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.
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.
Just over 45 years ago, I set foot in the United States for the first time. If you had sat the old Oxford scholarship exam in December and, in Simon Gray’s deathless definition of the pedagogical process, displayed a fluent fraudulence that the examiners could not expose without revealing their own fraudulence, you were able to take the next nine months off before going up as a freshman in October. So, “westward, look, the land is bright!”—a line Churchill liked to quote—and I set off to the New World, more precisely, to Chuck Berry’s ‘Promised Land’ of southern California.
Songs From the Labyrinth - Sting (Deutsche Grammophon) Rock and rollers, as they age, sometimes find themselves outgrowing a music they cannot outlive. Rock, a style invented for teenagers—or, more precisely, one adapted from an older style made originally for adults, the blues—endures as a bluntly, rudely cogent expression of adolescent anxiety, rage, and sexual fantasy. Long live rock and roll! The beat of the drums, loud and bold!