David Hajdu, author of Lush Life and Positively 4th Street, teaches at Syracuse University and is music critic for The New Republic. (June 2005)


The Royal Blues

Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

by Nadine Cohodas
Heartbreak has always been central to country music. In 1953, the Grand Ole Opry star Hank Snow had a hit record called “It Don’t Hurt Anymore,” a folksy paean to a broken heart that began with a lyric that abstracted the theme idiomatically: “It don’t hurt anymore/All my teardrops are …

Hustling Elvis

The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley

by Alanna Nash

Elvis Presley

by Bobbie Ann Mason
Having aspired to be as famous as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (a gut-bucket singer and songwriter well known only to blues devotees), Elvis Presley surpassed his early ambitions by a factor of about a zillion, and after a few years the enormity of his success began to weigh upon him.

Comics for Grown-Ups

Safe Area Gorazde

by Joe Sacco, with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens


by Joe Sacco, with an introduction by Edward Said
Comic books, the rock ‘n’ roll of literature, have always been a rigorously disreputable form of junk art for adolescents of body or mind. Hyper-energetic, crude, sexually regressive, and politically simplistic, comics—like rock (and, in recent years, hip-hop)—give fluent voice to their audience’s basest and most cynical impulses. These are …

He Took Manhattan

Somewhere for Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers

by Meryle Secrest

Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway

by Frederick Nolan
Early in Richard Rodgers’s career as a musical-theater composer, his rapid ascension on Broadway earned him an invitation to one of Elsa Maxwell’s masquerade balls. He was expected to wear a cheekily imaginative costume, and Rodgers came up with something appropriate. Looking exactly as he always would, conservatively attired in …

The Spirit of the Spirit

The Spirit Archives

Will Eisner

Outer Space Spirit: 1952

by Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, and Wally Wood
The pages of most comic books are battlefields for hypertrophied mutants and space aliens raging gaudy supernatural war. This has been the case for generations now, the norm in a junk-entertainment genre whose elemental function has always been to commodify the testosterone delirium of male adolescence. To scan the racks …

Not Quite All That Jazz


by Ken Burns

Jazz: A History of America's Music

by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
No other act of commemoration in the popular media confers as much authority as the infectious gravitas of a film by Ken Burns. Over the past two decades, Burns has made more than a dozen documentaries on American subjects, such as the Civil War (1990), baseball (1994), Lewis and Clark …

Fascinatin’ Rhythm

Harry Partch

by Bob Gilmore

Enclosure 3: Harry Partch

edited and with an essay by Philip Blackburn
Indigent and homeless for many years, the American composer and instrument inventor Harry Partch, who died in 1974 at age seventy-three, made resourceful use of refuse. He patched together an odd musical style of his own from materials others had discarded. From the figurative dustbin of music history, Partch dug …