This leads to a discussion of a section in A Whore Just Like the Rest where the New York Dolls are playing at a party for Mercury Records in the early ’70s, just as that record company was flushing itself into oblivion. Meltzer and Nick Tosches are the only writers who bother to show up at this sad affair, and Meltzer starts flinging macaroni salad at David Johansen’s leather pants. A kid who hung with the New York band the Dictators jumps onstage to boogie down with the Dolls in a ’60s-style/tribal/communal rave, a kind of we’re all in this together/it’s us against them/let’s erase the space between the stage and the audience! attitude the Dolls were pantomiming if not inviting — and they kicked the crap out of him.
“Hey,” I ask Meltzer, “do you remember, about that time, the Dolls were on public-access cable in Manhattan almost 24 hours a day?”
“Yeah,” he goes. “They were playing at the old Mercer Arts Center until the place collapsed.”
Ah, good times.
“A lot of readers really hate you,” I point out to him, as if he doesn’t already know this.
“Yeah, well, a lot of people want writers to behave with authority. They want to be led by the nose. And when they’re not, it annoys them.”
“The first rock writer I remember reading,” I say, “was Robert Christgau [at the Village Voice]. I remember thinking, What the fuck? The guy couldn’t be more deliberately obtuse, I thought. It was, Jesus, man! Lighten up, you’re writing about rock and roll.”
Meltzer worked under/
with/around Christgau and treats his relationship with him and the Village Voice in his book. “He and Greil Marcus regarded each other as the bee’s knees.”
I ask him about Marcus, and Meltzer calls him “a square.” He then goes on to tell me a story about him and Tosches going over to Marcus’s house, where the only thing to drink besides Miller High Life was Carnaby Street gin from a bottle that had been left topless on a shelf for years, rendering the stuff into little more than alcohol-free perfume — presumably with a protective layer of bug flotsam.
“I’m sure Nick and I were too pissed off to be sociable, so I don’t remember talking to Greil at that event.”
“People are going to want to know, what’s the deal with Meltzer?” I then go on to list some of the adjectives I’ve heard applied to him, like wise-ass, rakehell, and obdurate.
“Well, I’ve been all of those things. I’ve been intentionally obtuse, I’ve been clear as day, I’ve been a trickster and a mischief-maker…”
“A gunslinger, a surfer, and a hoodoo man…”
“Yeah, but most of these pieces are pretty direct.”
“It’s funny to me that people have so much trouble with it.”
“It’s funny to me too.”
Hating Richard Meltzer, I figure, serves a direct function: whatever it is that pisses you off should be a fairly accurate indicator of your own cultural prejudices.
Meltzer ends his book with a poem that first appeared in this paper. Part of it reads:
“I’m too, too generous.
Don’t take me seriously.
No more seriously than your life.
Don’t tread on me.
Correct me if I’m wrong.
School is out…”