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October 15th, 2003 MARK BAUMGARTEN | Books
 

Hangin' with the Geez

Richard Meltzer, the cranky rock critic, changes tunes.

     
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With his new book, Richard Meltzer is working to further shed his rock-critic mantle, while applying his brash, unrestrained and largely unsympathetic voice to more varied subjects. It's just another move that sets Meltzer apart from his old gang of rock-writer cronies, who are continuing to wax philosophical about music or holding court in the hereafter with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Meltzer kicked out hundreds of reviews for music mags like Creem and Crawdaddy before publishing the critic's classic, The Aesthetics of Rock, in 1970. Now he's showing his weathered mug to the world once again with a new collection, Autumn Rhythm: Musings on Time, Tide, Aging, Dying, and Such Biz.

With long and short essays, one-sentence passages and poems, in Autumn Rhythm the 58-year-old writer uses death as a gateway to talk about anything and everything, including the decline of humanity, the literary allure of boxing and sex dreams about his mother.

To mark publication of the new book, the Portland writer, who is not nearly as old and cranky as he purports to be in print, recently sat and shared some of his influences for the collection with WW.

Willamette Week: Why was it important to include pieces about your parents in Autumn Rhythm?

Richard Meltzer: I knew that I had to write about my mother. And I knew it wouldn't be easy, because it's not easy for anyone to write about their mother, you think? But when I wrote that [poem] it was 1981. The title of the poem is "Mother's Day." And in the years since, I've done readings with two other people who have done poems called "Mother's Day." And they were nothing like mine, they were all just like "Oh Ma, I miss you."

This is the poem where you're talking about having the sex dream about your mother.

Somewhere in the course of the night before my 35th or 36th birthday, I had this sex dream about my mother, and I got up and just wrote it. And I thought about how to use it and decided to start the piece out with it. And so I have how I felt about her in '81 and how I feel about her now. I tried to sell that piece to the Chicago Reader, and they may or may not run it, but the poem really bothers them. And I said, "Hey, it's just a verbatim transcript of a dream. I didn't synthesize that." They're sitting on the piece because they don't like the poem. My opinion is, if you want to run the piece without the poem, that's a payday and it's all right with me, but the piece began with that poem. The challenge of the piece was how to fill out this back story with Mom.

Why do you include boxing so much in these stories?

Boxing was a very big influence on me growing up. I would say that the first real influence on me in wanting to be a writer was Muhammad Ali. He spoke in all exclamation points, and it was just all "Bombast, Bombast!" I read a transcript recently of the post-fight interviews after he beat Sonny Liston, and it's so fantastic. He's just saying these wacked-out things that were just so right on, so loud, and the timing was just perfect. And I'm sure that that's what first gave me the literary bug.


Richard Meltzer reads Thursday, Oct. 16, at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. 7:30 pm. FREE
All ages.
 
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