Guest Columnist: Has Our Inner Child Won?

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Here's the latest from our sometime guest columnist. This one will make some noise, I expect. With no further ado: WHAT PRICE SAFETY? By Lawrence Christon A mad, obsessive ship’s captain destroys everyone on board, save one, in his vengeful mission to kill a whale. An unhinged barber slits the throats of his patrons and delivers their bodies to an accomplice who chops them up and sells … [Read more...]

What Makes a City Beautiful ?

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IT'S all just a matter of opinion, isn't it? Nobody can agree on aesthetics, right? The Anglo-Swiss writer Alain de Botton demolishes these myths and others in a video on "How to Make an Attractive City." Slate has a fascinating story on the topic, and breaks out the writer's six criteria for urban beauty. By the part that interests me -- and speaks to this site's concern for the overlap of … [Read more...]

The Horatio Alger Myth: Amanda Palmer

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DO musicians and artists need an equitable structure around them, or can they make it by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps? The latter point of view has been promoted -- perhaps incessantly -- by onetime Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, a talented musician and canny businesswoman who has become a Horatio Alger hero for the digital age. Now let me make clear that I have nothing against Ms. … [Read more...]

“In Praise of Difficulty”

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DO we need cultural seriousness, intellectual contemplation, works of depth and complexity? I've been hearing for most of my life -- I came of age in the '80s -- that we don't. Just asking the question got you branded, when I was a kid, a sissy or a bookworm; now it gets you called a snob. But a very fine, reasonably long essay by my Yale editor Steve Wasserman tackles the sources of … [Read more...]

Dueling With the Dean: Rock Crit Robert Christgau

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ON the occasion of his new memoir, Going Into the City, which chronicles the roots of a rock critic and in some ways an entire generation of American pop-culture journalists, I spoke to Christgau about childhood, politics, fellow scribe Ellen Willis, pop, and the lost promise of the '60s. He's the author of immortal line, in his review of a Prince record: "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis … [Read more...]

Does Quality Exist? Does it Matter?

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THE novelist Rick Moody tracked me down recently and asked me to go back and forth with him over the issue of aesthetic quality. He -- as an emissary of the literary blog The Rumpus -- was especially interested in the notion of art that was "born to be bad." We chewed on this issue for a while -- connecting the argument of my book with Bob Dylan's new album of Sinatra covers, which Rick … [Read more...]

Six Questions: Where Do We Go Fom Here?

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THE American Scholar magazine recently asked me to lay out some of the questions I was left with upon completing my book, Culture Crash. I was glad they asked me for questions rather than answers; the plight of the arts, humanism, the middle class, and art for art's sake seem so complex and impacted that it's a lot harder to solve in 800 words. In any case, here's how they set it up, and my first … [Read more...]

Pop Songs and the Novel: Against Vanguardism

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THE writer and critic Nick Hornby, who has a new novel out, wrote this a few years back in discussing the songs of Ben Folds: There is an argument that says pop music, like the novel, has found its ideal form, and in the case of pop music it’s the three- or four-minute verse/chorus/verse song. And if this is the case, then we must learn the critical language that allows us to sort out the good … [Read more...]

Culture Crash and the 21st C Musician

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ONE of my favorite discussions of the new world of the arts and culture -- the economic, technological, sociological changes I describe in my book -- comes in this conversation I had with an editor at the new 21st C Musician site. (I've written several pieces for the site on the transformation of classical music.) Considering both the human costs and the unintended consequences for America, … [Read more...]

Lucinda Williams at the Troubadour

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I'M rushing out of town -- remember that Powell's Books reading Sunday! -- but want to rave for a moment about the show I caught Wednesday night. It's been a good few weeks for music -- Martha Argerich with LA Phil at Disney Hall, solo-acoustic Lloyd Cole at Largo, Joe Henry with Sam Phillips at Largo, and now this one. I've seen Lucinda five or six times previously, but rarely in a club as … [Read more...]