Arts » Books

Rock Critic As Geezer

Meltzer sees the other side of the hill


Richard Meltzer is the author of two of my all-time fave rock books, The Aesthetics Of Rock and Gulcher, two visionary volumes highly influential upon many a budding young rock critic growing up in the 60s and 70s. When someone claims that Meltzer, along with peers Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches and Paul Williams, invented rock criticism, you best believe it.

Meltzer's also the co-author of two of my all time fave Blue Oyster Cult songs, the elegantly titled "She's As Beautiful As A Foot," from the group's self-titled '72 debut, and "Teen Archer," which graced 1973's Tyranny And Mutation. (Sample lyric: "Ballin' all night, ballin' all day/ She won't ball on me" -- pure poetry.)

And in a weird stroke of synchronicity, Meltzer and I, as rock writers, were both fired in the same week from the same publication, the Seattle Weekly, where I was a regular contributor and he penned a weekly column. Abrupt loss of income aside, I'm still thrilled to have had my name next to his on the masthead.

So you might think that I'm here to praise anew this gent, described in one of Autumn Rhythm's jacket quotes as "the thunder god of post-rock prose," and his crit-lit prowess.

But Autumn Rhythm isn't a rock book.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth once pointed out that when he turned 40 the feeling he had was not one of a life half-gone, but of imminent potential -- of liberation. Meltzer, who's 56, similarly suggests that despite his having to endure various and sundry vicissitudes associated with aging (high blood pressure, dry patches on the face, a dreaded hemorrhoid operation that turned unexpectedly pleasant thanks to "this really pretty nurse who gave me demerol and changed my ass dressing," etc.), he's not ready to put on mismatched plaids and walk the mall just yet. Subtitling the book "Musings on Time, Tide, Aging, Dying, and Such Biz," Meltzer proceeds to unravel, in his own inimitable hyphenated/apostrophe'd/parentheticalized style, some of the tangled strands of looming geezerdom.

Admittedly, for the uninitiated, Meltzer's stream-of-consciousness speed-rapping can seem irretrievably dense a study. Let's quick-scan one of his less labyrinthine passages:

"Every day, rain or shine, you see them, chugging down the avenoo -- paunchy, stoopy, prune-faced, droopy, drooly -- what a scene! Two or three abreast they come, clogging sidewalks with their arthrickety tortoise-dawdle: geezers on parade! Go' head and laugh, they are a scream. Clowns and rock stars never dressed so funny. Well, laugh while you can, buddy, but don't laugh too hard. . . 'cause someday soon the geezer will be YOU."

Meltzer's own autumn rhythm is: (a) cranky, as in "The Old Fuckeroo," a painful, pointed dissection of what he thinks made his increasingly distant father tick, or not tick as the case may be; (b) self-consciously reflective, for much of "The Wisdom In Our Underwear," a freewheeling ramble through pop culture that takes in everything from the beat poets to conspiracy theories of the 60s to his intense (geezerish?) dislike of personal computers; (c) tender (aww!), in "Models (1)", where he chronicles the heart-rending physical deterioration of his beloved 17-year old cat, "my sidekick, my pal, the first and only pet I've had with hair"; and (d) funny as hell, courtesy the entire 69-page title essay, particularly the recurring "Geezerology" segment which allows him to tick off the many hallmarks of aging that alternately amuse, perplex and terrify him.

I said above this is not a rock book. Not per se. But in its simultaneous embrace of the aging process and its rejection of the accompanying cliches -- he even lambasts an innocuous phrase like "over the hill" as "too e-z a metaphor... too pat, too bucolic, too one-size-fits-not-much" -- it has the same rhythm as rock & roll, that same "fuck-you" to the world (when the world refuses to bend to your adolescent will) vibe as rock & roll.

Meltzer has a whole lotta fuck-yous left in him. Not bad for a geezer.

Add a comment