A Whore Just Like The Rest BOOK review [Richard Meltzer]



Book Reviews
A Whore Just Like The Rest BOOK review [Richard Meltzer]
By
May 1, 2001, 03:27

A WHORE JUST LIKE THE REST by Richard Meltzer Da Capo Press, 20000

To me, reviewing a collection of Richard Meltzer's music writings is like someone painting a portrait of Picasso. He did this shit first, best. Defined the area of argument, vocabulary and elements of style (fuck Strunk and White). A Whore Just like the Rest is a remarkable book in any light, but most especially for devotees of rock and roll as mission statement as opposed to lifestyle accessory. Rock 'n' roll as perceptual/intellective mindset that allows the possessor thereof to critique and subvert the United States' consumerist worldview while living in that very geographical/economic/political terrain. A Whore Just like the Rest poses and exemplifies a reality that never crossed over from zealous, pioneering idealism to fact. A sad book, ultimately.

Meltzer grew up in suburban NYC, went to college upstate, attempted graduate work at Yale. Was one of the very first “rock writers”—as opposed to music critics who deigned to cover rock music—and entered the fray in the '60s. He was/is one of the originators of a writing style that was inherently, experientially as “rock” as the music itself was: impressionistic, striated with anomalous stream-of-consciousness jags that burned and zigzagged like the fiercest psychedelic guitar solo. That deliberately, informedly went for the dumb and crude—like the Stooges' knowingly brutalized redaction of hard rock cum electric blues as acknowledgement of Harry Partsch. He created the language Lester Bangs would later adopt and adapt so brilliantly (and yes, they were good friends). And he would apply the style and the fundamental sensibility that informed it to jazz and classical music as well as other cultural artifacts, liberating it from the nursery school confines of “the rock world.” So strong were his aesthetic/philosophical statements that hardly anyone, really, was influenced by it—assuredly not the current crop of rock journalism careerists (though legions claim him or acolyte, Bangs, as forebearer). Bangs owed Richard a huge debt, and Byron Coley and a few others also would sip from his font in the halcyon days of punk (20 years gone, right?) and raved thru fanzines like literary Bacchae.

That virulent, searing literature is documented voluminously, prodigally even; laid out chronologically it charts the maturation of his chops tellingly. The early stuff is a heady, self-contradictory blend of unabashed intellectualisms—namedropping radical modern philosophers, heavy theory will-he, nil-he—and conscientious, gonzo boxing of pedantry around the ears with a drunk's impassioned vehemence. He lets ya know that, done right, rock's not only a jolly adolescent pastime but emotional charge and personal-politic referential system as profound and extreme and practical as the Communist Manifesto, though it leads to personal freedom rather than conformity, standardization, et al.

As you go along, Meltzer expends considerable ink and editors' good graces with extreme experimentation: “Denny Lile” where he translates his text into its grammatical titles to wit “A personal pronoun beginning with a capital letter, followed by a transitive verb in the present indicative.” The writing is the experience rather than a description of experience. He continues to grow in literary skill and grasp of topic matter—U.S. consumer culture; subset “entertainment”—and in his stance vis a vis same, namely informed loyal opposition. And he is a loyalist, else he'd have moved on to new fields to till, esp. once the oeuvre had disappointed him thorough its willful acquiescence to the role of mere product, dispensed by a multi-billion dollar industry. Right?

Meltzer also turns this into an autobiography and quite rightly since music, pop culture, and his generation of copy is a major part of his life; his identification with all of the above makes it highly interrelated. For instance, he tends to apply his critical abilities to understanding romantic relationships and—if he's telling us true—expresses his thoughts to partners with the same conceits of impressionistic surrealist theater that so heavily flavor his prose.

He introduces these various pieces or groupings with essays that provide background as to his geographical locale, age, financial situation, love entanglements. That, tied in with the obvious evolution of his writing ability and thematic concerns, paints a poignant and consciously (anti) heroic self-portrait.

Richard first appears as an earnest, fiery young cultural iconoclast, and one willing to fully walk it like he talk it. And, at heart, that is the major factor that sets him apart from his contemporaries and most rock writers that have come after, all but a handful: (the late) Lester Bangs, (the late) Peter Laughner, (the late) Claude Bessey (do we see a pattern emerging?), Paul Morley (though the latter's field was stylized British avant-pop, not “rock” per se). He grows into the alienated hepster, willfully biting the hand that feeds his vinyl habit i.e., the record industry. Finally he is fully estranged from the beast and starts tackling any subject other than modern rock music; the challenge to write about it has worn out while the music's willingness and ability to be a force for dynamic social or personal change has all but evaporated.

About midway through we find his lengthy discourse on Lester Bangs, who he tries to re-demonize, desanctify, and basically humanize, putting his achievements and failings into a context that matches up Meltzer's memories of what the living, breathing, puking, feeling, thinking, ever-changing man was actually like to talk with, sat drinking with, etc. Incredibly touching; worth the price of admission by itself.

So—great reading, highly recommended for those who take their living and art straight up, no chaser. And as a Roman Catholic I tend to believe that there's always hope, always time for changes for the better. And this brave, bitter, explosive version of an alternate rock gestalt future that derailed in the late '60s could provide the vision, the impetus to start redressing 30 years' damage. It's hot and juicy enough. It could help you just to change yrself and kids and that's enough.

-Howard W.

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