Great Writing Makes You
Care About Any Subject
It's an old story. You didn't care at all about a subject until a great writer drew you into it through marvelous language and evocative scene-setting. I didn't know I cared about jazz till I read Stanley Crouch's stylishly worshipful reveries to it.
For me, Stanley Crouch has long been one of those special writers, the owner of a byline that demands you instantly stop what you're doing and pay attention, no matter what his subject might be (I'll try to occasionally write about other such bylines in the future). He honed his craft as a staff writer at the Village Voice back when it was still a national institution, but has since gone on to write a number of brilliant, fearless books that tend to eviscerate the kind of polite bullshit that both sides of America's racial divide like to peddle. Naturally, in the process he's managed to get himself labeled a neoconservative in some quarters and an Uncle Tom in others. I happen to especially love his virulent attacks on the whole sick ethos of ganster rap. He's now a syndicated columnist for the New York Daily News (you can check the column archive here, read a profile of him here and eyeball his Wikipedia entry here). But just listen to the opening of his introduction to his latest book, Considering Genius--Writings on Jazz:
My interest in jazz began as a boy while growing up in my hometown of Los Angeles, where I was born in 1945. My mother had many old 78-RPM recordings of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. It was in the middle Fifties and the sound of jazz was rarely heard anywhere other than in the homes of record collectors and the clubs where musicians earned their livings in the underground world of the night life; for the most part, people listened to ryhthm and blues. I did not become aware of jazz in its contemporary and popular style until high school, because Lou Donaldson was on the jukebox at Miss Harris's, where everyone went to buy hamburgers after Jefferson High School let out. The hamburgers were sold by a monstrously large woman who had a giant mole on her nose and probably could have balanced a glass of water on her backside with no difficulty. She took orders, served the burgers and collected the money with such arrogance that the salt on the meat seemed an extension of her personality.