I don't mean to imply that we're friends or anything, because I know him far less well than he knows a zillion other people, but I happened to be at the same jazz club that Tony Bennett went to a few nights ago, and we ended up talking for a little while. Bennett and I and our wives (who are about the same age, I think) had all gone to Dizzy's, one of the three glorious performance venues in the otherwise cheesy Jazz at Lincoln Center building, to see the pianist and singer Barbara Carroll.
It's always dangerous to infer artists' intentions from the effect of their art, and it's especially treacherous to imagine ill-intentions. I bring up this axiom of criticism with contrition, because I've been considering this week—and, more to the point, re-considering—what led Mark Linkous to make the bleak, grim music that seems now to have foreshadowed his suicide last Friday. I had never been kind to Linkous as a listener or a critic. I found his music depressing, and I arrogantly dismissed what he did as an exploitation of the adolescent impulse to glamorize isolation and despair.
Having survived the past 25 years without ever having written the words "we," "are," "the," and "world" in that sequence in a sentence, I am bringing up the oppressively overhyped Haiti-earthquake version of that anthem of superstar piety only because it connects to some of the issues I've started to discuss here over the past few weeks. There is not much to say that's worth saying about the recent video, which brings Quincy Jones together with a digitally generated avatar of Michael Jackson and a surgically generated facsimile of Lionel Richie.
I'd like to stay on the subject of music and Civil Rights for one more post. The ongoing talk about Joan Baez's performance of "We Shall Overcome" at the White House has reminded me how readily we embrace the idea of music as an instrument of political change when, often, music is more a reflection of changes in the political realm—an effect, rather than a cause. Not that songs have no power to influence the way people think or feel; to say that would be to deny the very value of music as a form of art.
There was hardly time to shake the image of a gnomish Pete Townshend whirling his game old right arm around on the Super Bowl stage when another batch of tottery Boomer music stars showed up on YouTube, this time in clips from the fifth concert in the Obamas' White House Music Series.
Of all the complaints hurled since Super Bowl Sunday at Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry for calling themselves The Who, doing a scary-uncle karaoke act to the music of their youth, and walking away with a hefty contribution to their overdue retirements, the one that baffles me most is the charge that they didn't belong there, that they are too old and irrelevant to deserve the most coveted slot on the most popular entertainment show in America.
Click here to discover what will be inside our newest feature, “The Famous Door.” Since I've taken the name for this new feature from a storied old jazz club, I thought I should start the series with a video that features a person who not only played in the place but who also named one of his signature pieces "52nd Street Theme"--Thelonious Monk. This clip of a different tune of his, "Blue Monk," is an excerpt from a 1950s TV series called "The Seven Lively Arts," which devoted an episode to jazz.
I know I'm not the only music listener to find himself doing an awful lot of listening electronically. I scout for new artists to hear online and download a great deal of music to play at my leisure, and I spend more time on YouTube than I will ever admit. I'm still going out--most nights, in fact, to hear concerts, nightclub acts, and other shows of all sorts--and I'll continue to write about what I encounter in live performances in the pages of TNR.
The Beatles: Rock Band Guitar Hero When smug old children of the 1970s such as my friends and I get together, we play a game. We talk about the bands we loved when we were kids; we trade grumbles about the fact that music no longer seems to dominate youth culture, as we nostalgically recall the role that rock had in our past; and we try to guess what happened. I call this a game and not a discussion, because really it is diverting silliness that boils down to a competition to reach an agreed-upon goal--that is, to prove our generation’s superiority to our successors.