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The Aesthetics of Rock
The Aesthetics of Rock is a book by Richard Meltzer (born May 10, 1945). Written between 1965 and 1968, it was published in 1970. Da Capo Press in 1987 published an unabridged edition with a new foreword by Meltzer. It is one of the first works of rock-music criticism and analysis. He wrote it as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and as a graduate student at Yale, from which he was, as he relates in his foreword, "kicked out toot-sweet on my rock-roll caboose" for writing papers with rock-music themes for philosophy classes.
Although perceived upon publication as an arcane work which attempted to place rock and roll music in the tradition of Western philosophy, and as something of an impenetrable in-joke, The Aesthetics of Rock is a serious book about rock and roll in what might be termed its classic era. That Meltzer uses humor in his analysis is perhaps what confused initial readers. Meltzer writes about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies and Chuck Berry, as well as about lesser groups such as the Searchers, and attempts to explain how rock and roll differs from earlier art forms. To do so, he posits a "rock vocabulary" that includes the adjectives "incongruous, trivial, mediocre, banal, insipid, maudlin, abominable, trite, redundant, repulsive, ugly, innocuous, crass, incoherent, vulgar, tasteless, sour, boring." And he writes, "The sheer overstatement of rock 'n' roll presents a front which escapes all criticism, but which leads to an absurd body of this attempted criticism."
Writer Greil Marcus, in his introduction to the Da Capo edition of Aesthetics, maintains that the book is "the best and most obsessive book about the Beatles ever written," and that the work seeks to illuminate "the collapse of art into everyday life, and vice versa." As with many a piece of philosophical writing, the aphoristic insights are perhaps the most attractive feature of Aesthetics, as in Meltzer's comment about the Beach Boys: " "California Girls" gives the impression of attempting to extract the final ounce of pleasure from a sexually worn body." Or this: "Beatle emulation, imitation, and plagiarism have been interesting over the years. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was of course by the Beatles the first few times you heard it, but then you found out it was by the Byrds, who sure as hell went off on their own thing immediately."
Chosen as both one of "The Best Rock 'n' Roll Books Ever" (New Musical Express) and one of "The 10 Worst Rock Books" (The Book of Rock Lists), The Aesthetics of Rock has achieved the status of a book honored by reference but, perhaps, rarely read, which, given the aesthetic it espouses, might well mean it is a classic indeed.
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