, if only because there are pockets of rockcritland that are so damn incestuous that 90 percent of the scribbling community probably feels that way, looking at those folks running around in their tiny, backslapping/blogrolling circle.) On the other hand, I really, really hated about 80 percent of what was being published in the Voice music section, and I thought that was Chuck's fault. Most of the reviews were smarmy nonsense, packed full of puns and in-jokes and references that only hardcore indie-rock nerds would a) give a shit about and/or b) find funny. A lot of them were gimmicky, written as fake diary entries or open letters to the artist or fake diary entries supposedly by the artist or imaginary dialogues...you get the idea. Wanky bullshit. And I figured that Chuck wanted it that way. In fact, I figured wanky bullshit was the Voice house style, since I mostly knew Chuck as a guy who claimed to like metal but then lionized the worst things about it, or called things metal that to my ear definitely, even defiantly, were not metal, like Teena Marie. So I was afraid that if I did manage to get a piece picked for publication, it would be "edited" until it read like all the crap I was reading, and hating, and hoping to provide some kind of sensible, this-album-sounds-like-this-and-is-worth-buying counterpoint to.

Well, Chuck turned out to be one of the best editors I've ever written for, with the guy who edited my Miles Davis book only slightly nudging ahead of him in my heart, because I have more attached to the book than to the 200 words I wrote about Grave's Back From The Grave (my first-ever Voice credit). What Chuck's deal was/is, for the benefit of whoever gets edited by him wherever he lands, is this: he makes you the best writer you can be. If you're a smarmy indie-rock jagoff, he will polish your phrases and paragraphs, word by word if necessary, until you're the best smarmy indie-rock jagoff you can be. He will give you extra rope with which to hang yourself, but it's all up to you, ultimately.

I became a better writer because I knew what I was writing would reach Chuck Eddy's eyes before it reached those of the Voice readership (which included a shitload of my fellow rock critics, and probably will continue to include them, no matter how much some of them may be claiming they won't look at the paper under Rob Harvilla). I still didn't like most of the other pieces he ran. I thought his refusal to acknowledge real-world considerations like album release dates, commercial success or lack thereof, or local hooks (is a band coming to town, can consumers actually purchase the music in question in local stores, etc.) hurt the paper, even while I benefited from said refusal. But ultimately, he did way more good than harm. And yeah, his ouster does kinda mark the end of an era, because Harvilla, despite his own merits as a writer and editor, will not be permitted to be that freewheeling even if he wants to (and I kinda doubt he does). I don't think Chuck leaving the Voice is any kind of death-of-music-criticism moment, as a bunch of melodramatic blogger/critics (and, yeah, personal friends of Chuck's) would have it. Dorks who wanna gas on about the thing they downloaded last night have message boards and blogs to do it on. And the dorks who wanna read that stuff will find it (they're mostly all blogrolling each other already anyway).

(I published 11 reviews in the Voice during Chuck's tenure - if you feel like reading them all, you can click here.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This comment is unrelated to this post, but I found a brief blurb on your book thought you might be interested:

http://www.visualgui.com/?p=634

J T. Ramsay said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Some of my friends on noise board were equally nonplussed with much of The Voice's coverage and certainly with the so-called cult of Chuck that frequented ILX.

As someone who feels even more on the boundaries than yourself (and justifiably so) it was just as unclear to me whom he would publish, and now that I've learned so much about his agnosticism on pop styles and release dates, etc. I regret not pitching him.

Conversely, I learned to love waiting out the street dates although I agree that timeliness matters more to the reading public and less to the critics themselves. It's a funny discursive community, but I feel that Chuck was really able to construct his page to satisfy the public as well as other critics, which is what made it such a rich resource to begin with!