Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Now It Can Be Told

With Albert Goldman dead gone to his reward (66, heart attack, no survivors), I'm free at long last to pay him the respects he deserves. I recall three personal encounters with Goldman in the '60s. The first was a lecture at the 92nd Street Y where he praised Jim Morrison, who wasn't dead yet, and made fun of Otis Redding, who was. The second was in a courthouse in New Jersey, where his professorial shtick demolished obscenity charges against John & Yoko's Two Virgins. The third was Thanksgiving, 1969, when we were both invited to dinner by a mutual friend.

A Sunday or two before, Goldman had published a New York Times piece comparing a November 8 Rolling Stones concert at the L.A. Forum to a Nuremberg rally. Having just spent several months reading mass culture theory in the New York Public Library, I was aware of the extreme banality of this analogy--fascism obsessed the Frankfort School theorists who towered over all such discourse. Still, I don't recall being confrontational. We were sharing a joint, I was very fond of our host, and hell, it was Thanksgiving. But since I'd passed up a chance to attend the same concert, I made small talk about it. With considerable glee, Goldman informed me that he hadn't been there either.

To be honest, I think it's possible he wasn't telling the truth--this was Albert Goldman, after all. Maybe it was just the hipster Ph.D. from Life magazine funning the longhaired yokel making 40 bucks a column at his downtown rag. But I'm positive he said it. Unfortunately, the only other witness--our host was elsewhere--was a wonderful woman named Sue Wender. The last I heard of Sue was 20 years ago, when she was spotted at an ashram in Big Sur, and I doubt Goldman's admission/boast made much of an impression on her anyway. So when Greil Marcus wanted to use the story in his famous attack on Goldman's Elvis--the Voice essay containing the "cultural genocide" charge quoted high up in last week's Times obit--Goldman simply denied it. It was his word against mine, and our lawyers said no go.

Now, however, it's my word against the void. Goldman knew all about how that worked. Too bad, in a way, that he's not important enough to merit his own biography.

Village Voice, 1994