THE NIGHT (ALONE) by Richard Meltzer

Book Reviews
THE NIGHT (ALONE) by Richard Meltzer
Dec 1, 1995, 13:57


THE NIGHT (ALONE) by Richard Meltzer; Little, Brown And Co., 1995

It's hard to write this, as using my normal stylistic devices in this context  will read like parody at worst and at best, paraphrase. Yes. I'm one more of Richard Meltzer's hapless literary acolytes. Richard Meltzer is the master and main source of expressive rock 'n' roll prose style: outrageous coinages (cribbed from Mencken I bet); bold, contradicting juxtapositions of “voices,” and concepts (from Burroughs/Gysin); chronically lapsing into roughly hewn, at times crude tableaux from his own life (Henry Miller). All this might or might not be pressed into service to make or illustrate points pertinent to rock music. Yes, all these conventions were introduced into the rock journalist lexicon by Meltzer starting in the early '70s and thus a writing “style” was born. Add moral content and you get Lester Bangs. Add an encyclopedic knowledge of undie-rock arcana and subtract the ethics (or any other sort of socio-political agenda and you get Coley. Who else is there that counts—as a stylist?) And Meltzer wrote lyrics for the first batch of Blue Oyster Cult albs! After blazing the  anti-Christgau-ian aesthetic, Meltzer quasi-disappeared from the active ranks of rock-critdom, immersing himself in the nascent LA punk scene (which he correctly reckoned his seminal writings had engendered sensibility of) fronting the incomparable Vom (The Angry Samoans being lineal descendants thereof) and hosting his own literally noisome radio show. A series of small books and sporadic contributions to various West Coast publications on a wide variety of topics with rock and punk giving way to jazz in his musical predilections.

Now there's The Night (Alone), billed as a “novel,” but structured as a series of brief essays, both prosaic and poetic: sexual (mis)adventures; cataloguing odd lots of everyday items: his entire wardrobe, everything colored black in his household; anecdotes 'bout being the first and best rock writer to out-lifestyle the most desperado of rock stars. Meltzer's eye for detail is extraordinary and in its exaggerated affectionate foci, revelatory and poetic: noting the shade of black of the handle of a toothbrush he points out its “icy” texture. Then there's his surreal flair for association: very natural, organic yet “free” and thereby consistently visionary. And while raving unrestrainedly, like a bull pointedly grazing all and only the red clover in a pasture, his flights of fancy do subtly circle and yield an eerie coherency, revealing a unity that the reader probably never suspected. The writing is nothing short of gorgeous; provocative and as artful as a Summer's day in the Arctic is long. A joyous read. Voluptuous in much of its imagery and narration. Audacious yet meticulous in its manipulation of sentence structure, contractions, evocative coinages and so on. Lovely stuff. If you've already worked thru Henry Miller's canon and are hungry for more, look no further.

In the next few months, my urge to read rock will most definitely be assuaged by repeated thumbings of this tome. I will gladly forego the diffuse careerist mutterings of the rock press establishment both above and under ground, during this period.

-Howard W.

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