If you’re a connoisseur of ghost stories you are probably aware that the best reading experiences take the form of individual, pithy narratives rather than book-length efforts. This is true for almost all of the masters, from M. R. James to Henry James, Charles Dickens to Saki, Nathaniel Hawthorne to Ambrose Bierce. Collections assembled as round-ups are frequently patchy, with the mood of several chilling tales intruded upon by a lackluster yarn.Read more
I’ve long held a fascination with what I term death works—bursts of art born of some thanatos-based concern, be it an artist fronted with his own mortality or, in the case of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the demise of a friend.Read more
What does it mean to create a work deemed so deleterious to anyone who might encounter it that one’s friends, collaborators, and even a trusted spouse attempt to keep it secret from the world at large?Read more
Slim biographies of the most famous people tend to have a more philosophical slant than the big life-of-so-and-so books. That 200-page volume on Napoleon, say, isn’t going to be some soup-to-nuts treatment, jammed with quotidian minutiae and copious excerpts from letters, but rather a study in how the man’s thoughts while in exile on St. Helena might help you manage your own life better.Read more
Of all of the giants of American popular music, there is perhaps no artist who had as brief a recording presence as Hank Williams, a prime mover in several genres who did all of his prime moving between 1946 and 1952.Read more
Art Tatum had more outward flash, and Jelly Roll Morton certainly possessed more carny flair. But Earl Hines stood alone as the absolute champion of rhythm in jazz’s triumvirate of most important pianists. Never within the idiom has the instrument sounded quite as percussive as when Fatha was cutting loose, accenting off-beats, pitting silence against a sonorous, thunderous attack, and turning what was often an upright piano into a rhythm machine that could get a room full of people dancing, sans backing band.Read more
You get the sense, reading this off-kilter collection of stories, that somewhere in the background, jazz is playing. Bop, probably. The plotlines and patter of the characters tootle off every which way, high and low, with now and then a nod to the theme. Sometimes (as in the sax work of Coleman Hawkins, cited in one story) the theme peters out. Such bold flightiness is both the weakness of Colin Fleming’s writing and its strength.Read more
In an American sports world where football is king, the notion of baseball as our country’s national pastime is a quaint one, a sort of nostalgic throwback to a bygone era, like westerns in the 1940s or heroic literature in the century after the Crusades.Read more
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