The Bird Is the Word

Meltzer on the Doors: "Absolutely Live is a great party album. And what makes parties what they are? Food, mostly." Then he gives recipes for dishes to accompany the album, e.g., "Vomit à la Vitamin Pill" to go with "Soul Kitchen" (ingredients: "vitamin pill, any size or potency; Venetian blind cord"), "TV-Guide Pizza" (staple remover optional) to go with "Who Do You Love?" ("Dump the liquid grease all over [the pizza] and stick it back in the oven until it reaches desired crispyhood. And you can stick the staple remover on there too if you go for that. Yum-yum.") Here he's not reporting a context but creating one, though one obviously appropriate to the Doors. (Which makes this piece probably rock-magazine acceptable. When I read it as a teenager I was hit with this epiphany: Historians and archaeologists/anthropologists of the future would understand more about the Doors from this piece than they would from a description of the Doors' music. Of course, there's no reason they couldn't learn from both—and a critic who could convincingly draw a connection between the musical notes and the vomit pill would be a great critic.)

Meltzer quoting highway patrolman Sgt. Jack Berry in regard to the traffic-jammed-and-abandoned cars at Altamont: "It's really a beautiful sight to see, nothing moving except the people themselves, and it's just like the cars are part of nature too, or art, like in a museum. It's beautiful, really, and I sure hope the people don't distort this in the press because it really shows us what travel is all about. These kids are hiking over there to the rock and roll, the music, but I can't really understand why they don't just stay here and have a party around the cars." Meltzer made this quote up, made up the entire piece, fiction, avoided mention of the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, stabbing deaths, or anything else that made Altamont newspaper-important. No, there was one mention of the Stones: "Even after the Stones were finished and most people were home in bed there were still parties going on. The Bellport Country Club was the scene of a gay glamorous party as members of the Bellport Chamber of Commerce gathered for their annual dinner-dance." And Meltzer did describe the performances of the Guess Who and Joe Cocker (neither of whom actually played at Altamont). So: imaginary context. Context completely at odds with the sense of importance attached to the main event. The context of the context: readers (and publishers) looking for insight on tragic event. Meltzer's act: not to cooperate with their sense of what's important, not to cooperate with their sense of the subject matter.

Meltzer about heroin: "And they oughta recycle all the used [fingernails] and use them in natural backscratchers. With replacements for when they get worn down and you could buy them in either sharp or dull as you all know even the dull ones get the job done too." Well, the first three paragraphs of the piece had been about heroin, and then Meltzer just veered away to chewing nails and scratching backs. He doesn't collapse the distinction between importance and unimportance so much as he simply walks away from the issue, leaving you to do the same, if you want. The walking away in the Altamont piece was still shaped by—was a reversal of—what was being walked away from (rock show to parked cars, freak party to chamber of commerce party). Whereas the heroin piece is more like: Any subject contains a multitude of tangents just waiting, like rabbit holes; here's one, and down we go.

Slowing down a fart
photo: Bob Kruen
Slowing down a fart


Richard Meltzer
A Whore Just Like the Rest: The Music Writings of Richard Meltzer
Da Capo Press
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Meltzer's review of an album by Ned: "Asphalt can be used to cover cobblestones. It can be taken home (if no one is lookin'). Asphalt should not be confused with, with, with, with . . . asbestos. Confuse them at your own risk. Insects will sometimes live in cement but never asphalt. Asphalt soup tastes like tar. Asphalt soap does not clean especially well. Asphalt dopes are QUITE dopey. They know nothing of asphalt (having never seen it); some live in Alaska." And now, here, the subject matter is simply gone, erased; it's not even a point to be walked away from. The screen, camera, page is blank, and Meltzer is just writing. How does it feel to be on your own?

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