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Charles M. Young: Remembering a Pioneer of Punk Rock Journalism

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Rock and Roll
Should be Frightening
(Not Unlike God)

August 24, 2014

I had the unique privilege of a 10-year correspondence with Chuck Young that was an irreplaceable source of inspiration and creative ideas. Over the years, we exchanged more than 100 emails and IM's with dizzying regularity. He tutored me on writing and the writing markets, gave me legal advice, discussed Oregon college football, our mutual love of comedian Bill Hicks and delved into touchy topics like how to connect with women who were emotionally available.

In short, Chuck became a friend I would chat with at all hours of the night about any subject, professional or deeply personal. He was holed up in New York and could never quite make it out to L.A. to visit, except the time he dropped by Carlos' apartment in the late 1990's for research on a book he was writing about The Butthole Surfers. Carlos knew plenty about the band as a longtime writer for the legendary punk fanzine, Flipside. (The book about the BH Surfers never came out, but that's another story.)

Charles M. Young was a student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism when he won a national writing competition sponsored by Rolling Stone. In no time, he was a major contributor at the magazine, specializing in witty, humorous and deeply researched profiles of punk, country, blues and rock artists -- often captured at the peak of their careers. In 1977, he was the first rock journalist at a mainstream publication to write an in-depth cover feature on the Sex Pistols, "Rock is Sick and Living in London." Chuck introduced the Ramones to mall-rat America with his breakthrough portrait, "The Ramones are Punks and Will Beat You Up."

In 1985, Chuck was instrumental in producing the TV show, Punks and Poseurs, the first authentic program dedicated to punk rock ever featured on MTV (and maybe the last). In the debut episode (check the You Tube clip), a scholarly Charles M. Young, decked out in wire framed glasses and a motorcycle jacket, patiently explains the bizarre ritual of slam dancing and how punk fashions influenced everything from studded wristbands on Ozzy Osbourne to Madonna's punkette stage look.

Chuck was attracted to difficult, contradictory subjects of all musical genres. His knack as a fearless Method style interviewer who physically integrated himself with interviewees, often found him locked in psychic combat and at the mercy of unstable, egomaniacal musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis and Don Henley of the Eagles.

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There weren't a lot of punk rock critics who were passionate about the Eagles, but Chuck regarded them as uniquely human, dug their songs and wasn't afraid to say so. He found Don Henley's hypocrisy, blatant sexism and hatred of the East Coast music establishment annoying, but respected his ambition, intelligence and dedication to songwriting craft. Young hammered Henley to expand his thinking and open up to different kinds of music. They became lifelong friends the day the Eagles took on the Rolling Stone team for a spirited softball game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans. The Eagles took their softball so seriously they rented the pricey facility and invited their friend, California Governor Jerry Brown and an abundance of national media.

The Eagles won the game but offered to let Chuck Young follow them around for the better part of a year. In 1979, he was along for the ride as a first-person witness to every fist fight and line of coke while the band struggled to complete their swan song album, "The Long Run." It was a mammoth and draining marathon which yielded a so-so album but a masterpiece story about the band, and a flaming coda for the 70s, "Hell is for Heroes, the Eagles Slow Burn in the Rock and Roll Inferno." Young's piece was funny, playful and revealing. Preconceived notions that the Eagles were simply pompous careerists were proven wrong, reminding us that it's rebellious kids who form rock bands. Who knew a dour, S.O.B. like Henley had a silly delinquent side and was capable of blowing up a laundry cauldron with a cherry bomb?

Southern rock overtones could be heard in the Eagles' tunes and Chuck was fond of Southern music in general. Maybe it was spiritually linked to his great-grandfather, who had fought for the Confederacy and once owned slaves (the latter being something Chuck was not thrilled about, but in his typical wisdom, understood). Chuck was born in Wisconsin, the son of a minister, which is a long way from the Mason/Dixon line. But he admired how many of the Southern bands didn't conform to conventional or hip thinking. Young was attracted to contrarians and libertine outsiders and anyone who challenged rigid or conventional thinking. Southern rockers seriously embraced the manifesto of sex, drugs and rock n' roll and implicitly understood the commitment involved in partying to the bitter end.

Chuck Young was a frequent contributor for OpEd News, as well as ThisCantBeHappening.net.

Check out the complete Chuck Young story, including a freewheeling interview where Chuck lets it fly on the mainstream publishing industry

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I'm a freelance advertising copywriter specializing in home entertainment (movies, music, TV). I also write a poker blog (Across the Felt.net) and an entertainment biography and cultural essay blog called Gonzorilla.net

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Charles M. Young: Remembering a Pioneer of Punk Rock Journalism