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

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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Travis Todd

    NOTES FOR A REVIEW OF DAVID HAJDU'S "HEROES AND VILLAINS" : Hajdu notices that in the King Features animated Beatles TV show John Lennon is voiced with an upper class English accent. And proceeds to make interesting observations about class in the U.K., and how U.S. residents tended to see all U.K. residents as culturally superior to themselves. What other critic has noticed this? All good criticism is a heightened paying of attention. Excellent cultural criticism illuminates its subjects in ways NOTES FOR A REVIEW OF DAVID HAJDU'S "HEROES AND VILLAINS" : Hajdu notices that in the King Features animated Beatles TV show John Lennon is voiced with an upper class English accent. And proceeds to make interesting observations about class in the U.K., and how U.S. residents tended to see all U.K. residents as culturally superior to themselves. What other critic has noticed this? All good criticism is a heightened paying of attention. Excellent cultural criticism illuminates its subjects in ways not just unsurprising but unavailable to other minds until so illuminated; then the new way to think about something is afterward a permanent feature of what makes these subjects fascinating; we owe a debt. It's very irritating at first and sometimes remains so when another mind makes us aware of the mediocrity of something we love, or think we love; we naturally resent the challenge to grow up and to adjust our self-conception; all human impulses at bottom are infantile ones. "Indifference to the art is a profound act of hostility to the artist." - David Hajdu Intelligently noting the subtle imperviousness to criticism of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs." I have to force myself to push through my resistance to ever again read anything about any of The Beatles in order to get to surprising ways of thinking about the world, via another person's careful thinking. I love much of their music, but thinking about The Beatles produces an unpleasant sensation of fullness. Enough, already. At one point Hajdu observes that a song is catchy rather than memorable and I wonder what the difference is. Is catchy a necessary but insufficient condition for memorability? But music can be memorable without being catchy, so fuck it, they're different. But they can overlap. WHO GIVES A SHIT. I still don't quite get the phenomenon of completely losing your shit over a performer, like some teenage girls of the era at Beatles concerts. It makes me feel contemptuous, and then I feel guilty about feeling this way. Were there girls at the back, arms folded, snapping gum, unimpressed? That smug feeling of, "I don't like Sting, either." Don't trust it. The only consistently irritating stylistic tic of Hajdu's I can find is his over-reliance on "veracity" as a descriptor.I know that almost all the pieces in the book were published separately in magazines but still. Is is somewhat cruel for Hajdu to use one of Joni Mitchell's most famous lyrics as a means to describe her diminished artistic power? Can criticism be free of aggression toward its subject? Do critics have moral responsibility toward their subjects? ESSAY TOPIC: ON ASSIGNING STARS TO COMPLETED ARTISTIC WORKS

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stevan McCallum

    I must first confess that I did not read every single essay in this book. Those that I did not finish reading, remained so as a result of not knowing ANYTHING of what he was talking about. Either a musician, actor, or style of music that I was unaware of, or knew next to nothing of, the essays I skipped fell into such categories. The essays I DID finished ranged from good to excellent. I enjoyed the take on Starbuck's CDs, Elmer Fudd and MySpace (neat to have an essay that was so timely and stil I must first confess that I did not read every single essay in this book. Those that I did not finish reading, remained so as a result of not knowing ANYTHING of what he was talking about. Either a musician, actor, or style of music that I was unaware of, or knew next to nothing of, the essays I skipped fell into such categories. The essays I DID finished ranged from good to excellent. I enjoyed the take on Starbuck's CDs, Elmer Fudd and MySpace (neat to have an essay that was so timely and still relevant). His take on The White Stripes almost had me reconsidering whether I really liked the music (I still do). Hajdu proved you can write critically about almost anything in pop culture and oftentimes sound/appear more cultured than the chosen subject.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dave-O

    This book falls apart after the jazz chapters. I enjoy Hadju's passion for jazz and folk music, but I'm not interested in his snide, obvious commentary on the Starbucks record label or American Idol. Even essays that I thought would interest me like ones on the White Stripes and Phillip Glass are too snarky and peppered with already outdated references. Anyway, if American culture and music fell apart after Dylan and folk, isn't it aging yuppies like him that allowed that to happen?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Hajdu's writing is easily smart and readable, but introduces figures across the contemporary culture scene that might have gone unnoticed by major pop culture outlets. It's a collection that goes all over and I'm excited to check out more of the people and works that Hajdu writes about. Some of the works are a little stale as biographical profiles morph into reviews, but on the whole its a great read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    The author writes very well and opened my eyes to a lot of things about music, culture, our nation, and personalities...that gives me a lot to think about. Most of them are fairly brief pieces - but the one on Wynton Marsalis - was longer and well worth the read. The author is insightful in examining music and what ti has to teach us about ourselves. There was a lot to really chew on here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    A real disappointment when considering the author's ample talents as a writer. Not much here to grab my attention, some of which can probably be explained by a difference in generation. No, that's not even it. Even the section making fun of Sting fell a little flat.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Music critic for the New Republic, David Hajdu writes knowledgeably, incisively and wittily across a range of topics, from the history of the blues to the state of contemporary jazz, from Mos Def's interpretation of the American Songbook to Sting "the lutenist".

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    LONG. DENSE. Still glad i did it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    ACRL

    Read by ACRL Member of the Week Timothy Hackman. Learn more about Timothy on the ACRL Insider blog. Read by ACRL Member of the Week Timothy Hackman. Learn more about Timothy on the ACRL Insider blog.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    great essays on music. im not that interested in the movies and such, but still nice. mostly from new republic mag? i think.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    I enjoyed some of these essays, but for the most part David Hajdu's writing feels like a form letter, mostly repetitive from essay to essay and predictable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Will

    formulaic as heck, but it's a solid formula. the essays on Starbucks, Billy Eckstine and Woody Guthrie were particularly good.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    The essays on jazz performers make the book especially worth reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Armstrong

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Carradini

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rob

  19. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

  20. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erik Tanouye

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  24. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  25. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  26. 5 out of 5

    Josh Halpern

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bryan McKay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda Powell

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Widzinski

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adam Austerlitz

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