In this brief review of the Ellen Willis anthology, Brian Joseph Davis writes:
“When Richard Meltzer, a one-time student of Allan Krapow, invented rock criticism as an art prank — applying the jargon of aesthetics usually reserved for the Met Opera to a review of The White Album –— he was only half joking. The serious part of his game, that pop music was a legitimate art, had enough legs to move on and alter critical discourse within a few years.”
The White Album reference is off — the dozens of pages RM devotes to the Beatles in The Aesthetics of Rock are decidedly (and crucially, I would argue) pre-White Album — but that’s a fairly minor quibble. The line that jumps out at me is, “applying the jargon of aesthetics usually reserved for the Met Opera.” Wow — really? I don’t know the first thing about opera or classical criticism, from the ’60s or any other time frame, but my guess is that the language such criticism is steeped in is about as far removed from The Aesthetics of Rock as you can possibly get. I mean, maybe there’s opera criticism that throws in a lot of references to philosophy or something — maybe that’s what Davis is getting at? Even so — I’d be very hard-pressed to believe that there’s any sort of connection there. It’s not that Meltzer (of all people) didn’t believe rock couldn’t hold up to the scrutiny of opera, but rather, that he knew rock had already by that point (mid-60s) traveled light years past opera, in terms of scope, ambition, awesomeness, triviality, etc. and etc. I’ve never ever gotten the sense that the hyper-inflated constantly-cancelling-itself-out language employed by Meltzer in any of his early criticism had any precedent — well, anywhere, really (or anyway, no clear precedent — he didn’t emerge out of nothing, obviously, and maybe his roots are the beats?).