The Aesthetics Of Rock – Richard Meltzer (1965-68)

“Reading Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock twenty years after first coming across excerpts from it in Crawdaddy! magazine, I’m most of all convinced that the book is not a joke. It was received as a joke, I think, both when those excerpts were published in 1966 and ’67, and when the book itself came out in 1970: a timely (’66) or slightly dated (’70) parody of the then-new (or already-superannuated) form of rock criticism. In 1966 bedazzled college students like myself were helplessly dumping quotes from Plato on Beatle hits and Dylan albums, attempting to make sense of the emotions the music was provoking, trying to talk about the world the music seemed to be changing–chang­ing forever, it seemed, and forever for the better. In the face of all that, Meltzer’s book communicated not only as a joke–others might quote Plato; he’d simultaneously run rock ‘n’ roll through all of Western philosophy, and vice versa, not to mention turning the same trick on the better part of modern art, until you couldn’t tell one from another–the book communicated as a pointedly cynical joke, out of tune with the mandated optimism of late ’60s pop culture. That may be why a lot of people didn’t like it, why it made them feel queasy, creepy. The tones of reverence, gratitude, or religious passivity present in so much of the rock criticism of the time were altogether missing in Meltzer’s pages: he didn’t appear to take anything seriously. He made fun of everything under the sun, collapsing all distinctions, standards, and categories, writing about Tommy James and the Shondells as if they were as epistemologically significant as the Beatles–and in the late ’60s, to rock fans, that was a far more heinous, heretical violation than talking about the Beatles as if they were as interesting as Aristotle. Meltzer, it seemed, reduced everything to self-cancelling blather; the only question was how, or why, he sustained the enterprise through 338 pages. Well, there are a number of things to add today, twenty years after. …”
Introduction to ‘The Aesthetics of Rock’ (1986) (Video)
The Aesthetics of Rock – Richard Meltzer (February 1, 1967)
PERFECT SOUND FOREVER: Interview by Jason Gross (August 2000)
W – Richard Meltzer

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