Every 4 years the GOP nominee is literally Hitler. A few years later — sometimes, as in Mitt Romney’s case, as few as 4 years after he was accused of giving a woman cancer — that formerly-Hitler nominee becomes the standard of once-great GOP nominees to which the current nominee fall short.
Glenn Reynolds, “LIZ CROKIN: Trump Does The Unthinkable”, Instapundit, 2016-07-11.
July 24, 2016
July 20, 2016
At Instapundit, Ed Driscoll points out the difference in the way the media covered the rise of Barack Obama compared to other politicians:
The blogger Ace of Spades has written about “The MacGuffinization of American Politics.” As Ace wrote, “For Obama’s fanbois, this is not politics. This isn’t even America, not really, not anymore. This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions — and Obama’s myriad failures as an executive — are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.”
The media never covered Obama as though he was a normal politician submitting bills to Congress and meeting with foreign leaders. Instead, they covered him as though he was Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in an epic film as directed by Alfred Hitchcock, hence Ace’s name – the MacGuffin was the otherwise meaningless object that all the characters in an adventure movie desperately want. The microfilm in North By Northwest. The Soviet decoding device in From Russia With Love. The Death Star plans in Star Wars. The Ark of the Covenant, etc.
But I think it’s safe to say that all young people, or the vast majority of them, want to feel their life is some form of an epic quest for adventure, hence the near-universal popularity of films like the original (1977) Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, or Batman Begins, all of which start off with their protagonist depicted as a callow youth, who precedes to then overcomes two hours worth of adversity, to emerge by the time the credits role as The Hero. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this quest for adventure is hardwired into most people, all the way back to Homer. (The author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, not the nuclear plant worker who lives in Springfield.) Up until recently, most teenagers felt a similar sense of accomplishment and pride through such traditional avenues as academic advancement, athletic success, or learning a musical instrument.
In the current issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza introduces readers to the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate:
Johnson and Weld were set to appear that evening in a CNN town-hall special, which, it was later estimated, was seen by almost a million people. The stakes for Johnson were high. When pollsters include Johnson with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their surveys, he has been the choice of roughly ten per cent of respondents, and in a Times/CBS News poll released last week he hit twelve per cent. If his standing in the polls rises to fifteen per cent, he will likely qualify to participate in the Presidential debates. “If you’re not in the debates, there’s no way to win,” Johnson said. “It’s the Super Bowl of politics.” Johnson has many flaws as a candidate, but being unlikable is not one of them. If he is allowed to debate Trump and Clinton, the two most unpopular presumed nominees in decades, then the most unpredictable election in modern times could get even weirder.
There hasn’t been a serious challenge from a third-party Presidential candidate since 1992, when Ross Perot, the eccentric Texas billionaire, ran as an independent and bought hours of TV time to educate voters about the large federal budget deficit. Perot won entry into the Presidential debates and received nineteen per cent of the vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Bush blamed Perot for his loss, though the best analyses of the race concluded that Perot had drawn equal numbers of voters from Bush and Clinton.
This year, the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump has created an opportunity for Johnson to at least match Perot’s impressive showing. Last week, Republican delegates in the Never Trump movement attempted to change the rules for the Republican National Convention, in a failed effort to deny Trump the nomination. For anti-Trump conservatives still searching for an alternative, Johnson may be the only option. On the left, anti-Clinton Democrats, including some determined supporters of Bernie Sanders, would prefer a candidate who is more socially liberal and noninterventionist than Clinton.
“We have arguably the two most polarizing candidates,” Johnson told me. “Hillary has to go out and she has to appeal to this ‘everything’s free, government can accomplish anything, what can you give us’ constituency. She’s doling it out as fast as she can. Trump is appealing to this anti-abortion, anti-immigration, ‘bomb the hell out of them, lock them up, throw away the key’ constituency.”
Johnson is charming and more transparent than most politicians — sometimes to a fault — and has a knack for putting a happy face on the rougher edges of libertarianism. Weld has a shabby-genteel bearing and a boarding-school sarcasm that comes across as both appealing and arrogant. Together, Johnson and Weld represent the first Presidential ticket with two governors since 1948, when the Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, of New York, and Earl Warren, of California. One of the Johnson-Weld campaign slogans is “A Credible Alternative to ClinTrump.”
July 19, 2016
Once more, alas, I find myself unable to follow the best Liberal thought. What the World’s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.
True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. … They are free to shoot back. But they can’t disarm their enemy.
The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us. … What should be a civilized man’s attitude toward such superstitions? It seems to me that the only attitude possible to him is one of contempt. If he admits that they have any intellectual dignity whatever, he admits that he himself has none. If he pretends to a respect for those who believe in them, he pretends falsely, and sinks almost to their level. When he is challenged he must answer honestly, regardless of tender feelings.
H.L. Mencken, “Aftermath”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925-09-14.
July 17, 2016
… at each tour we typically got the whole backstory of the business. And the consistent theme that ran through all of these discussions was the simply incredible level of regulation of the wine business that goes on in Napa. I have no idea what the public justification of all these rules and laws are, but the consistent theme of them is that they all serve to make it very hard for small competitors or new entrants to do business in the county. There is a board, likely populated by the largest and most powerful entrenched wine makers, that seems to control the whole regulatory structure, making this a classic case of an industry where you have to ask permission of your competitors to compete against them. There are minimum sizes, in acres, one must have to start a new winery, and this size keeps increasing. Recently, large winemakers have started trying to substantially raise this number again to a size greater than the acreage of any possible available parcel of land, effectively ending all new entrants for good. I forget the exact numbers, but one has to have something like 40 acres of land as a minimum to build a structure on the land, and one must have over 300 acres to build a second structure. You want to buy ten acres and build a small house and winery to try your hand at winemaking? — forget it in Napa.
It took a couple of days and a bunch of questions to put this together. Time and again the guide would say that the (wealthy) owners had to look and wait for a long time to find a piece of land with a house on it. I couldn’t figure out why the hell this was a criteria — if you are paying millions for the land, why are you scared to build a house? But it turned out that they couldn’t build a house. We were at this beautiful little place called Gargiulo and they said they bought their land sight-unseen on 3 hours notice for millions of dollars because it had a house AND a separate barn on it grandfathered. Today, it was impossible to get acreage of the size they have and build two structures on it, but since they had the barn, they could add on to it (about 10x the original size of the barn) to build the winery and still have a separate house to live in.
This is why the Napa Valley, to my eye, has become a weird museum of rich people. It seems to be dominated by billionaires who create just fantastically lovely showplaces that produce a few thousand cases of wine that is sold on allocation for 100+ dollars a bottle to other rich people. It is spectacularly beautiful to visit — seriously, each tasting room and vineyard is like a post card, in large part because the owners are rich enough to care nothing about return on capital invested in their vineyards. The vineyards in Napa seem to have some sort of social signalling value which I don’t fully understand, but it is fun to visit for a few days. But in this set-piece, the last thing the folks who control the county want is for grubby little middle-class startups to mess up their carefully crafted stage, so they are effectively excluded.
I know zero about wines, but from other industries this seems to be a recipe for senescence. It would surprise me not at all to see articles get written 10 years from now about how Napa wines have fallen behind other, more innovative areas. I have never been there, but my friends say newer areas like Paso Robles has an entirely different vibe, with working owners on small plots trying to a) actually make a viable business of it and b) innovate and try new approaches.
Warren Meyer, “My Nomination for Corporate State of the Year: Napa County, California”, Coyote Blog, 2016-07-08.
July 16, 2016
… the whole group of prominent American World War II foreign correspondents — Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Theodore White — pretended to a more sophisticated geopolitical worldliness than they possessed as they introduced isolationist America to the world in a hazardously simplistic fashion. Cronkite was energetic, and was present at many events, especially Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem, but his opinions were never based on anything more than good, old-fashioned, Norman Rockwell American altruism. Ed Murrow’s sepulchral smoke-wearied voice did wonders for British war propaganda as he narrated the Blitz from London in 1940. (He was ardently courted by the British government and even had a torrid affair with the prime minister’s daughter-in-law, Pamela Digby. She eventually married the wartime Lend-Lease administrator, Averell Harriman, while the U.S. ambassador, John G. Winant, took up with the prime minister’s own daughter — Mr. Churchill was an indulgent father and a full-service ally.)
Conrad Black, “Tip of the Iceberg”, National Review, 2015-02-11.
July 14, 2016
I have to admit, I’ve never minded being the only Jew in a room full of anti-Semites. To be surrounded by people who sincerely believe you have preternatural inborn powers and abilities is actually quite the ego boost. When dealing with the segment of the alt-right that isn’t terribly fond of folks of the Jewish persuasion, I take absolutely no offense at any barbs thrown my way. Frankly, I can’t understand why that sawed-off pip-squeak egotist Ben Shapiro doesn’t join me. He was always the type to pick and choose his friends for maximum ego-stroking. He ought to migrate to the alt-right; you’ve never been verbally fellated until you’ve been accused of being an evil, all-powerful, world-controlling demigod.
Hell, the alt-right won’t even let me cop to mistakes. When I tell some of my “fans” that, as a neocon, I supported the invasion of Iraq under a very mistaken belief that the outcome would be much better than it was, I’m always told, “Save them lies for the sheeple. You know damn well you Jews planned this whole thing — ISIS, anarchy, the refugee crisis, all so’s you can flood the West with mud people and build your damn ‘Greater Israel.’ Jews don’t make mistakes; they always know what they’re doing.”
Well, you got me there, crackerbarrel. Can’t put anything past you. We Jews are way too smart to ever make a clumsy misjudgment of such massive significance.
David Cole, “Prom Night Trumpster Babies”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-06-30.
July 13, 2016
Amy Alkon on the not-very-surprising discovery of a recent US government Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study that after three decades of corporate anti-harassment training, no discernable difference in workplace harassment can be detected:
Anti-Harassment Training Doesn’t Work
But let’s keep it up so we can feel like we’re doing something. (More on that below.)
By the way, as I’ve written before, referencing the work of evolutionarily-driven law professor Kingsley Browne, men give each other shit — in the workplace and as a way of competing with each other.
Sure, there’s a point at which this can become toxic, but if you can’t take a joke or a bit of teasing, maybe you need to strengthen up so you can make it in the work world, as opposed to demanding that the work world conform to nursery school niceness standards.
Then again, you can always stay home and just care for the kiddies while your spouse braves those, “Hey, nice pants, dude!” jokes.
By the way, men’s competitiveness comes out of evolved sex differences — how men are the warriors (and competitors) of the species and are comfortable in competition with each other and with hierarchies in a way women are not.
Sex differences research Joyce Benenson explains that women group in “dyads” — twos — and are covert competitors, engaging in sniping and casting out any women who seem to stand out as better than the rest. (Women seem to have evolved to show vulnerabilities rather than strengths to other women in order to show they are trustworthy — which may be why women tend to be apologizers and put themselves down.)
It is the national custom to sentimentalize the dead, as it is to sentimentalize men about to be hanged. Perhaps I fall into that weakness here. The Bryan I shall remember is the Bryan of his last weeks on earth — broken, furious, and infinitely pathetic. It was impossible to meet his hatred with hatred to match it. He was winning a battle that would make him forever infamous wherever enlightened men remembered it and him. Even his old enemy, Darrow, was gentle with him at the end. That cross-examination might have been ten times as devastating. It was plain to everyone that the old Berserker Bryan was gone — that all that remained of him was a pair of glaring and horrible eyes.
But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice. For years he evaded Prohibition as dangerous; then he embraced it as profitable. At the Democratic National Convention last year he was on both sides, and distrusted by both. In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.
Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
H.L. Mencken, “Bryan”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925-07-27.
July 12, 2016
Published on 11 Jul 2016
The full text of the Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmerm…
Mexico was mainly focussing on internal struggles and the Mexican Revolution during World War 1. But Germany’s stance against the USA actually brought the country into the international spotlight. After the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram, sent by the Germans to Mexico, was decoded it was clear that Germany wanted to bring Mexico into the war – against the United States.
July 11, 2016
Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.
The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”
This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.
They have their own distinctive worldview (basically liberal Christianity without Christ), their own common educational experience, their own shared values and assumptions (social psychologists call these WEIRD — for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), and of course their own outgroups (evangelicals, Little Englanders) to fear, pity and despise. And like any tribal cohort they seek comfort and familiarity: From London to Paris to New York, each Western “global city” (like each “global university”) is increasingly interchangeable, so that wherever the citizen of the world travels he already feels at home.
Indeed elite tribalism is actively encouraged by the technologies of globalization, the ease of travel and communication. Distance and separation force encounter and immersion, which is why the age of empire made cosmopolitans as well as chauvinists — sometimes out of the same people. (There is more genuine cosmopolitanism in Rudyard Kipling and T. E. Lawrence and Richard Francis Burton than in a hundred Davos sessions.)
Ross Douthat, “The Myth of Cosmopolitanism”, New York Times, 2016-07-03.
July 7, 2016
In The Guardian, Nell Frizzell talks about the seamier side of Hollywood as it declined from its cultural peak in the mid-twentieth century:
The show, which sounds like a dreamy mix of film noir voiceover, 1940s gossip column and Pathe news broadcast, looks at the now lesser-known figures of Hollywood’s Golden Age; women like inventor of “the vamp” Theda Bara, whose agents claimed she was the daughter of an Arab sheik, born in the Sahara and growing up in the shadow of the Sphinx when in fact, she’d been born in Cincinnati, Ohio; or inventor of grunge Frances Farmer, an alcoholic communist committed to several mental health institutions who later became the subject of the Nirvana song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”.
Instead of merely making an episode about the legendary aviator, director and millionaire eccentric Howard Hughes, Longworth uses him to talk about many of the age’s leading ladies with whom he was involved, from Katharine Hepburn to Jean Harlow. “It’s a rubric to tell the story of a lot of fascinating women,” says Longworth. “He arrives in Hollywood in 1925 and starts to disappear in the 1950s, so you can use him to tell the story of Hollywood in that era.” Which is precisely what she’s doing in her upcoming book, which will chart the love affairs of the enigmatic film-maker and pilot who once used his understanding of aeronautical engineering to design Jane Russell a more supportive bra.
As well as the Manson episodes, You Must Remember This has run several other miniseries. There was “The Blacklist”, which looked at the way several of Hollywood’s most successful stars were ruined by accusations of communism by the House Un-American Activities Committee. These included the legendary wit Dorothy Parker, the actor Humphrey Bogart and Charlie Chaplin, who was banished from the US in 1952 for being “sympathetic to the communist cause” – accusations based on little more than Chaplin refusing to cross picket lines in the 1940s, speaking out about the suffering of the Russian people in the second world war and being “prematurely anti-fascist”.
Then there was “MGM Stories”, which told the stories of 15 people who worked in the studio as it went from silent movies to talkies, including Elizabeth Taylor (who once described her 18-year contract as being “MGM chattel”) and the legendary “sweater girl” Lana Turner who burned through seven husbands and countless affairs before becoming embroiled in one of Hollywood’s most shocking scandals after her 14-year-old daughter was accused of killing Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. And “Star Wars” looked at the efforts Hollywood stars went to support the war effort – such as Bette Davis and John Garfield’s founding of The Hollywood Canteen, where servicemen could get served pie by, and even dance with, some of the era’s most famous actors, and where Lena Horne was drafted in as the only African-American pinup and therefore the only famous woman deemed appropriate to dance with black servicemen.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
The problem [the decline in popular demand for Jazz music] goes back to the early 40s, when a revolution took place in jazz. At a Harlem club named Minton’s, while the swing era was still in full bloom, a group of musicians began experimenting with a new approach to the music. Bandleader Teddy Hill formed a house band with drummer Kenny Clarke, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and pianist Thelonious Monk. During nightly jam sessions others would join them, most notably sax great Charlie Parker, who had gotten his start in the swing bands of Kansas City. Vats of ink have been spilled deciphering the meaning of bebop. If jazz writers are to be believed, it defies easy categorization and requires sets and subsets to understand, but a succinct four-part summary was offered by Neil Tesser in The Playboy Guide to Jazz a couple years ago. First, the beboppers used small, quick combos — most often of trumpet and sax backed by piano, bass, and drums — instead of orchestras. Second, they used more complex chords, exploring “lively, colorful combinations of notes that previous listeners considered too dissonant for jazz.” Third, they often abandoned the melody of a song in order to improvise, relying more heavily on the song’s harmony.
Fourth, beboppers had attitude: “Instead of smooth and hummable melodies designed for dancing, the beboppers created angular tunes with unexpected accents and irregular phrases — and they expected people to listen, rather than jitterbug, to these songs and the solos that followed. The boppers emerged as jazz’s first ‘angry young men.’ They saw themselves as artists first and entertainers second, and they demanded that others respect them and their music accordingly.”
Some of the new jazz was undeniably brilliant, and many of the bebop and hard bop recordings that have been remastered and reissued only seem to acquire more appeal with age. Albums like Parker’s Now’s the Time, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dexter Gordon’s Go, Sonny Rollins Vol. 2, and Coltrane’s Blue Train are timeless, bristling with energy, jaw-dropping improvisation, and deep spirituality. But when they cast their spell, they laid complete waste to the pop-jazz tradition. Bebop offered challenges musicians thought they could never get from traditional swing bands, as well as an improvisational ethic that provided an escape from the tough work of writing strong melodies. Some of the players saw this: In 1949 drummer Buddy Rich fired his band because his players “just want to play bop and nothing else. In fact,” Rich added, “I doubt they can play anything else.” Louis Armstrong, whose centennial is being celebrated this year, once referred to bebop as “crazy, mixed-up chords that don’t mean nothing at all.” Before long swing had become a joke. Producer Quincy Jones recalls in the documentary Listen Up that as a young musician he once hid backstage from bebop trumpeter Miles Davis so Miles wouldn’t know he was in the swinging band that had just left the stage.
Suddenly, jazz was Art. Gone were the days when 5,000 people would fill the Savoy Ballroom to lindy hop to the sunny sounds of Ella Fitzgerald or Count Basie. Bebop was impossible to dance to, which was fine with the alienated musicians in Eisenhower’s America. (You can bet this era will be well represented by beatnik Burns [in his then-forthcoming multi-part documentary on Jazz].) Even bebop’s own founders weren’t safe from the ideological putsch: when Bird himself made an album of pop standards with a band backed up by a string section, he was labeled a sellout. Then Elvis, to simplify matters greatly, reinvented swing for a new generation, and the Beatles arrived with sacks of great new melodies, and jazz was over as a popular music. Remarkably, beboppers and their fans still blame the drop-off on American racism. Miles once called pop music “white music,” and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in a documentary about the Blue Note label, offers that “whites couldn’t appreciate anything that came from black culture.” Yet whites were as responsible as blacks for making stars of Ella, Basie, and other black swing artists. Only two kinds of music were allowed on the radio following the news of FDR’s death: classical and Duke Ellington.
Mark Gauvreau Judge, “Out of Tunes”, Chicago Reader, 2000-08-31.
July 5, 2016
I propose that it shall be no longer malum in se for a citizen to pummel, cowhide, kick, gouge, cut, wound, bruise, maim, burn, club, bastinado, flay, or even lynch a [government] jobholder, and that it shall be malum prohibitum only to the extent that the punishment exceeds the jobholder’s deserts. The amount of this excess, if any, may be determined very conveniently by a petit jury, as other questions of guilt are now determined. The flogged judge, or Congressman, or other jobholder, on being discharged from hospital — or his chief heir, in case he has perished — goes before a grand jury and makes a complaint, and, if a true bill is found, a petit jury is empaneled and all the evidence is put before it. If it decides that the jobholder deserves the punishment inflicted upon him, the citizen who inflicted it is acquitted with honor. If, on the contrary, it decides that this punishment was excessive, then the citizen is adjudged guilty of assault, mayhem, murder, or whatever it is, in a degree apportioned to the difference between what the jobholder deserved and what he got, and punishment for that excess follows in the usual course.
H.L. Mencken, “The Malevolent Jobholder”, The American Mercury, 1924-06.
July 3, 2016
There is a moment at the end of Art of the Trio 4, a live album released last year by 28-year-old pianist Brad Mehldau, when the problem with contemporary jazz is crystallized. After a seemingly endless set displaying his pyrotechnic virtuosity, Mehldau slides into Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).” He plays the song straight, his suddenly spartan piano style capturing the rich, chilling vocal melody. There’s no endless jamming, no fearful retreat into what has become the classicism of legends like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie — just a simple embrace of a brilliant pop song, like Sinatra doing Mercer or Ella singing Ellington.
It was a rare moment of clarity in jazz, and as such revealed a certain hollowness to the rest of the album. Jazz has become sadly irrelevant. A recent issue of Down Beat reported that jazz sales last year accounted for only 1.9 percent of record purchases, down from even a few years ago. That’s a striking figure, and points to a sad conclusion: the music, once the source of some of the most unassailable popular songs ever waxed, has become an esoteric specialty, like speaking Latin. Next year Ken Burns will unleash his ten-part magnum opus on jazz, which makes sense. Who better to eulogize something deader than the Confederacy?
But then I suppose I’m not fit to judge. I came to jazz only about five years ago, just before the erstwhile swing boom. I liked some of the new swing music, which makes me a pariah in the eyes of “real” jazz fans, many of whom hated it the way punks hate the Backstreet Boys. Legendary pianist Oscar Peterson told Down Beat that he was “quite fed up with guys putting on porkpie hats, tilting their saxes like Lester [Young, the great Kansas City player], and calling it swing even though they still sounded like rock groups. Obviously, they haven’t done their homework and wouldn’t know Lester’s sound if it rolled over them in a steam roller.” Well, sure, most of the stuff was crap — most of anything is crap — but a few genuinely great songs were recorded: “Love” by the Camaros, “Pink Elephant” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and just about everything on All Aboard! and Red Light! by San Francisco’s Indigo Swing. If nothing else, these served as a reminder that jazz was once the catchiest music in America. In listening to the massive Duke Ellington box set The Centennial Edition, I am struck by not only the instrumental virtuosity of Duke’s bands but also the sheer stickiness of the songs: “Sophisticated Lady,” “Day Dream,” “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” “Perdido,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Cotton Tail” — the list could go on for pages. Before jazz became fat with government grants and cozy in its mutual admiration society with academic audiences, it required hits to survive, and hits require great hooks. Unless jazz musicians learn how to write tunes again, it’s doubtful that in another hundred years we’ll be celebrating anything except the bicentennial of Ellington’s birth.
Mark Gauvreau Judge, “Out of Tunes”, Chicago Reader, 2000-08-31.