Who is Chuck? by Hillary Johnson (2014)

Journalist Charles M. Young produced some of the most trenchant and wryly hilarious music reporting of the late 1970s and early 1980s for Rolling Stone magazine, where he was hired as an associate editor in 1976 after winning the magazine’s first nationwide college writing competition a year earlier.

The results of his reporting forays during those musically fervid years included the first American cover story on London’s Sex Pistols, an introduction to the Ramones (“Their music– an amazing amalgam of higher energy, funnier lyrics and less command of their instruments than the New York Dolls'– derives much of its charm from the Ramones' instinctive understanding that great artistry can result from turning your liabilities into assets…”) and a notorious cover story on Carly Simon—who made the mistake of nursing her newborn infant throughout the interview. 

Over the years, Chuck has interviewed Keith Richards, George Harrison, Don Henley, Jimmy Page, Ray Davies, Bruce Springsteen and myriad other giants of the genre. His record reviews, for Rolling Stone and later for the Atlantic and Playboy, were never less than insightful and fresh: “Mark my words: in three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting, and they'll follow Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet.” 

The long-suffering and rebellious son of a Presbyterian minister from Madison, Wisconsin, Chuck was known for his intense focus on his craft. Coupled with the fact that he wasn’t afraid to quote biblical verse in his stories, this earned him the fond nickname “The Rev” among his Rolling Stone colleagues and throughout the music industry he covered in those years. “No matter how far the prodigal sons travel from home, they can never quite leave church,” he wrote recently.

Although his formal job with the magazine ended in 1981, Chuck has continued to write for Rolling StoneMen’s JournalMusician and numerous other magazines. In 2008, he wrote for Men's Vogue about traumatic brain injuries occurring in Iraq, focusing on ABC’s Bob Woodruff, a journalist who suffered a brain injury while covering the war.

Chuck's feeling for the language frequently resulted in memorable turns of phrases with far-reaching impacts.  In a piece for Playboy in the late 1990s, Chuck’s appreciation for the late Don Walser’s remarkable yodeling and exquisitely delivered cowboy vocals (“Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” etc.) led him to dub Walser the “Pavarotti of the Plains.” This memorable moniker revived Walser’s career, brought the singer international fame and resulted in a TV bio-pic of the same name.

Walser came to Chuck’s attention through an Austin, Texas punk band, the Butthole Surfers, for whom Walser occasionally opened.  The Butthole Surfers soon joined the ranks of Chuck’s large circle of friends, camping out in his New York apartment for weeks at a time, and on one occasion painting his kitchen walls with profanities that remained there—in homage to the Buttholes—for several years.


After receiving a degree in English literature at Macalester College in 1974, Chuck worked in a sheet metal factory in Wisconsin to earn tuition money for Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. There, he learned a great deal about the kind of journalism he realized he would never emulate. In 1975, when most of his J-school classmates were pleading for jobs at the Washington Post, he rented a postage-stamp sized room in a men’s boarding house in the then-down-and-out Chelsea neighborhood, an address from which Chuck planned to launch his Gonzo freelance writing career. With little care for money but a profound commitment to the transformative power of the written word, he was soon writing for the magazine of his dreams.
Chuck plays music as well as writes about it. In the early 1980s, he played bass for Iron Prostate, a band that made a modest splash in the Manhattan club scene. The band’s signature song was a punk version of Oh Danny Boy. Chuck still plays bass for the Schmoes, his high school band from Madison, which regales the class of 1969 at every Memorial High reunion with songs like Louie LouieNinety-Six Tears and anything by the Kinks.

Chuck’s years of covering music in clubs like the CBGB have taken a toll on his hearing; his long-time e-mail address includes the phrase “tinnitus,” and he once confessed that the only music he could bear was Mozart’s. But in recent years, he has in fact studied early Delta blues guitarists and the California guitar great John Fahey, spending many an hour finger-picking on his mellow-sounding Taylor 12-string.

In 2010, Chuck joined J-school friend David Lindorff’s online journalism “collective,” an anti-capitalism, anti-racism website called This Can’t Be Happening. Chuck was energized by the emergence of Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and wrote several posts about the event. He hailed the Slut Walk and reveled in the anarchist ethos in Zucotti Park—even after one youthful demonstrator, suspicious of Chuck’s neutral bearing and busy pen, accused him of being an undercover cop.
In recent years, Chuck has been writing a series of profiles for Rolling Stone about legendary R&B singers such as Solomon Burke (“King Solomon’s Sweet Thunder”); Burke, who had ninety grandchildren, called Chuck his “ninety-first,” which Chuck noted “…was the nicest compliment I ever got.” Chuck was struggling with a piece about Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) last year, when in February—on his 62nd birthday—he learned he had a malignant brain tumor.
Here are a handful of Chuck's Greatest Hits for Rolling Stone, with thanks to Nathan Brackett, music editor at Rolling Stone and a good friend of Chuck's:

The Ramones Are Punks and Will Beat You Up (August '76)

Kiss: The Pagan Beasties of Teenage Rock (April '77)

Rock is Sick and Living in London: A Report on the Sex Pistols (October '77)

Parliament/Funkadelic: Apocalypse Now! (April '78)

Johnny Ramone: The Last Ramone (October '04)

Chuck Young, May of 1975 at Columbia University, NYC

photo by Hillary Johnson


  1. For 5 years as Editor of Musician , and five more in NY at Playboy etc Chuck was my hero, our writer, and finally one of my best friends, When I moved to Nashville, in 89, we would talk or email just about everyday, All that was written above about Chuck is true, He was also one of the kindest, most compassionate, forgiving and funny people I had ever met,
    When he got sick last year, he called me and was astonished at how many friends he had, I had been telling him for years I could dine out on being his friend, but I don't think it really hit him till then, He was sensitive, strong but non confrontational - yet even before he got sick he had forgiven people who had hurt him or his career, he later said, "I have nothing to complain about" he was so grateful for the outpouring of love, He didn't have the ego to expect that.

    He would call and tell me who had showed up that day to take him to lunch or dinner, or how many people had called, always somewhat amazed people actually knew who he was.

    I would email him , but told him to just call when he had the energy and time, to take in this wave of callers and visitors, I would be there for him,
    I had moved back to the NY area after 25 years in Nashville, and though partially disabled was getting in shape to come down to visit him. The last I heard from him was in Late June, early July, when he called to ask when Katie and i were coming to the city, I told him I could manage it, and we said we would talk, I waited, sent emails heard nothing for weeks, till a friend said he was back in the hospital , and going into hospice care, No address, Finally, back on the list I was planning on coming down to the Bronx when I got the news,

    Even before I met him so long ago, I knew Chuck was the finest rock writer of our times, Last night, after hearing the news, I did a special meditation for these circumstances, and suddenly energy was gently flowing through me, blissfully out to him He was peaceful, serene,

    People should know he did Zen for years, dedicated, that he would play you the most complex John Fahey or Rev Gary Davis song over the phone, and it sounded celestial, PERFECT, That he could be down, but was never pompous, egotistical, or self-satisfied,

    His sense of humor, in both his work, and his private life, was wry, often subtle, self-deprecating, hilarious, and constant, And his compassion for anyone needing help, typified by his political writing , esp in later years for David Lindorff's site had him down with the OWS people day after day, as well as others,

    If you didn't know him, read some of his pieces in RS,, Musician, and Guitar World, for a multidimensional perfect flow of insight, humor, and originality that had Robert Draper, author of a history of Rolling Stone, devote most of his books last chapter to Chuck,

    He was a unique soul, And I want to call him now and tell him how many people are writing, saying how sorry they are he passed, and remembering pieces he wrote before some of them were born,

    Chuck is fine, More than fine, now, I just have to call him through my Heart and listen.

  2. So beautiful. And so true. Thanks, all.

  3. I knew Chuck as his next door neighbor in Turck Hall at Macalester his sophomore year. I first encountered him as he was going through the Bible collecting phrases to write down as "Quotations from Chairman God". It was a memorable year because his sense of humor was entertaining. I still recall the columns he wrote for the Mac Weekly as the 4th string cornerback on our football team that had only 2 and a half strings. His writing then showed the same sense of humor that he later displayed in Rolling Stone. I regret that we were never close enough to keep in touch but he was memorable. The strange part was that I hadn't thought of him in years but I just Googled him to see where he was today and discovered this blog. I did not expect to find that he had died just a few hours before. My condolences to his friends and, yes he was always a remarkable soul. I regret his passing.

    Ray Runyan

  4. I first met Chuck when I was recording the first Iron Prostate LP. Very often phrases like "the real deal" get overused to the point which they lose all meaning, but Chuck was it. He would never see himself as cool, but he was the coolest. His writing was as fun to read as it was insightful. But what I really remember the best is watching him transform from a journalist to a teenager when he traded his pen for a bass guitar. I'll never forget the smile I got when I got back the LP and read in the liner notes hi defiant punk proclamation that he didn't need to write a bout punk anymore because he was playing it instead. If you're lucky, you will meet at least one genuine article in your life, Chuck was definitely one and the world is just a little stupider now that he's gone.

  5. I'm so sorry to hear of Chuck's passing. Did he leave any papers or research materials behind? Is so, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Library would be interested - it'd be a great way to preserve his legacy!

  6. Deepest condolences to Chuck's many friends, fans and family, what heartbreaking news. A privilege to have known him, only wishing it had been longer, but hope my friend achieved what it seemed he sought the most, (from his article on Zen), " But I’d really like to find that strange realm of awareness and detachment I discovered on the third night. It’s waiting out there some place…no, it’s waiting in here some place, if I can just sit long enough and stop trying to find it".
    Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/hakuna-hakuna-burning-karma-20140821?page=2#ixzz3BF9O261h
    May Love and Light (and some good rock&roll) surround him on his continued journey into the Great Mystery....

  7. I met Chuck through David Felton and Harriet Fier his former editor at Rolling Stone ( I think she edited him). I was newly sober, getting divorced and he was very, very kind to me despite my constant drama. We didn't work out as a couple but I am so sorry as he was just a unique, loyal man with an incredible gift.

  8. It's been several weeks and I wish this post could have been more timely, but I wanted to share a story I wrote about my 10-year friendship with Chuck that includes an interview I did with him where he really lets it fly on the publishing industry. The story provides some insights on Chuck that you won't find in other bios.