The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll: A Misguided Tour Through Popular Music
MY FELLOW AMERICANS: Don't let rock critic Chuck Eddy fool you. He tries to pass himself off as one of us, invents domestic-sounding genres like "nerf-rock," often refers to his U.S. military service, and purports to be an alumnus of both a high school in West Bloomfield, Michigan and the University of Missouri, as if anyone's going to check. But after reading his book The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll, Monsieur, I mean Mr., Eddy's national origins are as clear as the clair de lune: This guy is French! As Gallic as Godard! As Frankish as foie gras! As froggy as a ten-dollar café au lait on the rue St. Germain!
I present the following as an exposé. The writer is only posing as Chuck Eddy, rock critic of Philadelphia. His true identity is that of Charles Eduoard, professor emeritus of semiotic theory from the University of Paris III. A spy from the house of deconstruction, Eddy masks his Euro-theories in Yankee slang.
First of all, we know that the French never get upset about anything because they're too busy inventing phrases like "C'est la vie." They are very bored, the French, because they have seen it all, and they refuse to get all out of sorts because, what the hell, there's No Exit from this miserable existence, so everybody else might as well calm down. America's not only about what the kids call "having a cow," it's about frontiers and innovation, something new under the sun. That's why Chuck Eddy, who has also seen it all, celebrates stale musicians like Amy Grant and Tiffany and says stuff like, "I like music that's vacuous, contrived, absolutely redundant, okay? Sue me." As his people are always sighing, Le plus ça change, le plus la même chose.
Do you think John Wayne's gonna spout nonsense like "my horse rides me?" Hell no; the Duke knows who's in charge. But deconstruction cowboys like Derrida are galloping around the ranges of the Champs-Elysees telling people that "the reader writes the text." (I realize I owe my job to you, dear reader, but which one of us skipped breakfast to finish this?) Similarly, Chuck Eddy seems to think that the listener writes the song, that "whichever way you hear it determines how it affects you, so whichever way you hear it is right." And while I agree with Eddy that "songs become meaningful when people use them in their everyday lives" (Touché!), I also think the people who make the records count for something, too. And since I usually say what I mean (with the possible exception of this essay), I choose to believe that sometimes other people, even rock-musician people, do as well. Monsieur Eddy seems to think of popular music performers as a class of lobotomized children sleepwalking through the world, occasionally stumbling onto good ideas by accident. "To assume evil corporations water down music by fiddling with artists' intentions," he writes, "is to fall prey to the fallacy that artists have any idea what makes their music good in the first place." Though I guess if I was championing a real genius like Vanilla Ice as my kind of "good" "artist" then I might think that way, too.
Eddy has a few things going over his theorist pères français. Unlike them, he has a way with words and a sense of humor. At least he thinks it's fun that nobody says what they mean or makes anything new. And while all those other philosophers were wasting time writing about trivial puffery like the nature of perception and the culture of surveillance, Chuck Eddy's taken on the heroic and valuable task of describing what it's like for one (French) man to listen to (bad) rock records. Because enjoying the writing of someone you disagree with talking about pop songs you don't care about is one of the grandest pleasures of western civilization. Vive la différence!
And if you remain unconvinced that Eddy's cheesy taste in music necessarily makes him a citizen of the land of fromage, remember: The French have the worst taste in pop music on the planet, and only a frog in disguise would write sentences such as, "Debbie Gibson came along right when we needed her most."