Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture

Paperback - 2009
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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.

Publisher: Boston : Da Capo Press, 2009.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780306818332
Characteristics: xii, 336 p. ; 23 cm.


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Dec 02, 2014

This is how writing about music should be: incisive, probing, critical yet sympathetic, appreciative, even laudatory about quality music. It's about as intelligent as you'd hope to get for discussions that range from Joni Mitchell to Lennon, MacCartney, both Elvises ...alongside Ellington, Monk and Bach. He's got a keen ear, and a way to get his penetrating thoughts across. For instance, how do you like this: "Willie Nelson... [always sounds] ...as if he were singing to himself in his car"? If anything, I found that Hadju could sometimes be too eclectic (never thought I'd say that about anyone!) After all, there's only so much I care to read about Taylor Swift or Beyonce, or about comic-book art, and his admiration for the likes of George Jones simply baffles me.
Also the journalist does come to the fore now and then, bullying his way with overstatement. I could not agree more that "Americas" is Paul Simon's most affecting song, no doubt since Bookends still stands to me S&G's masterpiece (and perhaps as it involved my first glass of wine and enrolment in what I then regarded as a form of bohemianism). It's a marvellous song with vivid, poetic moments, and has stood the test of time. But Hajdu blows it by depicting Simon as culturally "arrogant", guilty of "noble-savage voyeurism" and calls some of his work "slick Grammy-mongering" without backing up his case--and just how could he support that presumable slur? The case he makes of Paul Simon, musical predator, in short, is way overcooked.
Even so, most of this is provocative when it's not outright insightful, so it's strongly recommended.


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