Charles M. Young, the rock journalist who helped introduce America to the outrage of punk, died Monday, August 18th, after a year-and-a-half battle with a stage four brain tumor. He was 63.
As a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Young won Rolling Stone‘s first national college writing competition, and in 1976 joined the magazine as an associate editor. He made his mark covering the CBGBs scene in the mid-1970s, writing Rolling Stone‘s first major pieces on the Ramones, Patti Smith and Television, among others. He brought a fresh sense of humor to the magazine’s Random Notes section, and championed critically-disrespected bands like Van Halen. Under the byline “The Rev. Charles M. Young” (a tweak at his upbringing as the son of a Wisconsin Presbyterian minister), Young would become one of the magazine’s most incisive and entertaining profile-writers, turning out often-hilarious cover stories on acts like Carly Simon, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Emerson Lake and Palmer and, most notoriously, the Sex Pistols – Rolling Stone‘s first punk rock cover story.
Away from his typewriter, Young made the most of his time at Rolling Stone during one of the magazine’s defining era: he was a member of the RS softball team who lost to a team fielded by the Eagles in 1978 grudge match (it was there that he earned the respect of Eagle Don Henley, who agreed to be shadowed by Chuck for the next year for an epic cover story on the making of the band’s 1979 album The Long Run). He would become friendly with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi during Saturday Night Live‘s early prime; he also played bass in the magazine’s house band, the Dry Heaves, which also featured RS editor and publisher Jann Wenner, and Young’s close friend, the writer Timothy White, on drums.
Young left Rolling Stone in 1980; he would contribute memorable pieces on subjects like David Lee Roth, Tom Petty and the Butthole Surfers (with whom he sustained a lasting friendship) for Musician magazine, where he was on staff for a short time in the early 1990s. (It was during that time that he put the term “noodle dancing” into the pop lexicon, in an early-Nineties profile of Phish.) He was also a regular record reviewer for Playboy. He also played bass and wrote songs in his joke punk-rock band Iron Prostate (their signature song: “Bring Me the Head of Jerry Garcia”).
Politics overshadowed rock music as Young’s animating force in his later years; he became serious about activism, and got major features on both Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn into Rolling Stone, between profiles of subject like Beavis and Butt-head and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was a dedicated and proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous, establishing a meeting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan after beating drug and alcohol addiction in the late 1980s, and contributing to AA publications. And in his final years, he was reinvigorated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, of which he was an early participant. (“I haven’t been this excited since 1972,” he said at the time.)
Last year, Chuck was diagnosed with a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor; after months of beating the odds thanks to chemotherapy, he passed away in a hospice in the Bronx, New York. He is survived by his brother John and sister Lois.
Rob Kemp and David Felton contributed to this story.