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Top Five Musical Heroes

Top Five Musical Heroes Before I begin: Your Humble Blogger will quote from a Tohu Bohu note:

Your Humble Blogger uses the term ‘hero’ for a bunch of people who are really really good at what they do, who in some way do what I would do if I wanted to be in their field and had hella talent and dedication. It’s not a great use of the word ‘hero’, since many of these people have performed no acts of heroism. They’re not exactly role models, either. Some of ’em are assholes, and many of them are doing things I wouldn’t ever want to do. But they’re my people, and the emergence of, say, a new column by Jon Carroll or Molly Ivins, or a new Elvis Costello or Klezmatics album or a new Terry Gilliam movie is an Event for me.
  • Duke Ellington
  • Elvis Costello
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Benny Goodman
  • Klezmatics

Benny Goodman gets a boost, actually, because I think of him as admirable, particularly in integrating his band in the late thirties, when doing so was a risk, just because Teddy Wilson was so damned good. Just left off were, um ... David Byrne, I suppose. Mark Knopfler. Cole Porter. XTC. Shane McGowan and the Pogues. Billie Holliday. Mel Torme. But now I’m well past the hero stage, and into the like-a-lot stage.

That’s the last of them, and it was a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll do a wrap-up, but I’m three book reports behind, now, and there’s always the possibility I will rouse myself to comment on the world outside of the arts as well.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


i don't know how to define hero. i'm using a few different definitions. i lean heavily toward political points, maybe. i'd rather think of it as ignoring the political borders and looking around for the people who keep popping up in my head at odd moments with if not words of encouragement, then, colors, patterns, rhythms, shapes of it. these are the "no road ever really ends" people.

djurdjura. a berber woman who settled in france, her family beat her many times, imprisoned her many times, and nearly killed her for the shame her musical career was bringing them. i don't find her story an inspiring odyssey of artistic devotion, i find it a shocking reminder of the variety of people there are in the world, and how challenging it is to live on any of the bridges between times and cultures.

beny moré. he sang like an angel, played, conducted his orchestra, drank and caroused until it killed him. couldn't read music so he just arranged the whole band in his head. these are the sorts of things that people can do when they put their heads to it.

sleater-kinney. they like each other, they play together, people listen, the world turns around, repeat as needed. i like that they're a big deal and yet not. it's no big thing.

rachid taha. because i believe somewhere in his future lies an understanding of how we all get to live together without death and destruction raining down all the time. maybe he won't realize it and maybe nobody else will either. as an algerian kid living in france he led a punk band. then he switched to something like dance music, or punk algerian pop, or something. anyway he stretches himself out to his full length for making groovy groovy music.

sonic youth. until i hear some of their 60s and 70s influences, they stand to me at the edge of some kind of terrifying musical possibility. i don't listen to their music all the time, i probably listen to it less than others. but it's always there, breaking things open.

runner-up: everybody else from new york city. generation after generation, new york musicians give out the business. they're an inspiration to the world. i give this credit knowing full well the economic shenanigans that led to new york's global cultural power. 20th century new york was still an amazing thing.

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