“You get the Ho Chi Minh mug,” Richard Goldstein declares, handing me a mug of tea before settling on the couch in his cheery, sun-filled apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. Goldstein began writing for the Village Voice as a young graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school in 1966. This week, he releases a memoir, Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the ‘60s, about his travails as one of America’s first rock critics.
Like his counterpart at the Voice, Robert Christgau, Goldstein cut his teeth in a form of criticism that was just beginning to bloom, a form that mimicked the shaggy-dog aesthetic of the music it critiqued. Unlike Christgau—who also has a memoir out this year—Goldstein found himself drifting from music as a critical subject as the ’60s waned and one public figure after another dropped dead.
Not surprisingly, given the title of Goldstein’s memoir, one icon of the ’60s whose death hit him hard was Janis Joplin, a friend as well as a subject to Goldstein. “When she overdosed,” he says, “and of course I had many friends who did, I developed a kind of aphasia where I couldn’t put words together. If I was writing about music, nothing would come out.”
Motivated by notions of masculinity that began to bother him—along with his own growing realization that he was attracted to men as well as women—Goldstein turned to sexuality as fodder for his writing. “I began to see that a lot of the things I had always hated in the ‘60s were patriarchal institutions. As I began to realize that there’s a connection between rigid views of what music should be and masculinity—that in fact rock was a masculine adventure—that’s when I began to withdraw from that adventure and see the horror that it produced.
One catalyst for Goldstein’s revelation was a famous album that he infamously panned in The New York Times in 1967—the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which he compared to a spoiled child, writing, “It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises and a 41-piece orchestra.”
“I think it’s fascinating that [the Beatles] really emblemized the hippie worldview about identity,” Goldstein says. “You create your identity—you put on a costume, you’re someone else. Every style, everything you do is different, there is no essential you. All of these very trendy, postmodern ideas were in the album in 1967, years before postmodernism was even coined as a term. And of course, I became more famous for hating the album, when in fact I grew to love it.”
Along with this clarification, Another Little Piece of My Heart includes some delectable scenes from the cutting room floor, including an interview with Diana Ross for The New York Times in which the singer apologizes for passing gas. “I loved that!” Goldstein says. “I thought, ‘She’s so cool! She’s so human!’ It got left out of the piece, of course. The Times in those days didn’t use dashes in four-letter words—they didn’t even print them.”
Other details that made it into the book but not the original articles were omitted out of sensitivity, or a feeling of solidarity with his subjects. “A lot of times there was just behavior that I felt shouldn’t be made public, like Jimi Hendrix greeting me with vomit all over his shirt. The drug laws were so harsh that there was no way I was going to write about somebody’s drug use, except for marijuana and acid. But not heroin or speed, which a lot of rock stars used, and I saw a lot of that behavior.”
The result of witnessing such behavior throughout the latter half of the ’60s is a lingering sense of survivor’s guilt. “I survived the deaths of all of my idols, the deaths of my political heroes by gunshot,” Goldstein says. “And I survived in the sense of having a life and a career.”
Today, Goldstein teaches a class on the ‘60s at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York. One of his favorite things to do in class is to play music from that decade for his undergraduate students. “They’re in another world. I look at them when I’m playing this music—their eyes are closed and they’re swaying slightly. It’s very moving to me. They know the reflex of shutting their eyes and moving to the beat. So that’s been passed along. Maybe that’s all you can expect from 50 years ago. Because the music was the time.”
Lara Zarum is a writer living in New York. Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Slate, the L.A. Review of Books, Guernica, and Splitsider, among other publications.