Guest Columnist: Has Our Inner Child Won?


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 ?


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


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”


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


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?


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?


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


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

CultureCrash Evan cover

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


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...]