The WSJ has a very good and perhaps provocative article about popular culture, Elmore Leonard, and some TV series. Some will agree with the premise; others might be pig-biting mad. But a good read. Thoughts? (Hope I got the link in there correctly.) Lee Lamothe

http://on.wsj.com/1bkuBdy

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If Terry Teachout says it, it must be true. WTF? 

From Lee Lamothe. Ooooops. I didn't research the writer before reading his opinion; hadn't even heard of him. I have since done a quickie Google. He doesn't seem to have done much, besides writing books, doing popular culture, creating music, etc. I'm clued out on this negative blowback. Didn't mean to start a fistfight here. So, somebody clue me in: what's wrong with this fellow or his opinion, and are his thoughts invalid? Lee

Yes.

 

I see Kanye West has just published a book.  In his own words,

“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed,” West said. “I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph."

Times they be achangin'.

No, thanks for sharing. Have to say it was a rare treat to see ANY writer take Elmore to task. Didn't mean to blow back negatively. I read the story, went looking for a byline (because I'm a giant Leonard fan), and was surprised when I found it.

Not sure about his actual point. I do think Elmore would get a kick out of being considered part of the Pop Culture. He wrote most of his books in public obscurity -- until the movie Get Shorty was a hit.

He uses Leonard (The Sopranos, et al) as straw men to make a point that popular culture has been granted equivalence with high art. That's a media issue, yet he writes in a tone that seems to blame the creators. He's all over the place with it, too. 

Plus, if he's so smart, how come he doesn't know Bobby Hackett was best known for playing cornet, not trumpet?

Well, yes. He does seem to blame the creators, and that's probably unfair in Leonard's case. But all too many writers choose to write a certain wAy and on certain topics simply because they know it will sell more books. You cannot write anything literary and hope to make money. In fact, my original thought that mystery and crime novels may well be handled like literary works and be better for it may also doom their sales.

That;s exactly what Leonard did: switch from Westerns to crime because Westerns weren't selling anymore. That's fine; everyone has to make a living. Teachout seems to blame the author for making this commercialized form the new cultural standard, when the author has virtually control over how his or her work is received. He wants to rant about popular culture overwhelming "art," he need to turn to his media pals. There was a time when the mass media would feature classical musicians, painters, authors, as part of what they perceived as thier role to help to enlighten their audiences; now they see their part as only to entertain by giving people more of what they already like.

The great Bix Beiderbecke is also often wrongly described as a "trumpet" player.

Spot on, Andrew.

Bobby Hackett played cornet in his earlier years but he played trumpet exclusively later in life. [I met him once in Boston] Truth be told, I made my living playing and teaching trumpet for several decades in and around Boston. Few people can identify the difference between the cornet vs trumpet sound, and even fewer know what the actual differences between the two instruments are. Louis Armstrong started playing cornet because it was the only instrument available to him in the Little Wanderers Home. He switched to trumpet after he played with Fletcher Henderson's band in NYC, because the others in the FH band played trumpet and  he liked the brighter trumpet sound. Not sure about Bix, whether he ever switched to tpt or not. He didn't live very long, died when he was thirty or so. Great musician, tho.

Sorry for the diversion into the brass world. 

I would consider myself lucky to write one short story or novel half as good as anything Elmore Leonard wrote.  

After Murdoch purchased The Wall Street Journal, the paper began publishing a lot reactionary arts and culture columns like this one from Teachout.  

The Phantom of the Opera (the "musical") was, in fact, an opera.  If it had been called an opera instead of a musical, it would certainly never would have had the fans the "musical" did.

Teachout's criticism of Leonard's writing has some validity but it's not fair to dismiss all of it as melodrama or as lacking significant social impact.

Hammett wrote popular fiction, better than much of the literary fiction Hemingway wrote.  Hemingway appealed to the culture's gatekeepers.  Hammett appealed to the guys in the drug stores buying paperbacks.  

Teachout seems to be longing for the day when the gatekeepers decided what did and did not constitute art.  I have a lot of respect for the guys buying paperbacks in the drug stores.

Well, personally,  I think he hit the nail on the head. And I would agree with what he says about this "trend."

And I too really liked Elmore Leonard. Haven't read anything of his in a long time, but I remember that he was really very good.  I also liked  "Breaking Bad," and "The Sopranos." Etc. Etc. They are---or will probably become---"classics" of their genre. And perhaps more fun to watch than some other classics of the genre! 

But, did any of them make my spirit soar, or move me the way---well, the way "The Migration Series" (one of the works mentioned in that article)  moved me when I saw it in a museum exhibition?   Well, no. 

So maybe this writer does use those examples as "straw" to make a point. But I still  think it is a valid point.  It's important , as we are inundated by books, new art, new music, movies, movies, and more movies, to  be able make distinctions between mediocrity and excellence.It's easy to distinguish between REALLY bad stuff and good stuff....I think.   But if we narrow our horizons to include only certain works or kinds of works when we give out marks for Excellence....well, we are missing out. 

Maybe we don't always have to decide all at once whether or not something is or is not "high" art.   Maybe it's enough to recognize what's good versus what's mediocre, or lacking in some important elements, and let Time sort out the rest, as it so often does. 

 

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