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Born in Rochester at the finale of the Great Depression in 1937 of bohemian parents (she a harpist, he a cellist), immigrated to Brooklyn in 1940 where I was educated fully in the red-wing zone of the immigrants, radicals, orthodoxies, & obsessive baseball statistics essential to overall nourishment in that vibrant matrix. Became a poet when I was 11 & my first poem was about the NYC subway system. (Read all the down & dirty details in Two-Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook, Oyez, 1977.) Was also a child performer on radio & early TV – a regular irregular on the Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour. Graduated from nothing, not even grade school. Was I.Q. over-endowed & put into accelerated public school programs that weren’t acknowledged when my family migrated to Rockville Centre. Was accepted in the University of Chicago’s program for obnoxiously smart preteens, but my parents didn’t want me to go. Afraid of tommy guns. I became, thus, a chain-smoking paperback-reading mutant hardly ever appearing in class. No grade school certificate, no junior high school artifact, nada nada. By the time I came to Los Angeles w/ my father (the family broke apart), I had a steamer trunk full of Joyce, James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos, Carl Sandburg, Faulkner, Céline, Patchen, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, & others of that time & beyond that time too numerous to mention. Little clothing but mucho books & immense tonnage of typing stuffing the steamer.
Left Brooklyn with my father for “the Coast,’ Los Angeles, in 1954. Culture shock. Continued my sabbatical from high school & worked at an open-air newsstand on Western Avenue & Hollywood Boulevard encountering many lofty & sleazoid Hollywood types. Went back to school when I was almost 18 – Fairfax High in the heart of left-wing Jewish haimish hoedowns. Barely a sophomore according to the public school kierarch. Mr. Quick, my English teacher & the first vegetarian I ever met, brough his lunch to school, usually home-curdled yogurt, organic fruit, wheat germ. He asked me to share it w/him one afternoon. “Look , Meltzer, you’re too long in the tooth to be here & you & I know you can write and think. Take an equivalency test at L.A. City College & see if it challenges your abilities.” Which I did. The first semester I attended during the day & worked across the street at the Pepper Tree Gardens, a hamburger joint run by two in & out of work actors, where one of them initiated me into a deep Duke Ellington groove. Started hanging out w/ jazz musicians rehearsing on campus. More important, was a full-time student in the school of Wallace Berman, Robert Alexander, Ed Keinholz, John Altoon, George Herms, Charles Britten, Artie Richer, John Kelley Reed, artists who by some rare convergence constituted an emergent force in postwar art. L.A. at that time was not that much of a word town as it was a visual arts scene. Found the level of City College teaching & student brain power boring, decided to try night courses figuring adults would be more strongly motivated & might jolt the engine. No way; was on my own way under tutelage of working artists & jazz musicians & young actors, ex-child stars, eccentrics & tricksters.
Migrated to San Francisco in 1957; immediately fell into the North Beach cultural revolutions which became too quickly co-opted by media & the tendency to one-dimensionalize dissidence into defanged cuddly types like Maynard G. Krebs. Met Tina who became my wife, lover, partner, collaborator for almost 37 years. We began performing together during the ‘60s folk revival & graduated into a folk-rock band w/ psychedelic overtones. Three CDs of that moment currently available via the Net.
Author of a Decalogue of agit-smut novels in the late ‘60s which vortexed into the abyss of banishment similar to the 99c store graveyard – which endlessly fascinate & haunt this geezer – the pathos of abundance. The Agency Trilogy was reissued in a one-volume edition by R. Kasak Books in the late ‘90s.
Most recent book of poetry is Beat Thing (La Alameda Press, 2004), and am the editor and interviewer for San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets (City Lights, 2001). Teach in the graduate Poetics program at New College of California, as well as in its outstanding undergraduate Humanities program. With Steve Dickison, co-edit Shuffle Boil, a one-of-a-kind magazine devoted to music in all its appearances & disappearances. Too much more, too little time.