Well, I’m Chuck Eddy. I am actually 56. I'll be 57 in November. I'm in Austin.
And I've been writing about music since -- well, really, since 1979, but I think I've been getting paid to do it since probably early '84. [Laughs.] So, that's, like, 33 years. I've written four books: Stairway to Hell, The Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll -- Stairway to Hell is a guide to heavy metal. I also wrote The Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll and then two collections: Rock 'n' Roll Always Forgets and Terminated for Reasons of Taste, which came out in the last five years. I was the music editor at the Village Voice for six and a half years or so, like, around 1999 to 2006. And then I worked at Billboard, the music business magazine, for about a year and a half. I've freelanced over the last three decades for, gosh, everywhere. [Laughs.] Rolling Stone, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Creem Magazine back when it used to exist, and on and on and on.
[Laughs.] You sound like me. It gets to a point where it just becomes a soup of names. I always worry, like, whether you seem standoffish or like you're trying to dazzle people with name-dropping.
No, I'm just trying to sum it up! I've never done anything for The New York Times. [Laughs.] There's some places I've never done anything for. I don't know. [Laughs.] Most places out there, I think I have at least now and then. I still do stuff. I just did a Kid Rock for Billboard a couple days ago. But a lot of what I do now is curating or archiving playlists of radio stations and so on for streaming services. I've been doing stuff for Rhapsody, I think, since 2008. I've done stuff for other places I'm not even allowed to name. [Laughs.]
Yeah, just contractually not.
No, I understand.
A lot of them are signed, and so, I think they just want to just assume that the work comes out of the ether. [Laughs.] But, anyway, that kinda sums it up.
This is kind of a leading question to start with, but I always think it's interesting to talk to writers and critics about the work they do on a bigger picture level. You may disagree with the wording of this and if you do, that's fine: How is your life better because you write about music?
Oh God, it's not. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I said it might be leading.
If you were to ask me that 10 or 20 years ago, I mean -- gosh. I wish I -- I don't know, had been an architect or gone to law school or something. Although I know people in those fields -- I've gone into academics and only had a bachelor's degree in journalism, actually. Before I wrote about music I covered zoning commissions and sewage boards and sports for suburban weeklies in Michigan.
I mean, I don't know. I think I've been lucky. For years I got free records in the mail. [Laughs.] And then CDs and then records and CDs and now I only get free MP3s in my email which I just delete without listening to them, pretty much. But, you know, I got four books out of it. Writing at times can be satisfying in its own right. I have managed to do it and I've managed to make a semblance of a living for 35 years. So I obviously I feel really lucky. But at the same time, would I have more retirement savings if I had gone a different route?
I mean, I graduated high school and my high-school guidance counselor was like, "Why are you going into journalism?" I did way better in my SATs on math scores. I was like 99 percentile and maybe 65 percentile verbal. And I feel like if I had gone into tech in the late '70s and early '80s, you know, I could retire by now. At this point, who knows whether I'll ever be able to "retire." But at the same time, it's been fun in a lot of ways. So, I shouldn't complain.
No, I don't perceive it as complaining. This is the reality that we're all in the soup together on.
I don't hear -- I'm 34 -- at my age level worrying about retirement, but I'm very conscious and aware of that fact. I’m worried.
Yeah. The thing is, I have siblings who have retired, who are younger than me. And I know people my age and I'm like, "Retiring?" It's just beyond me.
But at the same time, I think if I even go on a different writing route -- for some reason I found my voice writing about music, starting in college. I mean, I could have been a local reporter somewhere or whatever but immediately I was doing stuff for the Village Voice and places like that when I was 20 years old. So, I kinda fell into it.
Is it a thing that you're able to compartmentalize? Like, are you able to listen to music and not think about angles to write about? Can you just be present and enjoy listening to music?
My entire life is compartmentalized, David. [Laughs.] I had a really traumatic childhood so you have no idea. [Laughs.]
You know, I finish one chapter of my life, I close the door and don't look back. But that's not the kind of compartmentalizing you're talking about.
As far as toning stuff, I mean, I don't know. I have a nine-year-old daughter and I write better if she's at daycare or at school. [Laughs.] It's easier to focus. But, I mean, everything goes into my writing. One of the advantages if you actually look at my books is when I write about music, I also write about politics and baseball and zoology and anything else I'm obsessed with and what I'm reading and what I'm watching on TV. And parenting, I mean, I have kids. I always have. And I've mostly been allowed to do it. I mean, depending on -- some places I could do it more than other places. And that -- and I probably don't do first person as much as I used to, like 20 years ago. But I still pull all sorts of stuff in. So, I don't compartmentalize -- I guess I'm not completely sure what you're asking, so I'm just kind of Rorschaching here.
No, that's fine.
But I don't compartmentalize in the sense of, like, separating music from everything else because people don't listen to it a context of --
My question is not directly about burnout.
But it's more -- I think for people who write about entertainment, they reach a place where they feel like they can't even engage with entertainment because it just feels like work.
Oh, yeah. One thing I've noticed and actually I've written about this some and I noticed it a lot when I was at the Village Voice, which is one of the great gatekeeper jobs of music criticism for decades. That was the goal of writers, to write there. Music critics -- I mean, really, you're not entirely, but in a lot of ways you're talking about music that's made for young people.
When writers hit early thirties, a lot of them -- and this may happen more with male writers than women, but a lot of them hit this kind of crisis. In fact, I did, for a couple years in the early '90s. I was like, "Why am I still doing this?" It winds up and you start phoning it in maybe a little bit. It seems like a lot of them either get out or they muddle through. But it almost seems like for people who make this career, that's the time. It's like this weird hump. I've talked to a lot of music critics about that and they're like, "Yeah, I totally see that."
But, I mean, right now in a lot of ways I am kind of burned out. Which means I feel like I'm lucky because I can do a lot of things now that's not writing, that's kind of more -- see, I like databases. When I was at the Voice, I had a really good filing system.
One thing I didn't mention is I was in the army for four years in the early '80s. I ran a communication security vault. I was a Signal Corps officer. A lot of the on-the-ground-stuff, like being out in the woods for a month, I could do without. But filing systems? I'm good at filing systems.
And so, a lot of this glorified database stuff I do with streaming services, I kind of find it relaxing. I've written less and less. In fact, the Kid Rock thing I wrote over the weekend after he announced his running for Senate in Michigan that I did for Billboard, they emailed me Friday. I started talking to my wife, I'm like, "I haven't written anything in a really long time. Do I really want to do this?" She's like, "You have to do this." I mean, I grew up there and stuff. I grew up in suburban Detroit. I know where he's coming from as much as anybody who's written about music. I kind of innately know it and I've known it from the beginning. I kind of got Eminem in the same way. And I've written about Detroit stuff in general.
And I did it and I was done by Monday night, filed it Tuesday morning, and a lot of people really like what I wrote. They're like, "Nobody else could have written this piece." Which may or may not be true, but it's not as easy. [Laughs.] I mean, it's easy once I sat down to write it, and I have a process in my head of how I would do a piece like that. It was an essay.
It's easy by virtue of who you are and the life that you've had.
Yeah, and it's just like, I've been doing this long enough that I know how to do it.
But, you know, I was talking to my wife about how it used to be so much easier. And I don't even know if it's true, but in my head it's true.
Once I sat down to write, I had it knocked out in two hours. I had 1,000 words and they wanted 600. It's actually sitting down, which I used to do everyday. I've done four books and stuff and I've written thousands of pieces over the decades, but in some ways I feel like it doesn't come as naturally as it once did. But I don't know whether that's a virtue of age.
There used to be a lot more freedom as to how I could write and where to write.
The way I write -- and I think that there's some ageism involved, whatever. I don't make -- although I still listen to tons of music. I've never burned out on that. I don't make -- I don't bend over backwards to listen to what I'm "supposed" to listen to. I listen to what I want to listen to unless somebody assigns it to me.
So, in some ways, I'm sort of a satellite. I'm out on the outskirts of the bigger conversation that the music critics have. Whereas, I used to be the sun. I used to be the center of it. And now I'm an asteroid out somewhere, if it makes any sense.
Which, I'm fine with.
But it's interesting because you mention -- I do think this is a thing that just universally happens, at least in the U.S., which is after 30, people start evaluating what their opportunities are and where they've gotten. You said some people burn out and some people muddle on or through.
Yeah. They figure out how to do it. But the thing is, I've never been an ambitious person. In a way, although I've accomplished things in my life -- even being the music editor of the Village Voice, it was like a dream job for me but it wasn't like it was a goal.
And the thing is, I had that job for the second longest of anybody who's ever held that job outside of Robert Christgau, who's basically the first, the dean of American rock critics. I mean, outside of him I don't think anybody's ever held that job as long as I did. And partly that's because it never occurred to me that I wouldn't be doing it. [Laughs.] I'm not using it as a stepping stone to get somewhere else.
And my thing is when I was in my early thirties, it's like, "This is what I do." [Laughs.] I finally started a LinkedIn profile last year, but the way my mind works, it doesn't really -- I actually went to a career counselor last year. The hardest questions for me is, "What are you going to be doing five years from now or 10 years from now or 20 years?" I never knew how to answer that. I don't know! I've never thought in those terms.
This is something I don't know as much about. I mean, I got my start in music writing as an intern for Rolling Stone.
I've gone on from there to just broader entertainment journalism, working for and editing alt-weeklies. So, I actually don't know this firsthand, but how has the job market of music writing been hit by the internet?
Oh, I mean, I get paid less than I did in my late twenties.
Are there fewer opportunities?
There are fewer opportunities. I think what happened is when the internet came in -- I mean, you're basically talking about the juncture of two industries. Because the technology has gone under drastic, drastic changes in the last 20 years. I think when the internet came in, what happened was you had lots and lots of young people who were willing to write for free.
[Laughs.] You still do.
Places -- you know, I don't even want to name names but most of the publications I write for paid better 20 or even 30 years ago. I mean, and I don't mean after inflation. I mean, they paid better, period. I mean, a lot of people that want me to write I'm just like, "I'm not going to write for that little." It's not worth my time. And still, places that I do deign to write for, I still don't get paid what I used to. You know, and a lot of people that would really bother me. It does really bother me. But maybe because of my lack of ambition I wind up living with it.
But, yeah, as far as places? As far as I can tell, there are way fewer outlets that I'm in touch with. But that may be because I'm out of touch. I don't know. There are definitely places I've never contacted that I see people do a lot of work for. It's possible that's just me. But definitely the impression I get is that 20, 30 years ago there were way more places to get paid and way less competition that was happy to get paid less.
I think you talked a little bit about this at the South By panel. Something else that has occurred, too, in addition to those technological changes is just the changing of expectations of what the work is.
This is pretty blunt, but when did you notice that music criticism essentially became advertising?
Well, I think when I was at the Voice. I was there, like I said, probably 1999 to 2006. A website started at some point, and there started to be -- just early, because they didn't really know how to do it then. Some emphasis on eyeballs.
Clicks. You know, but even then it was like a -- they were just starting to inch the way it is now. They didn’t figured out how. Even as an editor, what my music section looked like became more and more codified as that six years progressed. Now, even earlier, I think I talked about this at South By, but in the early '90s Entertainment Weekly started publishing. I actually did a lot of stuff for them early on. Those little haiku-length reviews of albums. Their big innovation in a lot of ways was you had to review albums the week they came out. Now, whether that was somebody there's idea, I don't know. But it also coincided with SoundScan moving into record stores.
Which, once SoundScan went in, the industry could concretely quantify how many copies a given record was selling in a specific week. And so, the industry started placing more and more emphasis on first week sales. Which I don't even remember hearing about before, say, '91. When SoundScan came in. That sort of snowballed through the '90s into the first decade of the 21st century.
Is that aping box office?
Yeah. I don't know that much about box office, but basically albums started to be treated like movies. So, I don't know what technological innovations were in the movie industry. I just don't know that much about it. But I'm guessing that it probably happened in the movie industry earlier. For all I know, it could have happened decades earlier. I really don't know.
In the late '80s, writing for Rolling Stone or Spin or Creem or any of those places, you could review an album -- unless it was an a gigantic album. But, no! Even in a lot of cases, on gigantic albums, you could review them months after. I mean, I'm sure people wrote about, say, Thriller, which came out in '82, like, you know -- once it really exploded, people probably wrote about it more. And I know, say, Def Leppard's Hysteria, which came out in '87 or '88, I don't think I wrote about probably until in '89.
Yeah, I think the way you talked about it at South By is that critics used to be able to --
-- they would live with the music.
But the industry would also live with it. And a record's first week sales -- so, this happens once in a while now, but now, almost always a record's biggest week is going to be its first week. That was not the case. So, you'd have -- and now, of course, especially with streaming you'll have a few singles before the album comes out. Which is weird because it's sort of a throwback to how things happened in the '60s.
We are -- and now, a lot of times, if those songs don't catch hold, an album might not come out.
So, for example, Kid Rock just put out two singles last week when he announced his Senate bid. I mean, that's just the freshest example I have. I don't know if there's any date set for an album. You know, it could be months down the line. But, when, say, Def Leppard's Hysteria came out, there were like, four or five hit singles. So, the album was more part of the world a year and a half after it came out. Same with Appetite for Destruction by Guns 'N Roses. It's actually the same thing that happened with a few Kid Rock albums. One thing I wrote in that Billboard piece is his biggest -- sorry to keep using him as an example. [Laughs.] I mean, his biggest hits have actually been third or fourth singles off of albums, where the album kinda died and then it picked back up.
So, it's not just that the music critics lived with the music: The world lives with the music. But, the way reviews changed in the early '90s is that, like I say, it started with Entertainment Weekly. The assumption would be that you would review the music the week that it came out, or at the latest the second week or whatever.
The other thing that really changed with alt-weeklies around that time was that alt-weekly writing became more and more geared -- oh, and again! You asked about advertising. An album release is not a new peg. People know an album is coming out. It's basically, to me, seems like advertising to boost those first week sales. It's like the symbiosis between the publications and the record labels.
And a similar symbiosis, I think, happened on the alt-weekly level where pieces were geared more and more to who was coming into town to play shows that weekend at clubs which, inevitably, advertise in the alt-weekly. [Laughs.]
So, you're basically advertising these shows. But to a lot of editors who never struck me as that bright, to them, this was a news peg. It's not like I would avoid writing a piece at the Village Voice the week that there's a show. It's a nice thing to put that, "Such and Such Band will play at Bowery Ballroom on Friday." Or whatever. But to make that the purpose always struck me as really, really strange and, really, would have cramped my style as an editor.
So, I think it's something that happened over the course of the last quarter-century. Increasingly. It snowballed ever since.
Well, you do see things increasingly now like these "surprise" albums.
I think it's to the point that people have this expectation that if an album is announced before a critic gets on the plane, they want to have a fully formed review by the time they land.
Oh, yeah. I mean, that's obviously certain superstar acts mostly.
And -- I don't know. Whatever. I'm just glad I'm not an editor or writer who has to worry about that stuff. I don't think you can listen to a Beyoncé album and write something especially insightful about it. Maybe people have. Honestly, I try not to pay attention to it. I think it happened with [David] Bowie's album. Wait, was Bowie's album a surprise? The last one? Before he died? I feel like it was? But, I mean, and it seems like it happens with Kendrick Lamar albums or whatever. I think the My Bloody Valentine album. There's a smattering of records -- the thing is there's this requirement that actually makes me not even want to pay attention to those.
I just -- it seems like this kind of grandstanding thing. And if I'm gonna listen to -- most of those I still haven't gotten around to. [Laughs.] The ones that have come out in the last couple years.
But, you know, I do understand how if what you're worried about is clicks, people wake up in the morning and they go, "Oh, I wonder what this Beyoncé album's like. I wonder what this David Bowie or Kendrick Lamar album is like." And so, you know, whatever. To me, it's part of the same thing. I will say that these record releases really not really surprises.
There are often, like, hints through the week or whatever. And, you know, it's a marketing thing.
Yeah, I was going to say just that it's shifted to a different way of covering marketing.
But the thing is I think it gives these big releases an air of importance that they might not otherwise have. And critics buy it.
But what do you notice things across the board that critics are becoming less thoughtful about? What do you see not written about --
David, I don't even read that much criticism. So it's like, I don't even know how much I want to speak to that.
Sure. No, that's fair.
I mean, music is one of the last things I read about these days. I mean, I subscribe to the Times and Austin Statesman on paper, by the way. I'll occasionally read stuff in there. I don't click on that many news pieces online. I mean, I don't read that many pieces online, period, to be honest. But -- so, I can't speak to how people are writing now. It's like, that was my job when I was editor, to keep up on that kind of thing. It's probably another reason I'm not part of this internet conversation. I'm just not that interested in it. I feel like -- I mean, I'm on and off Facebook. There's times I'll be off for a couple months. When I'm on, enough of my Facebook friends are also music critics that if there's an interesting conversation going on, I may see somebody link to it, you know? And honestly? I don't get the idea that there's that many interesting conversations going on these days.
But, that may be me talking as an old guy. I just don't even know what those conversations would be about. There was, like, this poptimism/rockism for years, which kinda just went on and on and on and on for years. It just went on and on and on and on and on. [Laughs.] You know? Even since then -- for a long time it seemed like people were really interested in racial appropriation, like, Miley Cyrus is on a TV show, is she twerking?
Oh, yeah. I remember that.
I don't care about award shows. I don't care who's in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It seems like non-stories to me. The controversies aren't really. You know? [Laughs.] But, maybe there's something I'm missing.
Well, it's interesting because I'm doing a type of digging on this into topics I'm really not seeing much writing about. At South By, you mentioned a few questions about stories or apparent lack of curiosity or writers not even realizing --
Oh yeah. [Laughs.] I was motivated -- these were the stories I would be getting off my butt to do. Actually, I think it was Greg Kot, the guy from the paper in Chicago who was asking about stories. [Laughs.] I wanted to be talking to Mexican-American acts about immigration.
Yeah, that's what you said.
I can't even remember. Honestly, they were off the top of my head then.
Yeah, you said, "What is the music of Brexit? What metal bands in Europe are aligned with far right politics? Are there regional Mexican artists being deported?"
Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Metal bands? I know some of those.
To what degrees are editors and publishers party-line obstacles? And to what degree --
I haven't been pitching those stories. So, I don't know. I just -- I would guess that some of those stories it might be determined that not enough people would be interested. But I'm talking out my ass there. It's not like I pitched those stories. It's interesting that I haven't seen people write them. [Laughs.] Because to me they seem pretty obvious.
I would agree. Yeah.
But, you know, I can't say why.
To flip it, and talk a little about criticism, this is a basic question but I don't know if I've ever seen it be asked.
How do bands benefit from having critics?
I don't know.
Maybe they don't?
I'm sure some have. To a certain extent over the course of the last 40 years -- the thing is, if record labels didn't think it would be advantageous to them, they wouldn't have been sending me free CDs and albums for decades. So it must help them somehow. There are certain acts -- I think that they're definitely exceptions. But, I mean, I don't know. Beck. Or White Stripes. Or probably Frank Ocean or Kendrick Lamar, who have benefited from having lots and lots of positive reviews. I think it works into their marketing in some ways. And, you know, it gets the word out. I mean, these days, I'm sure there are some who will get top 10 albums and they're not really on the radio. In the last -- this is how out of it I am -- 10 years, did Arcade Fire get played on the radio at all? There are indie bands who -- I don't care about Arcade Fire -- probably have, and it's helped them sell records.
And the thing is, especially at certain times of years it's not like you have to sell that much to have a top 10 or even No. 1 album these days. You put out an album in January, hell, I could have a No. 1 album.
It's weird, though, because -- are you familiar with the Big Star documentary?
I'm familiar that there is one. [Laughs.]
The documentary is about the opposite of this. It's about how despite all the critics rallying --
I mean, I think they're known today.
Oh, sure. I mean, I think the industry learned -- I think there probably still are cult acts who only get great reviews. But, yeah, I think there were always cult acts who consistently got positive reviews and it didn't help their sales.
I don't know. [Laughs.] Did Raspberries get as good reviews as Big Star? I don't even know if Raspberries sold some records in the '70s. They're better. Sorry. [Laughs.]
I mean, it might have something to do with the fact that they're not as good as critics said, but don't get me off on that tangent. They did get the theme song for a crappy TV show for a while with That '70s Show, which had nothing to do with the '70s. But that's another tangent. I was there.
We've talked about this before. I'll ask you about this again, these clichéd sentiments and perceptions that music was at the center of the culture.
I'm curious because people talk about this a lot, and we talked about music criticism basically be advertising. I don't know if you saw the HBO documentary series, The Defiant Ones?
I have not.
In it -- so, I'm quoting Trent Reznor here. He talks about how music has gotten co-opted as a way to sell ads.
Oh, come on. It got co-opted before Trent Reznor was born.
I don't even know if I believe in things being "co-opted." Markets respond to demand.
I mean, to be an ad? Yeah, whatever. [Laughs.] That cliché has been around longer than Trent Reznor's been making music. [Sighs.] I mean, John Mellencamp used to complain about that in the '80s and then he mentioned Tastee Freez in his songs.
You know, Run DMC would say, "Don't want nobody's name on my behind," but then they do a song about Adidas. [Laughs.] I mean, this is like the most hypocritical cliché. It goes back forever.
Music has always been part of movies. It's always been part of commercials. I mean, I'm sure it goes back before the rock era. But in the rock era, but it has never not.
I think to unpack that a little bit, what Trent Reznor is talking about is this feeling that musicians are being dehumanized. I guess what I'm curious is whether you have a sense that the music-consuming public has forgotten about realities of what it means to be a musician making a living as a band? Or are there aspects of being in a band that you think people who claim to love music don't think about?
I don't know that they ever did. I mean, I'm just being honest. When I was growing up, it wasn't like, "I need to go out and buy this Aerosmith album because I want them to make a good living." [Laughs.] Whoever talks like that? I guess there weren't as many options then, although once home taping started there were. People would tape music off the radio. It's just like -- [Sighs.] Look, I'm an old guy. I like music from then for the most part better than music now. [Laughs.] I think people growing up had better taste.
And also, isn't Trent Reznor's whole point the dehumanization of music? I mean, maybe I'm missing something? Isn’t that kinda his whole shtick? I mean, except that he would be so much better if he had a German accent because that kind of music is much better with German accents. Which is true. I mean, dude, you're not Rammstein. [Laughs.] But, you know, whatever. I mean, you know, Einstürzende Neubauten, the German band who invented industrial -- I'm reading a history of Berlin before and after the wall fell -- and they were accused of selling out because by the mid-'80s because their music was being used in certain art exhibitions or whatever.
It's just funny to hear Trent Reznor talk about that because dehumanization is sort of the point of industrial music to begin with. You know, whatever. I know this isn't about him. But at the same time, I mean, look, in some ways I would say -- I could even play devil's advocate. I would say that because of things like Twitter, and because of things like just celebrity reporting in general, and because starting with rap music especially, the assumption was made that we were supposed to care about pop stars' lives? It became part of their songs? And so we're supposed to know the gossip about them? I don't really remember what the equivalent of that was when I was growing up. Somebody like Hank Williams Jr. maybe sang about his life a little bit, or Lynyrd Skynyrd or Mott the Hoople? But they were definitely exceptions. Starting with hip-hop, you're supposed to know more about -- the way Twitter works, where kids talk to the stars supposedly? I mean, that's the cliché. This is what people have been saying for the last 15 years or however long Twitter's been around, is that it puts fans more in touch with the musicians. Not less. So, I don't know. I see kind of a contradiction there. I mean, does Trent Reznor tweet? He seems like somebody who might tweet. I could be wrong.
So, he's talking directly to fans in a way that The Knack probably didn't. [Laughs.] No, The Knack aren't even a good example. In a way that the Cars probably didn't in 1978. I mean, people may be more interested in Trent Reznor's life than they were in Ric Ocasek's life in '78 or '79.
But at the same time, you told me when we talked last week that this is yet another clichéd sentiment, that music was at one time the center of the culture and that the internet has ruined that. You said that things like The Beatles and Michael Jackson and Nirvana were huge exceptions.
I just think -- when you mention those names, I think what you're referring to is how people talk about how there was this monoculture where everybody was in tune to the same music at the same time. I mean, I've been hearing about fragmentation ever since I started hearing about music. I cared more about baseball than music through high school. I'm kind of a weirdo in that way, where I didn't really start buying records, like, constantly, until my freshman year in college. That's basically when I started reading music criticism and stuff like that.
But ever since I started, I've heard people talk about how the music world is becoming more fragmented. Again, that's something -- and I've seen criticism from long before then, probably to the late '60s, that would talk that way.
But, it's like, if you think about it, in the early '60s, the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums probably weren't necessarily buying girl-group albums. You know? I mean, what I really wonder is whether the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums bought early Beach Boys albums because they kinda dressed the same.
They both covered "Sloop John B." I get the idea that it was two different audiences. That you had a college audience buying the folk revival bands, and suntan high-school frat-boy audience -- these are clichés -- buying Beach Boy albums, early on. Pre-Pet Sounds or whatever. I'd have to check but I feel like I read once that the biggest selling album of the '60s was The Sound of Music soundtrack. Lots of people in the wider culture hated The Beatles. They hated their long hair. And it was like news when Leonard Bernstein embraced. And I'm no Beatles expert.
A lot of people hated Michael Jackson! I mean, it wasn't long after the whole "disco sucks" thing, which I lived through in the late '70s. I remember when those disco records were set on fire by rock bands at the Tigers-White Sox game.
I was going to say, being from the Chicago area. I know all about that.
Yeah. I was in the upper Midwest. I mean, Steve Dahl had been a DJ in Detroit. So, clearly, that example alone -- although, maybe some of those baseball fans burning disco records secretly had the Rod Stewart album with "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" at home or whatever. [Laughs.]
They never told their friends or it didn't occur to them that that's a disco song, and that "Miss You" by Rolling Stones was a disco song. And probably some of them had a couple, you know, KC and The Sunshine Band albums in the back of their -- you know. But, the point is these were factions.
I mean, there was always a thing about punks didn't like metal and metal didn't like punk until punk and metal became the same thing. You know, The Clash had a song in 1978 about all the different factions, "Last Gang in Town," about all the different skinheads and Quiffs and whatever all these weird British street cultures were who were literally fighting each other in the streets. Mods and rockers in Quadrophenia. It's like, when was it not fragmented?
Now, I guess the difference is -- I mean, there's still top 40 radio. There's still pop radio. But maybe it's more fragmented now because there's so many other places that you can learn about music. YouTube and social media and Twitter. But I think, if anything, it's a difference of degree. And I don't know that I've ever seen that quantified.
My daughter who's nine loves Selena Gomez. Selena Gomez is a pop star. I mean, is Taylor Swift less of a star than Carol King was or Carly Simon was? I'm not convinced. I mean -- I'm kind of guessing Taylor Swift is a bigger star than Carly Simon was or Carol King was,, meaning she has a wider scope of the audience. Is Selena Gomez less of a star than, I don't know, Donna Summer was? Maybe. Was Donna Summer a bigger star than Britney [Spears] wound up being? I don't know. [Laughs.]
Rock is maybe better. Rock I think became more and more a niche audience, or what actually counts as rock. Still, I don't know, Nickelback and Linkin Park are pretty big. They're not my music. I have no use for 'em. But, you know, they're probably bigger than Black Oak Arkansas ever were. [Laughs.] You know? Maybe not as big as KISS was. I don't know. [Laughs.]
I would think that the demographic likes whatever Puddle of Mudd in high school probably isn't that much different than the demographic that used to like Aerosmith when I was in high school or Mötley Crüe in the '80s. You know? So, anyway. Again, I went off a zillion tangents.
No, no. I think it's good. I think there's a tendency, first off, for people to overstate the importance of the time that we're in and to act like we're such a revelatory species today.
But I also think there is a degree of so much more awareness of things that it seems like last year was the Dark Ages.
Right. I mean, I can also say in the decade that ended seven years ago, the '00s, I think the biggest selling music stars -- actually, I think this in my book where The Beatles were one of the biggest. But then Eminem, Britney, and Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Toby Keith. I think country probably has a bigger and wider visibility now than it did in the '70s. I'm guessing. I mean, there are just -- in some ways, the hip-hop stars, people like Kanye and Kendrick, probably have bigger visibility than most, well, definitely rap stars in the '80s but probably most R&B soul stars were. So, I think it's shifted in some ways. But I just -- I guess I don't really entirely buy the fragmentation thing. It's almost like people put the -- they look at the supposed cause, the internet, and they gather an effect from it. I'm just not -- I'd have to see it quantified somehow. It'd be a great piece for somebody to do if you actually could quantify it. I just don't know how you would actually do it.
Right, I agree. And that pre-supposes there's a place that would want to run it. [Laughs.]
Well, similarly, to bridge a little bit more 1:1 with videogame industry and culture stuff, I'd be curious to hear you talk about how the ecosystem of readers and labels and critics respond as the internet enabled music criticism to become more diverse?
[Pause.] Oh, I don't know. No. 1, I don't know that it has become more diverse.
I think there were always -- in fact, I think as far as voices, it may have become less. There were always fanzines before there were blogs. As far as how the audience? Again, that's something that -- I'm not even clear who the audience for music criticism is now and I'm kind of glad that I don't have to think about it that much. You know, because that's wherever those clicks are coming from. I mean, I would assume obviously pieces get shared in a way they didn't in the days of paper magazines and newspapers. [Laughs.] So, it wasn't like people were copying my Village Voice articles and Xeroxing around to all their friends and then they were Xerox them onto their friends.
Wouldn't it be so cool if they had done that? [Laughs.] In some ways, I'm sure things did spread around more. And obviously people do that with YouTube videos. I don't even know how much -- I mean, critics do it with music criticism. But do fans? "Oh, I just read this great review of the Lana Del Rey album this morning. You should all read it!" Do people actually do that?
I have this theory that fans who like stuff are just really busy listening to it and enjoying it.
I mean, YouTube clips get passed around. But do reviews? I'm skeptical. [Laughs.]
Well, I ask because you had told me from a distance you had kept eyes on Gamergate.
I'd be interested to hear what interested you about it? What did you learn following it? Did you see parallels to the music industry and culture?
You know, I don't know that I've ever seen anything that extreme in music criticism as far as the threats. If anything, it almost struck me as this kind of recon mission for what a couple years later wound up being called the alt-right or whatever. You know, these kind of internet trolls. I mean, I wasn't -- and I guess that the "men's movement" was another kind of precursor to the whole Pepe the Frog thing or however you say it in the last year and a half. And so, in some ways, I think it was a precursor to Trump.
But as far as a parallel to music criticism? I mean, in a way I guess I saw it as a more exciting or more contentious debate than I was seeing in music criticism at the time. Although, it seemed a lot uglier. You know, just the reaction to -- and there are probably some parallels to the whole poptimism/rockism thing. But, again, I mean, I'm not sure how familiar you are with that, the idea that we need to pay attention to young music made for teenage girls or whatever. "Oh no, that's phony music!" [Laughs.] You know? "That's not real! They don't use real instruments! They didn't write their own songs!" I could see some parallel to that, that there's this sort of authenticity thing. You know, and in some ways there's some parallel to -- I'm not going to let myself off the hook, here. I grew up in the '80s writing about metal, when critics really ignored it. I mean, I didn't just write about metal. But I was writing about metal and it was one of the ways I initially found a niche when people weren't really paying attention to it. I mean, probably, there are some -- and same with country. I found them kind of, you know, this is in some ways working class, white, and especially male music for working class white males. Again, that's a stereotype, but in a lot of ways, that's who the music was marketed to and that’s who consumed a lot of it. And yet, critics are spending all this time pay attention to, you know, what college kids like or whatever. It's 1988 and nobody's written seriously about Def Leppard.
You know, I never -- and it wasn't just that. There were things like that in freestyle music, Exposé and The Cover Girls, the critics weren't paying attention. It wasn't just white male working-class music. But I can kind of see how that in Gamergate, there's this sort of class paranoia. I mean, I think it's mainly a gender paranoia and a race paranoia. I mean, it's probably mainly gender with Gamergate. But there's this kind of defensiveness that -- although, I don't relate to how the Gamergaters carried it out.
The thing is, metal was always accused of being sexist music, too. There were times in the '80s I wrote defending what people deemed "metal sexism." In fact, it's probably in some of my books. In my metal book, some of the writing goes back that far. So, I guess what I'm saying is that as far as the Gamergaters go, although they struck me as idiots and assholes, I sort of in some ways identify with some of that defensiveness. I used to say back when feminist criticism -- a lot of which I buy. In fact, I walk both sides of this fence.
People who talk about structuralism or reconstructing and stuff like that. I remember I said sometimes, if you go to the amusement park and you go on a roller coaster and you get off the roller coaster and somebody asks you how the roller coaster ride was, you're not going to talk about how the roller coaster depicted women. It's kind of besides the point. And I would make that argument.
But at the same time, I watched The Lego Movie with my daughter last year and it pissed me off that the strongest character in the movie is a girl who the whole thing she's trying to do is get the attention of a guy. I found it really annoying to take my eight-year-old daughter -- and people love this movie. I also found a lot of the movie way too videogame-like.
It just seemed like this kind of sensationalist nonstop action stuff that just struck me as boring and noisy for really pointless reasons, which is how I feel about a lot of action -- I think a lot of movies try to be what I perceive videogames to be.
You're correct. There's chocolate and peanut butter smearing all over both halves. Games really want to be movies. Movies really want to be games. And the end result is we get a lot of shitty games and a lot of shitty movies.
Yeah. So, I guess what I'm saying about Gamergate is I sort of in some ways identify -- at least some peripheral ways. I mean, I have a daughter who's got a gender-studies degree from University of Wisconsin. You know, so, I'm a feminist.
But at the same time, like I said, the old metal thing. I'm a feminist but I'm also -- [Sighs.] I mean, I'm Trump demographic. I'm a 56-year-old white male army veteran from suburban Detroit.
I'm the sweet spot there. I'm the guy who they call when they want somebody to write about Kid Rock.
I guess I just found it interesting. And yet, I've never really been on 4chan. I've barely ever been on Reddit.
In some ways I found reading about Gamergate more interesting than -- and it's like, if my eight-year-old daughter is gonna play videogames, I would like them to be games that depict women in a non-gross way. But, I'm also saying that as somebody who really doesn't know what I'm talking about as far as games go.
But I actually find -- from what I've read, and I don't read widely. I think I mentioned that I tried to get through a book about game criticism.
Yeah, that's right. You were telling me about that.
I tried to put it on hold through the library and they never got it in. But if there's reviews of videogames in the Times, I will read them without have any interest at all in playing the games just because I'm kind of interested in how game criticism would work. And it's not -- if it's in The New York Times, it's not going to be "you should buy this because."
But the thing is, I do the same thing a lot of times with movies or TV shows where -- and honestly, I probably do it with music sometimes, too, where the criticism is almost like an art in itself. It's not like, "Oh, I'm going to read this to find out whether I should buy or play this game or whether I should see this movie." Maybe, with movies or TV shows. Probably very rarely with games. It will make me interested, now and then. Probably most of the TV shows I've liked in the last 15 years, I read a review at some point. I guess I like criticism. It's like a thing in itself.
I would read a book -- I'm not going to say serious criticism, because I hope there's jokes and punchlines in there. But I would read a book of serious, maybe even academic criticism on videogames. I would find that an interesting book. But I don't think I've played a videogame since my grown kids were young in the early '90s and I played The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. and Tetris.
[Laughs.] Which, were fun. I've just had no interest since then.
Going from there to keeping eyes on Gamergate from a difference. It's interesting because you're checking back in with the culture after it's been however so long.
Did you notice there were questions you had that weren't being asked when --
I mean, I'm not sure I delved into it that deeply. I looked at a couple of pieces and I'm like, "This seems kind of fascinating." You know, it pissed me off in some ways. The thing is, just this week I read this Washington Post business article about -- did you see this? The amount of time Americans spend playing videogames and core games has risen 50 percent since 2003? It said it's especially rising among young women and the number of hours per day and which states, which I found really -- woah, I wanted an explanation for that! How come they're so much bigger in cold-weather states and not as big in the South and especially Hawaii? Is it just that people like to go outside more? [Laughs.] I just find that fascinating, I think, from a cultural and almost sociological perspective. I think Gamergate was in some of the same things where it's like, I don't know how much more I want to know but I'll read this over my morning coffee. Or over a beer or something.
You emailed me that your wife had convinced you had some things to say about gaming. Is this --
Oh gosh, that was a couple weeks ago. I mean, she's an artist and a musician and a graphic designer. We were trying to figure out why we're not interested. One of the reasons I said was it's too much like sports to me. [Laughs.]
In the same way that there's things in hip-hop that, like, the whole competition thing. I don't really -- I know, lots of times it's people playing on their own. But I perceive it as being this competition thing. It's like, I don't want more competition. You know? But it's also like I said about movies, just the bombarding with images. It's just like, it's not -- I don't find it relaxing.
What she said was -- and, again, she's someone who's a visual artist. A graphic designer. She's had different bands and stuff like that. She basically said -- she wants to be involved in creating. Or she wants to be consuming the creating. She doesn't something halfway in between, where it's like -- if she's watching a movie or reading a book, it's there for her. You know what I mean? If she's writing a song or creating a piece of art, she's doing it.
Videogames seem like they're there this kind of gray area. And actually, there's -- another tangent. [Sighs.] There's a TV show that I think -- I can't remember if it was going to be on Nickelodeon or one of the, I think, kids' channels that was supposed to start airing in the last couple weeks. Kids would sit with the remote and they would help determine the trajectory of the show by clicking different buttons.
Have you -- I don't know if you've heard about that. It sounds like a show that would work kind of like a game, you know? And I think the idea is kids like having, you know, controlling those things. And, in theory, I guess -- I don't even know. Like, if you were going to ask me, "Could videogames be a movie or art or literature?" I don't even know what those words mean. [Laughs.]
Somebody asked me that last year on Facebook: What literature is there involving balloons? I said "Neunundneunzig Luftballons" by Mena. I don't know why a song can't be literature and I would think that -- I don't really care.
But I would think that it's a creative form that could produce great whatever. [Laughs.] You know? But so is macramé, and I'm not that interested in macramé. You know what I mean?
I think that when we first talked over email, you were going to ask me why I don't play videogames and I'd say it's probably the same reason that I don't play handball or I don't do crochet. It's just a hobby that I don't do. [Laughs.] I don't know that there's a reason. [Laughs.]