Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In this rollicking collection of mostly previously published essays, Hadju (The Ten-Cent Plague; Positively 4th Street) combines the cutting candor of Lester Bangs and the measured and judicious cultural learning of Lionel Trilling as he takes aim at subjects ranging widely from jazz, rock and country music and cartoon characters like Elmer Fudd to broader cultural topics such as blogging, MySpace, and remixing. Hadju writes affectionately about the old Warner Brothers cartoons, recalling the respite they provided from the tumult of the 1960s, every night before dinner. In another essay, he uses the release of Joni Mitchell's album, Shine, as an entrée into a moving retrospective of her music and a bit of mourning over her recent absence from the music scene. In a superb comparison of the music of Lucinda Williams, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, he captures Williams as a woman rare among pop stars, possessing unfeathered intelligence, untheatrical carnality, and uncompromising humanity. Hadju's opening essay on jazz great Billy Eckstine is alone worth the price of admission, a poignant portrait of a brilliant musician whose star might have risen even higher had he been born in a different era. Hadju's essays never fail to amuse, please and provoke." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
National Book Critics Circle Award FinalistASCAP Deems Taylor Pop Book Award Winner Kirkus, 9/1/09
“A graceful collection of essays…The author writes with enormous confidence and competence…The author is an able instructor whose vast knowledge inspires rather than intimidates…A gift for readers who enjoy erudition seasoned with élan.”
Publisher’s Weekly, on David Hadju
“[He’s] an exacting critic, and a great place to go for a thinking man's take on today's music.”
“[A]rollicking collection… Hadju’s essays never fail to amuse, please and provoke.”
Entertainment Weekly website, 10/9
“[Hajdu is] the rare first-rate critic who’s also a first-rate interviewer.”
The New York Post, “Required Reading” column, 10/11
“[Hajdu is] like a grown-up Chuck Klosterman…,Heroes and Villains is hot.”
“[Hajdu] uses his discerning eye to highlight controversial junctures in popular taste”
Chicago Tribune, 10/18/09
“I’m ready to give [jazz] a second chance, thanks to the wonderfully lustrous and effortlessly instructive essays in David Hajdu's sparkling new collection…Hajdu traces the familiar history of jazz, but with a poet's passionate yearning, not a scholar's bored yawn. He makes you want to rush out and get hold of the music about which he writes, no matter what you may have thought about it in the past.”
All Headline News
“[A] sharp career-spanning collection”
“The essays…show Hajdu as a scholar and journalist who is interested in making sense out of the current cacophony in contemporary music and the myriad forces—both personal and technological—that shape the artistic production and public consumption of music…Part of what makes Hajdu such a good music critic and clever pop culture observer is his ability to see beyond the obvious…Hajdu has a keen sense of the social significance of pop culture artists and he shows how they often reflect and create the social climate of the day…Throughout, Hajdu writes in a clear, straightforward style and possesses a sympathetic feel for the lives and music of pop music performers, and this in turn allows him to get past the surface of their lives…Hajdu’s literary voice is thoughtful, urbane, and cosmopolitan.”
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 takes on topics as varied as pop music, jazz, the avant-garde, comic books, and our downloading culture.
The heart of Heroes and Villains is a daring new piece on the transformation of American film through the rise of the comic-book movie. Have comics made movies more juvenile, more sensational, more violent? And if so, are all those things necessarily bad?
Other essays in the book deal with topical and surprising subjects like Kanye West, Woody Guthrie, Will Eisner, the White Stripes, Elmer Fudd, Elvis Costello, Harry Partch, John Adams, Marjane Satrapi, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and more.
Incisive, intelligent, beautifully written essays by the acclaimed, bestselling author of The Ten-Cent Plague
About the Author
is the music critic for The New Republic
and the author of The Ten-Cent Plague
, Positively 4th Street
, and Lush Life
. He is a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism, and he lives in New York City.