CounterPunch has lost a perceptive and witty analyst of the American political and cultural scene, while Rock& Roll has lost one of its leading critics. Charles M. Young (Chuck to his friends), has died, following a year and a half battle against an aggressive brain tumor.
Back in the Spring of 2010, Young and three friends and journalistic colleagues–John Grant, Linn Washington, Jr. Dave Lindorff, teamed up to establish a new collectively run online news site, ThisCantBeHappening.net. When Lindorff initially proposed recasting his long-running blog of the same name as a collective news operation, Grant, Washington and Young all immediately jumped on the idea. But Chuck’s response was classic Young. His lip curling up in a sign that cued those who knew him that he was about to crack a joke, he said, “Wait, let me get this straight: a newspaper that has no editor? It sounds like a dream come true! Sign me up!”
Chuck, whose consistently brilliant and usually painfully funny articles on Rock & Roll graced the pages of Rolling Stone magazine for years, went on to write some of his best work, and especially his best work on politics, for ThisCantBeHappening! Most of these pieces were picked up and run at Counterpunch, to Young’s delight.
Chuck was in the right place at the right time when, one year into TCBH’s little journalistic adventure, the Occupy Wall Street action began and then swept the country, and much of the world, shining a piercing spotlight, for the first time in the US since at least the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the rapacious behavior of modern capitalism.
Recognizing the significance of the Occupy Movement before it even became a movement and well before the corporate media, or even most of the alternative media, saw it, Chuck made his way down to Zuccotti Park right on the evening of day one, and gave TCBH and CP readers at a street-wise, on-the-pavement view of what was happening and how it was developing. His reportage on Occupy, in its entirety, is available atwww.thiscantbehappening.net/young.
As a journalist, Chuck was a perfectionist — both reportorially and stylistically. He favored the live-in approach, where he would spend seemingly inordinate amounts of time with his subjects to really get to know them (including once a full year on the road with the Eagles), instead of just dashing up with a notebook or making a phone call to cadge a few choice quotes. He also labored (and here the word is used advisedly) over every word he wrote. His writing reflected a perhaps excessive perfectionism that brooked no editing, and it’s a tribute to his ability as a reporter and writer that he could continue to write at a publication like Rolling Stone, where he regularly drove his editors crazy fighting their work on his pieces at every step of the way (including at one point attempt, interrupted by a summary kick to the groin by his hero Hunter Thompson, to strangle editor/publisher Jann Wenner at an office party!).
There was no such strife at ThisCantBeHappening, because we have no editorial hierarchy (ditto at CP). These two publications made were the perfect home for Chuck: No editing, no pressure…and no money!
When a close friend and journalism school classmate, Hillary Johnson, realized early last year that something was wrong with Chuck and made him go with her to the emergency room to get checked out, and it was discovered that he had fourth-stage glioma blastoma that required aggressive surgery and radiation treatment, after the initial shock, Chuck took it all in stride — even the brutal once-a-month chemo treatments. He said on a number of occasions, with evident sincerity, that brain cancer was “not the worst thing that has happened to me.”
What he meant by this seeming straight line that never had a punch line follow it was that he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern and love that appeared at his door or bedside from everywhere — from bands and performers he had reviewed over the years (even some he had panned), from friends going back to grade school in Madison, Wisconsin, from college and journalism graduate school classmates, from his beloved Upper West Side, NY neighborhood, from others in his building on West 92nd Street, and even from among his tens of thousands of readers over the years. Just keeping track of and making time for all these people who wanted to see him or phone him was a chore that was beyond his ability to manage and required assistance. “I guess I needed to get brain cancer to find out how many friends I had!” he quipped on more than one occasion — again with a disarming sincerity.
Now Chuck is gone, although his high school garage band, the Schmoes, with whom he still played at annual get-togethers until this year have, in his honor, renamed their now rock threesome “Forever Young.”
There’s nobody to take his place, either as a friend or a journalism comrade, but as TCBH! colleague and comrade Alfredo Lopez put it:
“In this life, you get two basic things: you get to live and then you get to die. Not just the moment of death but whatever leads up to it. Chuck did both these things wonderfully well. He lived a full and productive life and he died a courageous and dignified death.
“He did our collective proud.”
So here’s to our friend and comrade Chuck Young. Presente!!!
A memorial is being planned to be held in New York City. When it has been organized, it will be announced here.
To see a collection of Chuck’s articles at Rolling Stone, click here.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).