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Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture Paperback – October 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
ASCAP 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
“An eye-opener…Enjoyable”, 10/13
“[Hajdu is] like a grown-up Chuck Klosterman…,Heroes and Villains is hot.”, 10/9
“[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”, 11/18/09
“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.”

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Original edition (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818337
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818332
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,558,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James Ashley Shea on September 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The introduction was written by David Yaffe, who may know a lot about jazz, but his ideas about rock and roll seem to come from somewhere in 18th-century New England.

"The joke is that septuagenarian icons like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and [Chuck] Berry are still singing songs about adolescence as very old men performing, usually, for rather old consumers, ignoring what could be deeper art about the indignities of old age . . ."

Yaffe has a lot to say about rock and roll, all negative, and tosses in words like "adolescence," which is a useless, outmoded theory. We don't "grow up" at age 20 or 40 or 60. I have to laugh at the way Yaffe implies that only teenagers want sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Rock and roll, that joyous music, is about life -- real life. I will be 80 in January and I haven't found any indignities yet. I've heard men like Kid Ory and Louis Armstrong play in their later years; they taught me not to fear "old age." I love many kinds of music, including rock and roll. My favorite American band is Asleep At the Wheel, musicians as good as you can find anywhere. I dig on the Stones on Youtube in all their incarnations. If they don't rock you, nothing will.
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Format: Paperback
In this collection of essays about music and other pop culture, David Hajdu doesn't hold back from expressing strong opinions about artists and their work. But they're informed opinions.

For instance, he doesn't do "irresistibly catchy" singer Taylor Swift any favors by quoting her accurately when she says that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet "could have been the best love story ever told" if it had had a different ending.

Several themes run through the book, making it more interesting than just a collection of magazine pieces that happened to be available for reprint.

One idea Hajdu comes back to is that rock and roll music doesn't grow up. (That's why it can never die, I guess.) Unfortunately the rockers get older even if the music doesn't, and if they don't learn new things they cease to be interesting. "Rock, at its crude best, is a music of disgrace, anathema to aging . . . gracefully."

Another theme that recurs is the idea of a musical standard that began to be less revered in pop music after the British Invasion. The idea that "old-fashioned popular music was so atrocious in the mid-1950s that Elvis had to come forth for pop's salvation" is merely musical history written by the teenage winners of the generational wars. Hajdu gives examples of how "jazz-oriented popular music reached a creative peak" at the same time rock was born.

Another image that Hajdu finds repeating in popular music is the black man as sexual predator. Louis Armstrong projected an childlike image and pleased everybody. Billy Eckstine, who at one time sold more albums than Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby, was photographed with ecstatic young white female fans and his career suffered.
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8 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael R. Barrett on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
While I was interested in some of the subjects in these essays, such as Mos Def, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, The White Stripes, Open-Source Remixing, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Philip Glass, and John Zorn, I found Hajdu's treatment of them too cynical. He bashes all these people in one way or another. In the case of Lennon, he can't find a way to directly bash him so he takes on Lennon's biographer. Perhaps his pieces on Billy Eckstine and Wynton Marsalis are less cutting because they are upper-crust. Even in the cases where I mostly agree with his negative opinion, like his take on the White Stripes, it just seems mean spirited.

He not only disparages the music of these people, but also their motives. Also, he is far off base when it comes to discussing anything technological, Open-Source remixing, Garage Band, "techno" (electronic music). Of course critics and essayists have to tell us when someone has gone down an ugly path, but don't they also have share their love of the music as well, share the joy they get from experiencing a great piece of music, open our ears to unknown masterpieces.
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