Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture

Overview

Heroes and Villains is the first collection of essays by David Hajdu, award-winning author of The Ten-Cent Plague, Positively 4th Street, and Lush Life. Eclectic and controversial, Hajdu?s essays take on topics as varied as pop music, jazz, the avant-garde,
comic books, and our downloading culture. The heart of Heroes and Villains is an extraordinary new piece of cultural rediscovery, original to this book. It tells the untold story of one of the most important?and, ultimately, ...

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Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture

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Overview

Heroes and Villains is the first collection of essays by David Hajdu, award-winning author of The Ten-Cent Plague, Positively 4th Street, and Lush Life. Eclectic and controversial, Hajdu’s essays take on topics as varied as pop music, jazz, the avant-garde,
comic books, and our downloading culture. The heart of Heroes and Villains is an extraordinary new piece of cultural rediscovery, original to this book. It tells the untold story of one of the most important—and, ultimately, one of the most tragic—figures in American popular music, Billy Eckstine. Through exhaustive new research, Hajdu shows how this great, forgotten singer, once more popular than Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, transformed American music by combining sex appeal, sophistication, and black machismo—in the era of segregation. The cost, for Eckstine, was his career—and nearly his life.

Other essays in this expansive book deal with topical and surprising subjects like Beyoncé, Bobby Darin, Kanye West, Marjane Satrapi, Woody Guthrie, Will Eisner, the White Stripes, Elmer Fudd, Elvis Costello, Harry Partch, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
ASCAP Deems Taylor Pop Book Award Winner
 
Kirkus, 9/1/09
“A graceful collection of essays…The author writes with enormous confidence and competence…The author is an able instructor whose vast knowledge inspires rather than intimidates…A gift for readers who enjoy erudition seasoned with élan.”

Publisher’s Weekly, on David Hadju
“[He’s] an exacting critic, and a great place to go for a thinking man's take on today's music.”

PW.com
“[A]rollicking collection… Hadju’s essays never fail to amuse, please and provoke.”

Entertainment Weekly website, 10/9
“[Hajdu is] the rare first-rate critic who’s also a first-rate interviewer.”

The New York Post, “Required Reading” column, 10/11
“An eye-opener…Enjoyable”

Forbes.com, 10/13
“[Hajdu is] like a grown-up Chuck Klosterman…,Heroes and Villains is hot.”

LibraryJournal.com, 10/9
“[Hajdu] uses his discerning eye to highlight controversial junctures in popular taste”

Chicago Tribune, 10/18/09
“I’m ready to give [jazz] a second chance, thanks to the wonderfully lustrous and effortlessly instructive essays in David Hajdu's sparkling new collection…Hajdu traces the familiar history of jazz, but with a poet's passionate yearning, not a scholar's bored yawn. He makes you want to rush out and get hold of the music about which he writes, no matter what you may have thought about it in the past.”

All Headline News
“[A] sharp career-spanning collection”
 
PopMatters.com, 11/18/09
“The essays…show Hajdu as a scholar and journalist who is interested in making sense out of the current cacophony in contemporary music and the myriad forces—both personal and technological—that shape the artistic production and public consumption of music…Part of what makes Hajdu such a good music critic and clever pop culture observer is his ability to see beyond the obvious…Hajdu has a keen sense of the social significance of pop culture artists and he shows how they often reflect and create the social climate of the day…Throughout, Hajdu writes in a clear, straightforward style and possesses a sympathetic feel for the lives and music of pop music performers, and this in turn allows him to get past the surface of their lives…Hajdu’s literary voice is thoughtful, urbane, and cosmopolitan.”

Publishers Weekly
In this rollicking collection of mostly previously published essays, Hadju (The Ten-Cent Plague; Positively 4th Street) combines the cutting candor of Lester Bangs and the measured and judicious cultural learning of Lionel Trilling as he takes aim at subjects ranging widely from jazz, rock and country music and cartoon characters like Elmer Fudd to broader cultural topics such as blogging, MySpace, and remixing. Hadju writes affectionately about the old Warner Brothers cartoons, recalling the respite they provided from the tumult of the 1960s, every night before dinner. In another essay, he uses the release of Joni Mitchell's album, Shine, as an entrée into a moving retrospective of her music and a bit of mourning over her recent absence from the music scene. In a superb comparison of the music of Lucinda Williams, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, he captures Williams as a woman rare among pop stars, possessing unfeathered intelligence, untheatrical carnality, and uncompromising humanity. Hadju's opening essay on jazz great Billy Eckstine is alone worth the price of admission, a poignant portrait of a brilliant musician whose star might have risen even higher had he been born in a different era. Hadju's essays never fail to amuse, please and provoke.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Hajdu (Journalism/Columbia Univ.; The Ten Cent-Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, 2008) returns with a graceful collection of essays, most previously published, on a variety of topics-jazz mostly, but also Elmer Fudd, Elvis and others. The author writes with enormous confidence and competence in these pieces, most of which appeared in the New Republic, where he is a music critic. His encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history and musicians never reduces the prose to pedantry, and he is generally compassionate-though occasionally his criticisms are sharp. In Ken Burns's documentary on jazz, for example, Hajdu detects "subtle hints of racism and anti-Semitism," and he feels the music of Philip Glass can be "frigid." Hajdu is harsh when he needs to be-he declares that there are "four thousand holes" in a recent biography of John Lennon-and is often wry and amusing (see his quotation of Monica Lewinsky's note to President Clinton thanking him for Leaves of Grass). On the whole, the author is an able instructor whose vast knowledge inspires rather than intimidates. He moves easily from essays on celebrities everyone knows (Paul McCartney, Wynton Marsalis) to those known principally to the cognoscenti (Harry Partch, John Zorn). Hajdu includes a lovely essay on the brief life of pianist Michel Petrucciani, whose enormous talent was complemented by his capacious sexual appetite and shortened by bone disease. Among those earning the author's high praise are Susannah McCorkle, Billy Eckstein, Ray Charles and Mos Def. Those stung include Sting, Bobby Darin and Starbucks (whose CDs Hajdu equates with "state-sponsored music"). Occasionally he even chides himself, noting,for example, that as a young man he did not adequately appreciate the cartoons of Jules Feiffer. Hajdu's lengthy piece on Marsalis is a revelation. A gift for readers who enjoy erudition seasoned with elan. Agent: Chris Calhoun/Sterling Lord Literistic
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818332
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 994,023
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Hajdu

David Hajdu is the music critic for The New Republic and the author of The Ten-Cent Plague, Positively 4th Street, and Lush Life. He is a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism, and he lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Foreword David Yaffe Yaffe, David

I B's World 1

Billy Eckstine: The Man Who Was Too Hot 3

II Whose Standards? 19

Mos Def and the American Songbook 21

Rodgers and Hart 27

Sammy Davis, Jr.:Two Lives 34

Anita O'Day 40

Bobby Darin: Roman Candle 45

Susannah McCorkle 50

III Blues and the Abstract Truth 55

A Hundred Years of Blues 57

Alan Lomax 66

Dinah Washington: Queen 74

Ray Charles 81

IV Growing Up 87

Elvis Costello at Fifty 89

Brian Wilson and the Lost Masterpiece 96

Sting the Lutenist 103

Joe Sacco and Daniel Clowes 108

The White Stripes 116

Abbey Lincoln and Mark Murphy 122

Three Women in Pop: Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Lucinda Williams 128

V Cultural Machinery 135

The Blogging of American Pop 137

MySpace 144

The Music of Starbucks 150

Rick Rubin and Kanye West 156

Open-Source Remixing 162

VI Life With the Lions 169

Woody Guthrie: Ramblin' Man 171

Will Eisner 178

Elvis and the Colonel 187

Ken Burns and the Great Men of Jazz 194

John Lennon: The Life 201

Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation 206

Joni Mitchell's Shine 212

Wynton Marsalis 218

VII Otherwise Engaged 237

Harry Partch 239

Elmer Fudd 250

Walt Whitman and Fred Hersch: The Jazz Leaves of Grass 255

Michel Petrucciani 261

Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen: Book of Longing 270

Jules Feiffer at the Village Voice 276

John Zorn 283

Josh Groban 289

Marjane Satrapi 295

Acknowledgments 305

Credits 307

Index 309

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