Richard Can’t Dance

Meltzer's an old bitch...For some unknown reason, a nearby Barnes & Noble has Richard Meltzer’s Autumn Rhythm: Musings on Time, Tide, Aging, Dying and Such Biz (Da Capo Press; $14.00) shelved in the philosophy section. It puzzled me why it was there. Before I read it. And afterwards. Perhaps someone noted he’d written a book titled The Aesthetics of Rock and figured the man must be some sort of Schopenhauer or something, someone who switched from writing about the positives (rock) to something more dour (death). Maybe it was a joke played by a waggish, underpaid book monger. Or maybe it was a case of someone wanting to keep it in the store while saving enough scratch to buy the hardcover version, so taking it out of the music section seemed like a good plan. If the latter, then the paperback price noted above is certainly a savings. If it is the middle, then the joke is piss poor, or not really funny: someone who is truly looking for enlightenment of any sort who picks up the book might as well be looking at the ground in the bottom of their venti coffee cup. And if it is the first name, then the shelver in question is probably moving the Martha Stewart cooking and home decorating books to the “true crime” section.

Autumn Rhythm is a bathetic memoir of sorts (“Twenty five years ago. . .I slipped the sausage to Helen Wheels [could we get more juvenile?], who died last week.”). Meltzer, at age 56, evidently was spending too much time in his room or something, pining over the pages in his high school year book in effect, which led him to start essaying issues related to his mortality in a way only slightly different than the teenaged mopes who Hamletize at great length: they tend to figure that their acne is going to keep them ever from getting a date; Meltzer, whose acne is presumably behind him and whose hemorrhoids, he reports, no longer are, has different issues. He’s getting old. Big fucking deal. We all are. Suck it up Rich. Some of your peers not only have, but seem to be thriving as a result. Hell, Nancy Sinatra, whom you incorrectly ID as being dead in a “poem” included in the book (“Generic Death Poem”) is not only alive, but working in the studio with musicians a fraction of her age. “Ten years ago, I looked like Robert DeNiro, the young Robert DeNiro. I now look like Ulysses S. Grant.” A little problem there, Rich. DeNiro was born in 1943. Which means he’s just a bit older than you are. So 10 years ago it would have been nothing short of a miracle if the 46-year-old you looked like a “young” DeNiro. One more thing: While Grant is dead, DeNiro is still working, not writing about how he has trouble remembering things and getting it up.

The nugget is this: “At 26, I didn’t think much about eventually being 49. If I did at all, it was simply in arithmetic terms—that it would take me 23 years to get there. Who’d’ve thought it would only take 9 or 10? In life, ha, ‘rithmetic works existentially. Over the hills! Gone!. . .fuckadoodle.” Fuckadoodle, indeed. Meltzer’s point was made a few hundred years ago by Andrew Marvell (1621-78—fuckadoodle: he died at age 57!), in “To His Coy Mistress” (“Had we but world enough, and time,/This coyness, lady, would were no crime. . . .”). Or, in the words of Marvin Gaye, “Let’s get it on.” But, no, Walgreen’s might be closed and there’s no ‘script for Viagra.

What’s the point of even paying any attention to this book? It’s this: Back in the day, as it were, Meltzer was one of the best rock critics working, along with the likes of Lester Bangs (who died in 1982). That work is collected in A Whore Like All the Rest (also available from Da Capo), which serves as a counterpoint to Autumn Rhythm. Meltzer can no longer dance, apparently. Perhaps his knees have given out. If that’s the case, go see a orthopod or something, and leave us alone.

One thought on “Richard Can’t Dance”

  1. I think what Meltzer does is often disguise laziness with a jaded, devil-may-care attitude. The guy, when on, can write. He’s just rarely ever on. I can’t think of much music he got excited about at all post 1975. The biggest example, I guess, would be The Minutemen, but they are the exception to the rule. Plus he’s left a bad taste in my mouth several times with pieces he’s written about people who are dead. Two examples would be Lester Bangs and Charles Bukowski. I have no problem with not romanticizing a person, but Meltzer just came off as carping and jealous a lot of the time.

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