When my sister asked me for Christmas gift ideas a little more than a year ago, she mentioned possibly getting me a couple of grammar and style books to befit the Journalism degree that I was about to receive, as well as my own still-budding -- "stillborn" -- future as a writer. I thought about it long enough to realize that this book here, even based on the title alone, probably reflected journalism and writing much more realistically than anything that Strunk & White had to say going on a century ago, so I suggested it to her. Well, she got it for me off here, but it still came bundled with those damn grammar books, which made for an odd pairing, indeed, to say the least.
For one thing, "A Whore Just Like the Rest" doesn't really flout the rules of standard English as much as it simply NEGATES them altogether -- as the product of some hotter, looser realm. It pretty much does that with standard rock criticism, too. The only differences are that, by his own admission, Richard Meltzer practically gave birth to that beast and regularly produced his share of bastard offspring with it. In contrast, many of those who've followed his path -- "all the way to the bank," as it were -- probably still can't acknowledge that Bastardization was only the first milepost that they faced.
That is to say, Richard Meltzer is probably one rock critic you'll never see as a talking head on VH1. (Hell, how many OTHER Baby Boomers do you know who were more shaken by Darby Crash's death than by John Lennon's?) The roughly 30 years of work anthologized in this book includes windy, philosophical treatises that you'd probably need a Master's degree (or a good joint) to decipher; record company junket write-ups that focus more on the available food, booze, sex and drugs than on whatever musical act was supposed to be getting hyped; reviews of sub-cutout-bin-caliber LPs that Meltzer never bothered to open -- much less play -- and described, at best, from the sleeve artwork and song titles; and latter-day pieces in which the ghost of rock criticism is given up entirely, in favor of such diverse subject matter as wrestling, classical music, jazz, Lawrence Welk, piano bars and adult video stores (in the same piece), MTV (as something "worse than heroin" -- this is in 1983) and the L.A. Riots.
Granted, some of this stuff is as off-the-wall as it sounds, and some of it is a great deal more so. But there are also some pieces that serve as both priceless glimpses and brutal demystifications of, among other things, the '60s, the New York pre-new-wave and L.A. pre-hardcore scenes and Lester Bangs. (The two were companions as dysfunctional as they were sincere, and Lester gets a sordid chapter of his own sandwiched between "Punk" and the intriguingly-titled "Weddings, Breasts and Dirty Clothes.") It also goes without saying that most of Meltzer's stuff is as funny and a blast to partake in as a drunken conversation at a good dive show.
Of course, there's also a swath of darkness that runs through the core of the book from the second paragraph of the introduction onward. Meltzer's an old man now (he turns 57 this year, I think) and feels alarmingly strongly that he's about to check out. Lester Bangs, who acknowledged Meltzer as one of his only real literary influences, still hogs the spotlight from him even in death. And while many other rock critics have gone on to command six-figure salaries and almost-professorial respect in the mainstream, Meltzer's often relegated to banging out concert listing blurbs in the "San Diego Reader" for a paycheck that can't even buy a good seat at a U2 concert now. (Not that it matters.) But, then again, some of Meltzer's most uncompromising work has come dripping with rage. His take on the L.A. Riots is filled with such real vitriol for the police, the government and the white hierarchy in general that it makes "The White Noise Supremacists" sound like a quiet plea of resignation for people to be a bit nicer to each other at shows. And around the time of "Almost Famous," a friend of mine from San Diego mailed me one of Meltzer's cover stories that deconstructed -- as in DISEMBOWELED -- Cameron Crowe and the whole "Rolling Stone" School of Rock Criticism. (That one won an award, I think.)
So, who should read this book? Well, on the journalism/writing side, those who just take their work too damn seriously, those who are pretty sure that it won't get them anywhere and those who repeatedly must "whore" themselves. (That should be just about every J-school grad of the past two or three years, I reckon.) Besides that, though, this book is a great choice for anyone who enjoys blasting loud music on their speakers while high on, if nothing else, adrenaline.