David Hajdu

Memphis on Broadway

Memphis Shubert Theatre Million Dollar Quartet Nederlander Theatre Anyone in denial about the demise of the record business will find on Broadway these nights proof of death more conclusive than the disappearance of music stores from the malls or the elimination of DJs from radio stations. Two musicals staged this year—Memphis, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Million Dollar Quartet, which is set in the same city in the same period and deals with many of the same themes—verify the extinction of the old-school music industry by showing it to exist now solely as sentimental myth.

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The New York Philharmonic opened its new season this week with the American premiere of Wynton Marsalis's "Swing Symphony," a grand, sweeping work elementally disconnected from the world we live in, and its essential indifference to the era of its creation is one the composition's uncommon attributes. It has nothing to do with contemporary life in the same manner that the fiction of William Trevor or the music of the young blues singer Shemekia Copeland confront the human experience in ways we associate another times.

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The Anti-VMAs

MTV presented the Video Music Awards this week, and as Muhammad Ali said about the Vietcong, I ain't got no quarrel with Taylor Swift and the rest of the ceremony's army of pitiless, desperately clawing pop mercenaries. No one wears a dress sown of meat like Lady Gaga, and it's nice to know that Justin Bieber can play the drums. Kanye West did nothing to prove that the president was incorrect about West's being a jackass, and Usher reminded us that he can dance. What fun!

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The Anti-VMAs

MTV presented the Video Music Awards this week, and as Muhammad Ali said about the Vietcong, I ain't got no quarrel with Taylor Swift and the rest of the ceremony's army of pitiless, desperately clawing pop mercenaries. No one wears a dress sown of meat like Lady Gaga, and it's nice to know that Justin Bieber can play the drums. Kanye West did nothing to prove that the president was incorrect about West's being a jackass, and Usher reminded us that he can dance. What fun!

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Sonny Rollins, who for more then 50 years has been known by the name of his 1956 album, Saxophone Colossus, turned 80 on September 7, and his plans for celebration include a birthday concert at the Beacon Theater in New York on September 10. Rollins has deserved the title given him by Bob Altshuler, the promotion director at Prestige Records. As an improviser, Rollins is a figure of monumental standing. His solos are teachable models of thematic and motific development, through-composed works spontaneously produced.

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First, I would like to apologize for bringing up Jerry Lewis on Labor Day weekend, when most of us who fail to derive voyeuristic pleasure from the deranged spectacle of his annual telethon are doing our best to avoid him. In saying that, I mean not to derogate the Muscular Distrophy Association, of course.

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By the emails I’ve gotten since my post about Arcade Fire and its antecedents in the Western Swing movement of the early postwar era, I can tell that nothing I’ve put up in this space so far has shocked readers as much as the sight of a cowboy playing a harp—not a harmonica, but an actual 47-string concert harp—in a genre-smashing hillbilly jazz band. Even at the time Spade Cooley created “Miss Molly,” in 1945, surprise was part of the point—the formal and the informal, the rural and the urban, conjoined.

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Among the more rational propositions blurted forth by John Lennon in the early 1970s was a notion to release his new songs on cardboard 45-RPM singles. Lennon had just relocated from London to New York, and he seemed to be following the tracks of Bob Dylan's bootheels from Dylan's first days in the city a decade earlier, when he had fashioned himself after Woody Guthrie as a leftie newshound with an acoustic guitar.

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Arcade Kindling

Nicely timed to capitalize on the boom market for breezy fun in the month of August, Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, supplanted Eminem’s dreary Recovery on the top of the pop-music charts this week. The Arcade Fire album is the band’s most tuneful and bouncy—irresistible pop dressed up in the indie-music uniform of fiddles, accordion, and twang, the sonic equivalent of Ben Sherman shirts and thrift-store wingtips. Lyrically, The Suburbs has vaguely to do with entering adulthood without submitting to the conformity that the suburbs represent, simplistically, in the album.

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Arcade Kindling

Nicely timed to capitalize on the boom market for breezy fun in the month of August, Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, supplanted Eminem’s dreary Recovery on the top of the pop-music charts this week. The Arcade Fire album is the band’s most tuneful and bouncy—irresistible pop dressed up in the indie-music uniform of fiddles, accordion, and twang, the sonic equivalent of Ben Sherman shirts and old wingtips. Lyrically, The Suburbs has vaguely to do with entering adulthood without submitting to the conformity that the suburbs represent, simplistically, in the album.

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