My August 2000 chat with Richard Meltzer. I don’t think I got much out of Meltzer here that he hadn’t already written about or conveyed to other interviewers, but I’m glad I gave it a shot anyway. I mean, truthfully, if I’d accomplished nothing else with rockcritics.com other than the chance to talk to the author of The Aesthetics of Rock for a couple hours, I’d have been okay with that. Whether that tells you more about the scale of my ambitions here or the size and scope of Meltzer’s influence — I’ll leave that for you to figure out.
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Kicks just keep getting harder to find: Interview with Richard Meltzer
By Scott Woods (2000)
Technically, Richard Meltzer may not have invented rock criticism–he wasn’t necessarily “there first”–but with The Aesthetics of Rock (published in ’70, written a few years before that), he took music writing on a wild philosophical goose chase (“Vast generalizations, lots of empirical meat”) that 30 years later no one’s really caught up to (or fully understood–least of all myself). The four consecutive pages (199 to 202) Meltzer devotes to Herman’s Hermits alone (a probe into the “contextually evil” “I’m Into Something Good”; citing “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” as “an analogue to Oedipus”; etc.) constitute the sort of thought processes that any curious and critical mind would be thrilled to stumble upon, and probably a little scared if they did so. I’m pretty sure I’d rather be stranded on a desert island with The Aesthetics of Rock than just about any piece of music I can think of; I know for sure I’d never get to the bottom of it regardless.
Meltzer’s new book, A Whore Just Like the Rest, is a superb, 600-page anthology of his music writing, from an early, wigged-out piece on Jimi Hendrix in 1967, to 1998’s monumental-in-every-way “Vinyl Reckoning,” a huge up-yours to some former colleagues, and a passionate where-the-hell-am-I personal statement: “A tougher question than Am I a rockwriter? Was I ever a rockwriter? (Do I even really qualify?) (Am I ‘overqualified’?).” Um, probably?
Wednesday, July 12, two thousand zero-zero, I talked to Richard Meltzer on the phone, he in Portland, me in Toronto, 11:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. (Aside from the cheaper Bell charge after 11:00, it only seemed right to talk to Meltzer at night.) My prepared questions weren’t that interesting, but he was gracious and kind (dare I say, surprisingly so?) and put up with me anyway.
Scott: I wanted to start by asking you what you were like in high school?
Richard: What I was like in high school? Uh, I was a four-eyed shorty with a flat-top…
Scott: Talk about it in terms of social groups –did you fit in? Did you have many friends?
Richard: Uh, I didn’t fit in, but I wouldn’t say that anybody — uh, there was probably a small elite that had what you would call a successful social life, but they were clearly a minority. I mean, I would say that most people I knew were thoroughly miserable. But there was no bonding in that — everybody was sort of un-AFFILIATEDLY miserable.