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Meltzer may have agreed with him. He points to 1981, the year of Trow's essay, as the year he lost faith in music. He was kicked off his radio show. He ceased going to concerts. He stopped buying rock albums and began getting into jazz. Within a year, Lester Bangs had overdosed.
"What seemed like anarchy was in fact a bottomless sadness," Meltzer tells me. "The day Darby Crash died, John Lennon did too." Meltzer's life circa '81 would seem to provide fodder for Trow's analysis. His two pillars of faith -- punk and the Beatles -- were deceased.
But just wait a second. Trow was writing, admittedly, as someone raised to be part of the upper-middle class. Not everyone is raised in such enviable circumstances. Meltzer grew up in Far Rockaway, one of New York's least cosmopolitan communities. He has written of his parents, "My father was a prick. My mother was a cunt." His was not an "amazing, various" childhood. Rock was a way out.
"I'll say Elvis saved my life," Meltzer explains. "There was nothing in 1955, '56, '57. In the seventh grade, I was a four-eyed, four-foot-seven ugly little guy. At best, I would have grown up to be a math teacher in Brooklyn. Seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Showfor just a few minutes let me know the world would never be the same. Supposedly they didn't show his hips -- that's the ä legend -- but I don't even remember. Just to look in his fucking eyes. My parents could never tell me how to dress, how to walk, how to talk ever again. He gave the youth of white America the warrant to be, to have a body, to have a mind, to laugh, to cry, to scream, and there wasn't that before. I mean, they used to ban comic books."
For some, music is as good as life gets.
TO REPEAT, RICHARD MELTZER LIVES in Portland. We're in his little yellow house. There are Tucks Medicated Pads in the bathroom, mauve louvered blinds in the windows and roses printed on the wallpaper. On a table next to the living-room couch, an ASCAPDeems Taylor Award he won for A Whore Just Like the Restsits atop two books -- William Burroughs' Word Virusand Eric Danville's The Complete Linda Lovelace.
Meltzer's legendary cantankerousness now has a veneer of Honeymooners-style domesticity. His longtime girlfriend walks into the living room with a four-pack of Slimfast shakes wrapped in Scotch tape on which he's written the words "100% Doo-Doo Water" in Magic Marker. "This is what DuPont used to call 'better living through chemistry,'" he says. Try as you may to live wild and free, your life may well end up including echoes of your parents'.
In the '80s and '90s, Meltzer wrote for the L.A. Reader, L.A. Weekly, Spin and the Village Voice. Today, he occasionally writes long articles for the San Diego Reader on topics such as getting old, record collecting and the 20th century. In '95, Little, Brown published his first novel, the experimental The Night (Alone), but it was quickly remaindered. He's currently working on a second novel made up of what he calls "modules" -- bursts of pure smut, single-page filth. He no longer cares much for new music.
"A few years ago I traded a bunch of shit for the blues," he says. Rube Lacy's 1928 song "Ham Hound Crave" plays on the stereo.
Don't want no huggin' Don't need no kissin' Mama got a hambone I wonder if I can get it boiled.
Meltzer snaps on a rubber glove and prepares to rub thyroid gel in Hooper's ear. "I can no longer handle two major stressful things in a day," he says. "Poking the cat is one. There's always a second. I can't use a third."
Since I left him, Meltzer's had some hard months. In March, he sent me an e-mail: "It's Hooper . . . and he's just, well, DIED." In April, Linda Boreman, a.k.a. Lovelace, died of injuries received in a car wreck. His critical archetype, Friedrich Nietzsche, lived to the age of 55, two years younger than Meltzer is now.
My last night in Portland, Meltzer's in a bar, holding court, contemplating the songs that come out of the jukebox.
"It was something about the night," he says, explaining why the Doors are his favorite band of all time. "There's never been anything like it. Just in terms of sexual iconography, they were way ahead of Jagger. They weren't fake black R&B, and unlike the Beach Boys, they weren't truculent surfers. They were your dick."
He recites the lyrics to "When the Music's Over." Coming from his lips, they suggest he possesses an insight that others might not:
Well the music is your special friend Dance on fire as it intends Music is your only friend Until the end