Photograph of Chuck Eddy © Lalena Fisher
BORN IN 1960 AND RAISED IN DETROIT, Chuck Eddy is a pivotal rock critic. The author of three books — Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe (1991), The Accidental Evolution of Rock and Roll (1997), and the brand new Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism, just published by Duke University Press — Eddy’s cantankerous persona has long been a thorn in the side of everyone under the sun. He has pissed off countless purists with his densely in-joke and boffo-joke laden, louder-than-loud persona, his wide-open approach to genre, and his fiercely argued, kicking-against-the-pricks opinions, which tend to run counter to the prevailing critical wisdom (to say the least). “To this day,” Chuck Klosterman writes in his introduction to Rock and Roll Always Forgets, “I’ve never found a nonfiction book with more voice-per-square-inch than Stairway to Hell.”
Eddy didn’t set out to be a rock critic. Like a lot of kids who endure extreme childhood trauma — his mother died of ovarian cancer when he was 9; his dad committed suicide when he was 13 — Eddy was a committed smart-ass. He found his métier, and developed his talent for provocation, writing about baseball and penning smart-alecky editorials for his high school paper. Attending college on an ROTC scholarship, he began working as a sports writer and general news reporter for suburban newspapers in Missouri — the earliest piece in Rock and Roll Always Forgets is from that period, a profile of the region’s first rapper titled “Rhymed Funk Hits Area.”
Though Eddy had written music reviews in college, his rock-critic career began in earnest in 1984, when he sent a long, irate letter about the state of rock criticism to the Village Voice’s music editor, Robert Christgau, who put together the New York weekly’s annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll. (The poll was so named in honor of Jazz & Pop magazine, whose weighted album ballots were the model for Christgau’s own.) Christgau printed some of it, and Eddy became one of the Voice’s star music freelancers, beginning a prolific career that took in everything from Spin and Rolling Stone to the little-distributed but freewheeling fanzines Radio On (run by Phil Dellio) and Why Music Sucks (Frank Kogan), where Eddy and a dozen or so other writers — including Rob Sheffield, Mary Gaitskill, and Luc Sante — would crack jokes and trade theories on then-current hit singles.
That approach would form the bedrock of Eddy’s own work as an editor at the Voice, until he was shown the door by new ownership. (He continues to freelance for the paper.) Shortly thereafter, Eddy worked for a year editing Billboard. In 2009, he and his wife, a freelance graphic designer, and their 3-year-old daughter moved to Austin, Texas, where he indulges in abundant cheap used vinyl: “If I come across something I haven’t heard in a dollar bin, I’m going to pick it up. Or yet another Charlie Rich record — I think I’ve got about 20. You can find them for...