Thursday, August 21, 2014

Charles M. Young

So I make a reference to Charles M. Young in a piece that I write on Sunday, and two days later I find out that he's died of a brain tumor.  Sometimes life is that way.

For those not familiar with the name, Charles M. Young wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine during a difficult era for the historic periodical.  He joined the staff in 1976, and was gone by the end of 1980.  During that time, RS moved from San Francisco to New York, and I'm sure there are those who would argue that it was never the same after that.  It engaged in a lengthy and sometimes humorous feud with The Eagles, and began the slow (well, maybe not that slow) metamorphosis from being on the cutting edge of rock criticism and coverage to becoming a part of - if not the - establishment on those matters.  During this period the logo changed, the size of the magazine changed, and with the first issue after Young departed, even the type of paper changed.  Even worse, Jann Wenner did things like castigate his own critics in print for reviews he didn't agree with, taking on the likes of Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus and Paul Nelson (you know, just three of the most notable critics in the history of rock criticism) for their views on the latest works of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.  By the time Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" (an album that I've heard exactly zero people suggest is among his best) came along, Wenner wasn't going to take any chances - he just wrote the rave review himself.

Young may not have been quite of the stature of a Marsh, Marcus or Nelson, but he was certainly consistent with the spirit of their writing.  He was less interested in the works of an established artist (although he loved many) than he was in seeking out something new - whether it be the Sex Pistols, The Police, Television, or anything in between.  It's a cliche, but he was a breath of fresh air during a time when the magazine couldn't quite figure out what it cared about.

You can read a lovely piece about Young here by one of his colleagues and friends, David Felton - another great name from the RS annals.

Or, you can just read some of the stuff he wrote for Rolling Stone: everything from Kiss and Cheap Trick to the Sex Pistols to The Who and Van Halen.

A great excerpt - the lead paragraph from his review of Led Zeppelin's "In Through the Out Door."

Hearing John Bonham play the drums is the aural equivalent of watching Clint Eastwood club eight bad guys over the head with a two-by-four while driving a derailed locomotive through their hideout. Either you are horrified by all that blood on the floor, or you wish you could do it yourself. No one's ever going to accuse Bonham of subtlety, but everyone should give him credit for consistency. Even on Led Zeppelin's worst effort (Houses of the Holy), he flails with so much exuberance that I find myself hoping that thugs from strange foreign countries will attack me on the street so I can play "Moby Dick" on their strange foreign heads.


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