By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"At a certain point, every rock writer in the country became plugged into a pathetic, binary yes/no marketplace-driven tale told wrong," he says. "Rock mags existed to get ads, so you had to like so many bands a year. You had to not mock the market." Meltzer was sick of writing record reviews. Instead he wrote around the records he was reviewing. Soon enough, his stuff was relegated to fly-by-night publications like Zoo World. The lack of editorial oversight was an opportunity. He began devoting his energies to a new topic: his rock & roll autobiography. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a 1975 piece titled "Handsome Dick Throws the Party of the Century," originally published in a magazine called Zoot:
Lots of stray teen gash that no one was touchin at all. That you could reach your hand up, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. As well as 20. But no one was touchin. F'in deadbeats cause they were f'ed up on quaaludes. Dick was only wearin a jock by now (9 ludes) and pink swastikas in lipstick all over his body. He requested a mouth on his pecker from any gal willing but no go. Maybe it was his party but they weren't about to suck whale meat. But that don't mean they wouldn't suck people meat so I made my move . . . Fine party, very fine and except at the very beginning music DID NOT make it possible. Time was music is what made parties possible. Kids don't f'in need "pop" music no more (any more'n they need soda pop), they get off on life itself: cookin with gas. Pop music is PLOP MUSIC. Nobody needs it.
A night out fueled Meltzer's cultural critique. Understandably this behavior did not endear him to people. Mention Meltzer's name to those who knew him in his prime, and they tend to cower or grimace. To paraphrase the comments of two: "Asshole." "I read some poetry of his, invited him over to talk, and he jumped me. I had to ask him to leave." During the '80s, Meltzer frequently received death threats from female readers of his column in the L.A. Reader. They were outraged by his perceived lack of feminist sensibility.
In 2000, there was a renaissance of interest in the Noise Boys. Rock critic Jim DeRogatis wrote a biography of Bangs, and Philip Seymour Hoffman played him in Cameron Crowe's semiautobiographical film Almost Famous. DaCapo published The Nick Tosches Reader and an anthology of Meltzer's music writing, A Whore Just Like the Rest. Robert Christgau, the longtime Village Voicewriter known as "the dean of American rock critics," weighed in. "Meltzer has it 180 degrees wrong when he begrudgingly allows as how I liked him 'personally . . . and to some degree professionally,'" he wrote. "Truth is, I considered Meltzer an antisocial jerk, and please read 'Handsome Dick Throws the Party of the Century' before calling me a goody-goody. As a writer, however, I thought he was terrific. And it turns out he was only warming up."
I'M REMINDED OF A QUOTE FROM George W.S. Trow's book Within the Context of No Context, which bemoaned the spiraling irrelevance of America's ahistorical television culture:
Adolescence: The culture, for reasons having to do with the working of the marketplace, did not make available any but the grimmest, most false-seeming adulthood. Childhood was provided. An amazing, various childhood, full of the most extraordinary material possibilities. That was it. Nothing more. Just childhood. An adolescence had to be improvised, and it was. That it was improvised -- mostly out of rock & roll music -- so astounded the people who pulled it off that they quite rightly considered it the most important historical event of their times and have circled around it ever since.
This is a withering critique. Essentially, Trow is saying that rock & roll was a pitiful refuge for those who had nothing else, a false God that baby-boomers would bow down to in reverence for the rest of their natural-born lives.
Meltzer, however, believed that rock could evolve. In New York, he wrote lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult, classmates of his at SUNY Stony Brook and one of the first heavy-metal bands. In the mid-'70s he moved to California and became a champion and guiding spirit of punk. In January '78, at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, he was invited by the Sex Pistols to introduce their last show with Sid Vicious. Their tour manager thought the crowd too placid and full of hippies. Meltzer was there to rile them up. (He was a bit too effective, and Bill Graham, the owner of the hall, kicked him out.) Back in SoCal, Meltzer hosted a freeform punk show on KPFK, encouraging the early exploits of the Go-Go's, Slashmagazine's Claude Bessy and Germs vocalist Darby Crash. His own band, Vom (slogan: Vom Wants Your Mom), released a single entitled "Electrocute Your Cock." He was the reigning theorist behind nihilist punk.
Did punk need a theorist? Trow dismissed punk as a greater tragedy than rock & roll:
Defacement: Punk art is allied to what an extraordinary prisoner might do in his cell. Not ask for parole, for instance, or bone up on his case, but etch crazy feather patterns into certain secret places. There's arrogance in it, and pride, too.