Friday, February 27, 2015

The Nephew of American Rock Criticism

In the wake of the publication of his memoir, I Am the Antichrist(gau), many readers have been asking me if I knew Robert Christgau, the so-called dean of American rock critics. Well, of course I did. As one of the biggest of the biggies — I was never comfortable with being called The Father of American Rock Criticism, but was fine with being its Nephew) — I was acquainted with most of the other giants in the field, and in their, and my own, homes and offices. Greil Marcus kindly allowed me to “crash” in the guest bedroom of his luxurious home in the hills above Berkeley when I was two and twenty, at a time when most people our age were grateful to have a sleeping bag, let alone a guest bedroom. At a gala event at A&M Records, St. Lester Bangs, responding to my trying to grow a moustache, once informed me, “You look like a fuckin' Mexican.” I had an ongoing romantic relationship with Dave Marsh before we realized that we were two very different people, I 6-1 and he abnormally diminutive, the shrill we’re-all-one,-man rhetoric of the time notwithstanding.

 I first met Bob (as his closest friends call him) in around 1973 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where I’d become something of a fixture. I would sleep until around four in the afternoon, gobble some Benzedrine, and allow four of my acolytes — mostly aspiring rock journalists from the university I’d attended who longed to follow in my footsteps — to carry me down to the pool, where, in the autumn and winter months, I would grouse about the fact of its “already” being a little nippy, or dark. According to my whim, they would scamper to bring me Quaaludes, Dom Perignon, and provocatively dressed young women who’d turned 18 no more than 72 hours before. At one point, I was attended by no fewer then seven such minions, including a taster and a stammering freshman whose sole function was to dab lubricant on my penis in the event that I wanted to copulate anally with one of the young women. (Another minion, in his second year of law school, had advised that, to preclude impregnation, I abstain from traditional coitus).

Hearing that Christgau had arrived at the hotel, I dispatched two of the larger-breasted girls to accompany him out to me.He seemed strangely discomfited. “Jesus, Christgau,” I whooped collegially, taking pains to include the comma as I allowed two of my minions to help me to my feet, “chill out a little, dude. Live a little, why don’t you?” When I tried to embrace him, he recoiled. New Yorkers! He didn’t even want one of the barely-18 to fellate him as we chatted!

We talked at length — or at least until the Quaaludes kicked in — mostly about ethics, a subject that seemed close to his heart.  “If I don’t have integrity,” he said, very seriously at one point, “I have nothing at all.” I had to guffaw at that. Only months before, solely to try to make Ray Davies like me, I had written a glowing review of The Kinks at the Whisky a-Go-Go even though (a) I was employed by their record company, and (b) they were pure shite, thanks to not having troubled themselves to rehearse before undertaking their first American tour in four years. Since then, it had become my practice before reviewing a concert or record to ascertain how much a glowing review was worth to the artist’s management. At my peak, I received a Porsche 911,$25,000 in a Swiss bank account, and three months in an ocean-front condominium in Malibu with Joey Heatherton to tell the readers of Rolling Stone how very much I liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Hearing this, Bob went pale, got to his feet, and asked where the gentlemen’s lavatory was. I had one of my minions guide him to it, and never saw him again — Bob, that is, and not the minion, who of course hurried back to the swimming poole, lest one of the others try to vault over him on my list of favorites. I wish him the very best with his memoir, and Bob too.

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