Sean O’Connell, LA Record News

“I am a member of an endangered species. Encountering dangerous members of the species makes me frightened or sick, especially at 82. I happen to think that I am better than a lot of them, on the strength of having studied with superior teachers and stayed awake in their classrooms.”
—Alan Rich

I first met Alan while working for the box office of Walt Disney Concert Hall. We got along well because I was the only lackey that didn’t ask to see his photo ID every week when he picked up his tickets. Being a regular reader of his weekly column didn’t hurt either. There isn’t a writer out there who can resist the satisfaction of knowing that someone is actually reading the words they hammered out in passionate solitude. Alan was no exception. When he was unceremoniously canned in 2008 by LA Weekly’s “Phoenix-based bean-counters who evaluate every word in their chain of papers against the income they produce,” he was understandably devastated, having had his internationally recognized voice silenced after 50 years of unrivaled observations and cantankerous wit. As any unemployed 80-something-year-old would do, he started a blog and, more importantly to him, began remodeling his kitchen—a project he referred to as his true gift to the world.

Alan Rich and George Bush Sr. were born five days apart in 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, where stone-walled property lines date back to the days of John Quincy Adams and every house has as many chimneys as bathrooms. Although he attended Harvard in pursuit of a medical degree, Alan veered off the path—much to his parents’ dismay—toward a career in music journalism. He often said that it wasn’t until he had introduced his parents to his friend Leonard Bernstein that they accepted his career choice. After college he bounced around the world, helping to start KPFA and studying the finer points of Viennese musicology before returning to New York to document the ground-breaking work of artists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. In the 1980s he made a permanent move to Los Angeles where he became an early proponent of Esa-Pekka Salonen and current keeper of the Philharmonic baton, Gustavo Dudamel.

Although he made his living primarily as a commentator on the classical music world, writing for such publications as the New York Times, Newsweek, Variety, New York magazine, and LA Weekly, and closed it with particularly astute observations on the vital work being done in Los Angeles, Rich’s career would make any music writer—or reader—green with envy. His stories of being flown to meet up-and-comer David Bowie in London, or having a dinner of metaphorical entrees and unbaked bread with John Cage, or attending the “Howl” obscenity trials, or having lunch with a young Harry Nilsson in New York, or having a roommate who smoked banana peels at the advice of Donovan, or being put in a headlock by Placido Domingo for less than flattering comments about his personal life, or counseling sophomore-slumped neighbor Rivers Cuomo on the finer points of Debussy were fascinating and, most importantly, true. Alan was unafraid to voice his opinion or take others to task for having ineloquently voiced their own.

Alan made a living typing out his diatribes on increasingly complex machinery to an increasingly complex readership without ever sacrificing his intelligence or honest opinion. He was the last of a breed who, in the “good old days,” ran back to the office at intermission to submit a review only to return to the venue for the second half to make sure he wasn’t completely off target. His advice and encouragement will live on in a handful of us, and his beliefs will live on for even more. Rest in peace, Alan—I hope the acoustics are good in the afterlife.