Harvey Pekar, who died Monday at the age of 70, should be the patron saint of soreheads. Even when he got successful he stayed cranky, maybe because being a crank was what made him successful. Not even Pekar was fool enough to fuss with that formula. After the "American Splendor" series of comics came out starting in 1976, he was hailed as the bard of the common man, a sort of genius of ordinariness. He was nothing of the sort.
The blues, like the novel, is always dead or dying, according to someone, somewhere. But somehow, time and again, both these old forms find a way to resurrect themselves. Still, if you were asked to name the best new blues album, would you pin it to Cyndi Lauper?
Extra features on DVDs have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. We shouldn't. Hearing Robert Altman talk about "Gosford Park" thoroughly enriches our understanding, not to mention our enjoyment. But what about the same principle applied to books?
Is the blues dying? That's the question the Chicago Tribune's Howard Reich put to Lincoln T. Beauchamp Jr., a.k.a. Chicago Beau, a blues musician; radio DJ Steve Cushing; and the author David Whiteis. All of them admitted that this venerable American musical invention, now in its second century, was ailing.
Hank Jones, the jazz pianist nonpareil who died May 16 at 91, was many things. He was the elder brother in a trio of astonishingly talented musicians (the other two: Thad on trumpet and Elvin on drums). He lived long enough to see jazz pass through nearly all of its 20th- and 21st-century permutations and mastered them all.
I knew time was softening my jaw line, expanding my belt size, and even shaving almost an inch off my height. What I wasn't expecting was that simultaneously, it was surreptitiously fooling with my taste—my artistic taste. And yet there was the evidence, plain as day: all of a sudden, I liked Jimmy Webb.
Is it possible to write a fey novel about the Holocaust? Perhaps, you may be thinking, the better question is, why would anyone want to? But then, you have not read Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, a strange—and often strangely beguiling—novel that is a story of a novelist trying not so successfully to write a novel about the Holocaust.
Ralph Stanley, now 82, has been singing and playing professionally since the '40s, but the music he performs now is not radically different from what he grew up playing and singing with his brother, Carter, in the Stanley Brothers band.
You can't say you don't see the trouble coming, not in a novel where the first line is "The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard." The narrator is Tassie Keltjin, a Midwestern college student looking for baby-sitting work in December 2001.
If there's anything more insatiable than a vampire, it's the public's appetite for vampire tales. The trick for an author or filmmaker is to vary the formula just enough (teen vampires!) to suck back in those of us who have sworn off vampires (and serial killers) for good.
Fifty years ago, Miles Davis recorded 'Kind of Blue.' If you own one jazz album, this is probably the one.