Listening #15 Page the Second

And while I'm on the subject...:

"Editor: I read with much interest Art Dudley's report on the Dynavector 10X5 MC cartridge in the October 2003 issue. What I found deeply troubling was Art's flippant reference to Christ's teachings: 'Sermon on the mounting,' followed by His crucifixion: "It's finished." It is inappropriate to tie the supreme sacrifice of my risen Lord to a cartridge review."—Paul Beyer

What I find troubling is this reader's Assumption that my references were "flippant." That's not only incorrect, it betrays a pugnacious approach to Christianity that I fear has become all too common in the US; ie, the attitude of "I love Jesus more than those other people do," said other people typically being liberals, foreigners, people with a sense of humor, and residents of large cities in the northeast. By the way, Paul, you missed a few.

Has anyone here seen my old friend Dion?
But enough about religion and politics: Let's listen to some music:

"Mr. Atkinson: I will say that I disagree with Mr. Dudley on one thing: The Band's cover of 'Long Black Veil' is anything but 'lightweight.' In fact, I consider it to be one of the best tunes on the Big Pink LP."—Pat Schubert

First, I apologize for besmirching Mr. Schubert, an intelligent and open-minded reader, by lumping him in with these other guys. Mr. Schubert's was simply the most concise and decent of the letters I received on the subject, the others of which were from the sort of hotheaded juvenile males who rank musical artists in a manner suggestive of baseball stats.

Now: No one has to defend the Band to me in a general sense; I've just about worshipped them and their music since the day in 1971 when I first discovered Music from Big Pink. (I had bassist Rick Danko autograph my well-worn LP of it when I interviewed him at a mixing session in May 1999, just seven months before his untimely death.) My point was simply that "Long Black Veil," the only non-Dylan cover song on the album, was out of step with the rest of the material.

Whereas the other songs aspired to a certain artistic honesty and timelessness, "Long Black Veil" was written in 1959 as a comeback single for Lefty Frizzell, by Nashville songwriters Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin—who were also responsible for such fake-folk as "The Streets of Laredo," "Big Bad John," and "The Ballad of P.T. 109." (I'm not making this up.) The song was a novelty item meant to get a fading star back on the radio by cashing in on the burgeoning folk-music scene (à la Dion's last hit, the Hallmark-esque tearjerker "Abraham, Martin, and John," which caught the tail end of the same craze). As much as I enjoy the Band's performance of "Long Black Veil," I still think it sticks out like a sore thumb.

And that was what I wrote in my September 2003 column: that Music from Big Pink, brilliant though it is, contained "a few stylistic dead-ends." But I've realized since that I'd forgotten about Moondog Matinee, the Band's 1973 collection of cover songs, some of them just as lightweight as "Long Black Veil." (Now I guess I'm going to get angry letters from readers who consider "The Third Man Theme" and Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "Ain't Got No Home" to be the very acme of songwriting.) In case you're keeping score, the home team just lost a point.

While we're still on the subject of music, here's a little something for classical fans:

"Mr. Atkinson: Art Dudley is at it again. Gershwin's Concerto in F is a bad piece? Wrong, Mr. Dudley! It's a great piece. He just doesn't happen to like it. Dudley criticizing Gershwin is like George W. Bush criticizing Shakespeare."—Paul Randall

First, I'm shocked and offended to see someone so frivolously attack our Commander-in-Chief in a time of war. If only Chris Henderson were still a Stereophile reader, he'd put Paul in his place.

Second, Art Dudley criticizing Gershwin isn't at all like George W. Bush criticizing Shakespeare. I've actually listened to lots of Gershwin, whereas George W. Bush has acknowledged publicly that he: a) does not read for pleasure, and b) is not given to introspection—two things necessary in order to appreciate, let alone criticize, any work of art.

I admire some of Gershwin's output—the songs much more than his attempts at "serious" music. But when I listen to the Concerto in F, all I can do is paraphrase Truman Capote's quote about Jack Kerouac: That's not composing, that's arranging. Listeners with a taste for that style may indeed find much to enjoy in Gershwin's colorful, brilliantly crafted orchestrations, but "great" music it is not.

Then there are those letters that simply defy categorization:

"Editor: In his review of a Linn preamplifier and amplifier (June 2003), Mr. Art Dudley believes the euthanasia of canines to be an amusing matter to be treated with lightheartedness. In the first three paragraphs of his review he finds it necessary to deal with this matter twice. In the first instance we have 'like the veterinarian who calls to tell you happy Skippy looked just before he slipped his leash.'

"In the lives of nearly all dog owners, we are faced with that immeasurably sad moment, after having exhausted every means possible, to have to resort to this dreaded measure to spare the suffering of a beloved family member. It demonstrates extreme insensitivity to make reference to this matter in a jocular vein having absolutely no positive merit in reviewing a piece of audio equipment. Since I do not believe such an insensitive person can be truly sensitive to whatever audio event he happens to be perceiving, and because Stereophile magazine financially supports Mr. Dudley, and I support Stereophile magazine, in regret I will do so no longer and therefore will not renew my subscription. One day I will be forced to miss the companionship of my dog much more than I will ever miss future issues of your magazine."—Norman M. Schwartz

First, I wasn't thinking of euthanasia; I was imagining an excitable dog that got away from his handlers, ran into the road, and came to a bad end. "Slipped his leash" was meant literally and not as a metaphor—like "went west."

Second, I don't know if you realize this or not, but in your fifth and sixth sentences you go from saying that my remark had nothing to do with audio reviewing to saying that my remark had a great deal to do with audio reviewing. Perhaps predictably, I must now challenge you to make up your mind.

Obviously—obviously, Norman—there is no way I could gain an iota of pleasure from anything that would bring pain to another human being. I love animals, although I admit I'm not in tune with the apparently increasingly popular notion that the loss of a pet is on a par with the loss of a human family member or friend. But if my failure to understand your point of view has desensitized me to the extent that I've caused you real grief, I apologize.

But, dude, you are wrapped way too tight.

Recent quotation-mark shortage explained
"Editor: Regarding Art Dudley's review of the Linn Klimax preamp and power amp (Stereophile, June 2003), let me get this straight—the need to push Play twice 'for the first [CD] you play in any given listening session' is 'one more reason to hate the little silver bastards.' Is that correct? It's not the fault of the Linn engineers and how they designed the amplifier's sleep mode? It's the fault of those damned CDs? Got it. Oh, look! There goes logic, sailing out the window once more, flapping its merry, distorted way to mono tube land, where 'digital' is just another four-letter word that is never mentioned in polite company and God smiles down on all that groovy vinyl. I suppose Dudley still watches movies at home on VHS tape, too, rather than use those bastardly DVDs. Oh, wait—maybe he doesn't even own a TV, just basks in the warmth of the glowing tubes of his AM radio. Sorry."—Terry Hertzler

"PS: Love that 'residual hiss of some tube phono preamps' too. Ha ha ha ha ha..."

When people write out "Ha ha ha ha ha" like that—especially people who have just demonstrated that they don't recognize jokes when they see them—it's actually quite creepy.

And, finally:

"Mr. Atkinson: Your new 'writer,' Art Dudley, to coin a phrase, 'sucks.' John Atkinson describes Mr. Dudley's writing as using 'keen wit,' to inform his readers. Well, Mr. Dudley's writing certainly can be described as a joke, so I guess that's where the keen wit comes from.

"Your magazine is just amazing in how many incompetent writers you have hired in the last couple of years. Lisa Astor, with her witty pantyhose comments, to name my favorite politically correct writer of late. Now this baboon, trying to live out his fantasy of a Maserati, which Mr. Dudley is in desperate need of so at least some women would look at him, is your latest writer-reviewer-baboon.

"Funny how Mr. Dudley states, 'Music is easy to miss for the listener who thinks his job is to concentrate on the sound' ['Listening,' January 2003]. Your reviewers, I would suspect, have a different opinion of what their job is. Your reviewers' job is to concentrate on the sound of, for instance, cables, interconnects, speakers, amplifiers, line conditioners, spikes, turntables, and the like.

"Mr. Dudley seems to think the retailer is selling 'music' now, and not 'hi-fi' systems. Sorry, Mr. Dudley, the retailer does not sell music; the stereo system that he sells 'enhances the music' that I like.

"Stereophile, once again you have come up with a real winner in Mr. Dudley as your latest incompetent writer. You seem to be bailing in the water to an already sinking ship, aka Stereophile."—James Peak

Actually, James, the joke's on you: I just got you and your friends to write my column for free.