David Hajdu

Having been taught by my mother not to say anything to a stranger if I can't say something nice, I chomped my teeth into my tongue the only time I met the notorious producer of schlock pop Mitch Miller. It happened about ten years ago, once when I was taking the crosstown bus from East 97th St. to the West Side of Manhattan. The bus was crowded, and I found myself literally pressing flesh with Miller. Our noses were perhaps two inches apart, so I turned mine, pretending not to recognize him.

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Cutely named "Festival" (or, more precisely and more cutely, "Christian Marclay: Festival"), the art installation and music series at the Whitney Museum this summer has a festiveness, a block-party atmosphere, rare in the contemporary avant-garde. Musically, Marclay's work is lightweight; but so is a birthday balloon, and both are fun, if susceptible to over-inflation.  A dilettante of near genius, Marclay has for three decades now been dabbling ambitiously in places where music, the visual arts, and performance art overlap.

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The Provincials

There is localism, and there is yokelism. Which was the greater factor in Harvey Pekar’s mystique? I considered the question in an illuminating location this week. My wife, who is a singer, took a booking at a swanky hotel in Palm Beach, and our seven-year-old son and I tagged along to support her and to sunbathe.

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On Harvey Pekar

I'd like to honor divergent traditions and share a couple of thoughts about Harvey Pekar, the comic-book writer, cult celebrity, and jazz lover, who died on July 12 at age 70. In eulogistic tradition, I have some nice things to say. Pekar cared deeply about music and made a life-long study of jazz. He came to the genre, as many of his fans came to him, in pursuit of a kind of anti-heroism that reinforced his self-image as an outcast marginalized for his superiority.

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Hot town, New York has been this week. Walking around, feeling half-dead, I've found myself singing the great old Lovin' Spoonful paean to urban torpor and release, "Summer in the City," to myself. It's remarkably durable for a song about the summer, a season that has inspired more dumb, junky songs than any other time of year. Doubtful?

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Play It, It's Yours

While incompetence is a common condition of amateurism, it is not a requirement of it. Plenty of non-professionals in all of the arts are well-skilled, in many cases expertly trained and perhaps even seasoned in their disciplines. The only absolute prerequisite for amateur status is passion. You have to want very badly to sing or play the piano or draw or tap-dance, if you'll do it with no prospect of recognition or compensation. And if very badly is also the way you do the thing, your passion has to run deep.

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  I won't argue with Plato—where did quibbling get Adeimantus?—so I'll go along with the proposition that imitation qualifies as art of a kind. On that principle, what Renee Fleming has done on her attention-grabbing new recording, Dark Hope—her first rock album—deserves nothing but the kind of praise that Fleming's usual work as a lyric soprano is typically and justly accorded. She has earned her reputation in classical music, and, with Dark Hope she has earned lots of money.

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I am little enriched for having listened over the past week to most (though not all) of more than 90 songs published with Paul and Linda McCartney credited jointly as co-writers. In fact, I almost wish that President Obama had never given Sir Paul the Gershwin Prize and stirred me to reconsider this remarkably unmemorable work, much of which I had heard at one time or another over the years and appropriately forgot.

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Speaking of aged beknighted idols of the British Invasion who have engaged in dicey songwriting practices, as I started to do in my last post about Mick Jagger, the fact that the Library of Congress has presented Paul McCartney with the Gerswhin Prize led me this week to review Sir Paul's vast output as a composer, and I found something baffling in it. As background, I should point out that McCartney has been jockeying for some time to reverse the order of the songwriting credits—from "Lennon and McCartney" to "McCartney and Lennon"—for Beatles songs that McCartney wrote solely or mainly on h

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End the Beguine

Artie Shaw, who is thought of as a clarinetist from the big-band era when he is given thought at all, spent far more of his long life writing prose th

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