Like all right-thinking people, I join the chorus of deploration (is that a word? Evidently not, unless you're Josquin) over the news that Alan Rich has been ousted from the pages of the LA Weekly. Perhaps the surprise is that they let him hang around as long as they did, given the longstanding and almost explicitly stated commitment of Village Voice Media honcho Michael Lacey and his troupe of flunkies to Lack of Quality at all costs. I'm not intimately conversant with the LA Weekly, but the SF Weekly up here where I live certainly carries the banner for all that is smug, fatuous, and thought-deadening. Alan's columns must have seemed defiantly, definitively out of place.
The good news, of course, is that he is still among us (note to bloggers: never title an item about an 83-year-old widely beloved legend "Bad news from LA" unless your express intention is to give your readers a nasty shock), and that he will continue to post his columns on the internet. I for one couldn't do without them — not so much for the window they provide onto Los Angeles' musical life as for the entree they offer into Alan's amazing musical consciousness.
It was reading his reviews in New York throughout the 1970s that first made me want to get into this game. Imagine what an eye-opener those articles were — the smart, pugnacious prose style, the insatiable curiosity, the breadth of knowledge, and best of all, the passion for music (it's a fortunate critic who loves and hates as keenly as Alan does). They opened up whole new worlds, and continue to do so, week after week.
Not, of course, that there haven't been missteps. In a post from Bizarro World, ACD singles out for praise Alan's most regrettable recent episode, his shameful tirade against fellow critics Adam Baer and Chris Pasles. True Richophiles would prefer to blot out the memory of that one; it was, in the memorable words of Tibor Fischer on Martin Amis' Yellow Dog, "not-knowing-where-to-look bad. . .like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating."
I wish I could counter with an extended quotation of Alan at his best, but my copy of his recent published collection seems to have absquatulated. And in any case, as I say, the Richerei I savor most dates from the old New York period, and lives on in my memory in bits and pieces — a glorious Mozart's Birthday essay (an annual staple in those days) connecting "Porgi amor" with the slow movement of the Bassoon Concerto, an unforgettable excoriation of George Rochberg's (in)famous Third String Quartet, a sidelong self-outing in something like 1970 (!).
Probably Alan's single greatest gift to me was a column he wrote, God knows when, about his declining ability to listen to and enjoy Brahms' symphonies. Drawing the comparison to a love gone cold, he wrote, "We have grown apart, Brahms and I." I caught my breath on reading that, not because I shared the sentiment — my love for those symphonies continues unabated — but because I hadn't known you were allowed to say things like that. Alan gave me courage, and an example. He still does, LA Weekly or no.