The Famous Door
Like everything Lady Gaga does, the hype campaign for her new single, “Born This Way,” has been so grandiosely theatrical that it seems, simultaneously, like genius and a joke. Ever since the summer, she has been teasing concert audiences and interviewers about the record with the subtlety of a grindhouse mare, establishing the title as a catch phrase months before she revealed the song.
Milton Babbitt, who died on January 29 at 94, produced some of his best-known music electronically, using the gargantuan, rudimentary computers of punch-card antiquity. Since there is no action footage of the work being created or performed, the clips of this music on Youtube are generally accompanied by still photographs of Babbitt, and these pictures point as well as the music to the Milton Babbitt problem. There he is: bald, middle-aged, and white, in his horn-rim glasses and tie, posing with his instrument, the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer, at the David Sarnoff Laboratory in Princeton.
The corniest trope of theatrical heroism is the last-second rescue, in which the good guy swoops out of nowhere to save the girl from a hair-raising threat, and its outrageous Victorian theatricality may be the reason it appeals to Jack White.
Rock stars of the 1960s have begun turning 70, and the aging of a generation that defined its culture by its youth has prompted the sucking of veiny thumbs. I did mine last October, right here, on the seventieth anniversary of John Lennon’s birth. Earlier this month, Joan Baez turned 70; Neil Diamond will do the same on January 24; Bob Dylan will have his seventieth birthday in May, followed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, along with the likes of David Crosby, George Clinton, and Paul Anka.
The difference between an artist’s image and an artist’s art is sometimes great, and that was certainly the case with Margaret Whiting, who died this week at the age of 86. Until just a few years ago, when late-life illness kept her largely homebound, Whiting was a fixture in the Manhattan nightclubs where singers carry on the vocal tradition she took up in 1940s. From time to time, Whiting would perform, usually a song or two in a group concert. More often, she would go to see other performers do her kind of music, and to be seen.
Of course it’s offensive. To recognize that about the video that Kanye West released last week for his self-portrait in song, “Monster,” is to acknowledge its intent without seeing the fullness of its effect. The video was directed by Jake Nava, who is celebrated for making commercials that market glamour brands (Armani, L’Oreal) with sexy celebrities (Jessica Alba, Maria Sharapova), as well as music videos that market sexy female musicians (Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Shakira) like the glamour brands they are.
It’s that time of year, and I’m as susceptible to cornball ideas as the next music lover—and as susceptible to delusions of taste-making value as the next music critic. So, here it is: a list of my ten favorite albums of 2010. I welcome dissent, since I will get it anyway. 1. Jeremy Denk: Jeremy Denk Plays Ives Piano Sonatas no. 1 and 2 (Concord) played with stunning originality, ferocity, and humor. 2. Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) Loopy utopian Afro-futurist nonsense made sexy and irresistibly danceable. 3.
Despite the temptation, I'm not going to write about the new Spider-Man musical without seeing it. I just really, really, really do not want to pay several days' salary to watch three hours of staging stunts accompanied by rock show tunes by Bono and the Edge. As I recall, a critic once lost a lawsuit brought by David Soul, the beloved costar of Starsky and Hutch, for a critical review of a play starring Soul, which the writer said took place on a night the theater was dark.
A smart woman with good taste, a radio documentarian named Delaney Hall, had a sizable problem with the Maria Schneider concert that I gushed about in my last post. Delaney was one of several friends and students of mine who went to see Schneider at my urging, and Delaney found herself resisting the big-band instrumentation that Schneider employs, because it carries, for her, associations of Vegas lounges and schmaltz.
The first of two good reasons for raising glasses and ringing bells during the winter holiday season falls on Thanksgiving week, when Maria Schneider, the composer and conductor, brings her twenty-piece orchestra to the Jazz Standard for its annual residency. Schneider has been doing this for nine years now, and the occasion has become one of the most anticipated events of the New York jazz calendar, along with the Bad Plus's Christmas residency at the Village Vanguard just a few weeks later.