So you think you know Peter Meltzer?
The Philly lawyer digs into words, music and the national pastime
Published in 2018 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine
on May 18, 2018
Updated on October 2, 2019
“Allman shot himself in the foot.”
“McCartney can faintly be heard swearing in the background of the recording.”
What reads like a court reporter’s notes are excerpts from Peter Meltzer’s sixth book, So You Think You Know Rock and Roll? The notes refer to rocker Gregg Allman shooting himself to dodge the Vietnam draft, and Paul McCartney whispering obscenities in the background of “Hey Jude.”
Meltzer’s 429-page paperback isn’t simply a catalogue of cocktail party stories and barroom trivia answers—though it does kill in both areas. It gives an in-depth tour of the years 1965 to 1975.
“As ’65 began, the British Invasion was well underway, but bands still appeared in the same outfits and rock ‘n’ roll was still stuck in its pop roots,” says Meltzer, a partner at Weber Gallagher. “Over the next decade, the music changed drastically, with festivals, rock operas, groupies, the singer-songwriter movement, and social and political activism contributing to a changing landscape.”
Meltzer jokes that his foray into writing began two decades ago, soon after the birth of his first child. “I decided I’d better pick up a hobby quickly to get out of household chores,” he laughs.
“I wrote lots of papers while getting my master’s in economics and, later, legal articles,” he recalls. “I’d always been an avid writer, and on a regular basis I found myself looking for words in a conventional thesaurus and coming up short. The choices were mundane and rarely much help. So I wrote my own.”
Meltzer’s The Thinker’s Thesaurus: Sophisticated Alternatives to Common Words is now in its third edition. He carefully curated his collection of 15,000 words with a Mark Twain-like approach: He wanted the reader to find the right word, not the almost-right word.
“If you want a synonym for ‘big,’ you’ll think of words like ‘huge,’ ‘enormous’ or ‘large,’ and those are the types of options that would be given in a regular thesaurus,” Meltzer says. “Mine includes ‘mastodonic,’ ‘brobdingnagian,’ ‘bunyanesque,’ ‘pantagruelian,’ ‘elephantine.’ There are like 10 words that are much more interesting alternatives.”
Meltzer’s latest passion-project is near and dear to his heart: baseball. Boston Globe sports reporter Dan Shaughnessy called Meltzer’s 2013 book, So You Think You Know Baseball?, the “Robert’s Rules of Order for baseball.” The 344-page paperback is chockablock with historical chestnuts and complex rules.
“It’s the one major sport without a clock throughout its history, with so many different situations that can arise, and an accompanying rule book that’s much more interesting than most sports,” Meltzer says. “I didn’t want to just introduce a bunch of hypotheticals to explain the rules, so instead I examine plays that have actually occurred, including the dates of the games, the teams and players involved, and the situation where a rule comes into question.”
Meltzer has another book on deck, slated for a 2019 release, and it’s not of the “So You Think … ?” variety.
“It’s called Olympic Grace, Heroism and Courage—a collection of 12 stories of acts of inspiration,” Meltzer says. “It doesn’t relate to excellence of performance, but rather acts of political courage or acts of sacrifice or thoughtfulness by Olympic athletes.”