A lifelong passion

This gig has many perks—but the best one without a doubt is the cool, interesting people I get to "meet."

I should explain the quotation marks. Since starting this job, in April 2019, I haven't gotten out much. Even before the pandemic, I was too busy to do much of anything except edit the magazine. So, many of the interesting people I've "met," I've still never seen in person.

One of those is John Swenson, who has written music reviews for Stereophile since his first contribution, a 1996 review of REM's New Adventures in Hi-Fi. In 1999, he wrote our Recording of the Month review of Taj Mahal's Kulanjan. Two months later, he wrote Recording of the Month again, splitting his attention between an MFSL Gold CD of Who's Next and The Beatles' Yellow Submarine Songtrack.

Since I took over as Stereophile's editor, I've used John's writing often. His My Back Pages piece from last June, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, drew much well-deserved praise. The following month, John (who splits his time between Brooklyn and New Orleans) shared his favorite records from the rich history of the latter city's recorded musical legacy, in Sheltering in Place in New Orleans. He wrote another feature, Looking Back at Fleetwood Mac, for our December 2020 issue, revisiting the best recordings from that band's Peter Green–led era and reviewing a boxed set from Warner Records.

As much as I've enjoyed Swenson's writings for Stereophile, it's a tiny, insignificant fraction of his oeuvre, a rounding error, statistical noise.

Swenson was an editor at Crawdaddy in the early 1970s. He has written liner notes for albums by the Kinks, the Who, Dr. John, and many others. The earliest writing I've read by him was a "Comment" in Crawdaddy called "The Who Puts the Bomp," from 1971. "Largely due to the efforts of bands like The Who," he wrote, "no one questions the power of rock anymore. Rock's power involves magic. There's magic every time a group steps up on stage and an audience responds with that strange exalting welcome, the kind of love reserved for nothing less than gods." It may be true that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but the best music writers manage to communicate some of music's magic in words. John does that.

John reviewed Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick for Crawdaddy in 1972. That same year, he interviewed Dr. John, and also Roy Ayers. In August 1976, in Crawdaddy, he wrote, about the Ramones' eponymous first album, "Unfortunately the Ramones suffer from the worst kind of seriousness, that which masquerades as a bad joke." Not a fan, apparently.

John interviewed Bob Marley for Rolling Stone. When Ronnie Van Zant died in a plane crash in 1977, with bandmates Steve and Cassie Gaines, ending the phenomenon that was Lynyrd Skynyrd (although that band's sad afterlife continues to this day), Swenson wrote the Rolling Stone obituary, "Requiem for a Simple Man."

Swenson has written 15 books, about Bill Haley, the Who, Stevie Wonder, the Eagles, Kiss, and others. He edited The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Record Guide and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide. His most recent book, from 2010, is New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. He wrote a syndicated music column for 20 years, for UPI and Reuters. He is an accomplished sportswriter, having covered the New York Rangers hockey team for 30 years, for several outlets. He wrote a horseracing column for the New York Post and about boxing for Ring magazine.

Swenson has also found time to play music. He fronted Bloodbath—not the 1980s Serbian thrash-metal band or the late-'90s Swedish death-metal band, but, rather, the early-'70s "hard rock dance band"—"somewhere between boogie and Bowie," as John described it to me in an email. The guitarist in Bloodbath was Walter Lure, who went on to play with the Heartbreakers. "Walter's lurching chords on [Bloodbath's version of Mott the Hoople's] 'Rock and Roll Queen' anticipated the way he played 'Chinese Rocks' with Johnny Thunders," John reflected in an email. Much later, in the '90s, Swenson fronted a band called Not U 2 Again, which specialized in Kinks covers.

In this issue, in our Record Reviews section, you'll find John's review of Paul McCartney's latest record, McCartney III. You'll also find, inside this issue's back cover, his latest My Back Pages essay, "Death Row Discs."

That column's first line: "Music is keeping me alive." The second: "I have terminal cancer."

When you're done reading this AWSI essay, skip to the end and read that. If you detect the slightest trace of maudlin self-pity, write to me and tell me. You won't, though, since it isn't there. What is there is the same gritty passion for music that has characterized his writing for the last 50 years. I pray there will be more of it.

Art Dudley
In a spirit of joyful remembrance, and not of mourning, I note that April 14 marks the first anniversary of the passing of Stereophile columnist and Deputy Editor Art Dudley. This issue contains two brief remembrances: a letter of thanks to the audio community from his wife and daughter, Janet and Julia (see below), and an article by Jason Victor Serinus about a video made by cinematographer Christopher Bell in conjunction with Erik Owen of Gig Harbor Audio, with John DeVore of DeVore Audio narrating. The video is about Bob Lichtenberg, the deaf audiophile—you read that right—who bought Art's Altec Flamenco loudspeakers. It is however a fittingly human, suitably idiosyncratic tribute to Art Dudley, whose company and work I still miss every day.

Drink a toast tonight to lives lived well and musically.

A "thank you" from Art's family
"It has been almost a year since we lost our Bunny—our Old Art Dudley (yes, that really is what he called himself!)—and we wanted to mark that with a sincere, heartfelt thank you to the audio community. You have all been incredibly kind and supportive through a remarkably shitty time. (Can we use that word, Jim? 'Cuz the thesaurus had nothing more apt.)

"We miss him dearly every day—we know his readers do too—but we are also grateful for the gifts he left us, foremost among them connecting with friends, old and new, and discovering (or rediscovering) the music he loved. (I love you Art Dudley, but despite many, many good-faith attempts, I cannot do Captain Beefheart.) Your old John Fahey LPs make my heart break for their beauty—and for knowing that you and I can't talk about them over a glass of wine like we used to do. Julia has squirreled away your Bowies, and it keeps you close to her.

"Best of all, you've left all of us with your laughter. Julia and I often share texts. "Your father was so freaking hilarious!" followed by a screenshot from one of his pieces. The opening to Listening #202 cracks us up every time!

"Not to be too woo-woo, but we do believe Art is very much still here with us, taking care of us as he promised. Whether it's true or delusional, that's our comfort.

"His ashes are at rest, with his family, in Saratoga Springs, where he was born. We have plans for a memorial wake when it becomes safe again to gather.

"Again, we send our love and gratitude to all of you.

"And next time you see a bunny, go pour yourself a drink, put on your favorite music, and say to yourself, "Oh, hello, Art Dudley! Nice of you to stop by."

With love, Janet and Julia Dudley, Troy, New York

ChrisS's picture

....How can we read Stereophile anymore without tears welling up in our eyes?

Please, don't stop.

We need this.

Charles E Flynn's picture

You are entirely correct.

Webpages that may provoke the welling up of tears may benefit from appropriate warnings for some people, but it must be acknowledged that their content may be of unusual interest, importance, and consequence.

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent article- JA2.
What a commute between Brooklyn and New Orleans?
No doubt the best of both (musical) worlds!

Glotz's picture

Thank you for living with big balls!

Glotz's picture

I find it a solid album, and it is astounding that he is 88 years old and producing anything this good!

But in comparison to his prime output, you are very correct.

For example, I think Damon Albarn and Thom Yorke are at the top of their respective games due to their consistent ability to provide memorable melodic phrasing with addictive rhythmic underpinnings in almost everything they produce.

volvic's picture

I read the review this morning and did a double-take on his age. I believe Sir Paul is 78.

TNtransplant's picture

I still treasure an old beat up, much loved copy of that first red Rolling Stone Record Guide, which is right next to a similarly tattered copy of Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia on my bookshelf. These tomes were my pathfinders in the 70's as I explored music rarely, if ever, heard even on "free form" radio and some recorded before I was born.

Ended up becoming Program Director at a public radio station and managing record stores before deciding I loved music too much to be in the music business -- and needed a much higher paying job to afford the audio components to bring that music to life.

But until now never realized that the same John Swenson was among those who chronicled my much loved but always falling short NY Rangers of the Emile Francis era, which goes back to seeing Gordie Howe's Red Wings and Bobby Hull's Blackhawks at the old Garden before moving to the pastel colored MSG.

Inspired me to start playing the game as a peewee at Skateland, the late 60's Rangers practice rink in New Hyde Park where I also participated in summer camps led by my youthful heroes, Rod Gilbert and Brad Park. Was playing hockey in college when I discovered a teammate was also into music and introduced me to the radio station.

Funny how this all comes around.

Thank You, John