Stanley Crouch is back in the news.
I've always enjoyed Stanley, personally, and sometimes, his writing. The man loves jazz, no doubt about that, but I can't say I always agree with him. He does have an opinion, a loud one that he will gladly explain, in detail, anywhere he has an audience. As for his persona, and the occasional aura of controversy that envelopes him, that I like. Alot. In an era of conformity where true individuality has become scarce, Stanley Crouch can be a rather annoying iconoclast. Bravo!
Hey, he doesn't work in the Pentagon. He isn't one of the brown shirts currently running our country. He's only a writer.
What's even better is that he's not afraid to throw a punch when he feels he's been misjudged. And that's why he's in the news again. Actually, the incident happened some time ago, but found its way into the gossip columns, Page Six of the NY Post:
NOVELIST HAPPY FOR SLAPPING
"THE most delicious dialogue on Sunday night's Topic A with Tina Brown came just as the end credits were rolling. 'Stanley,'Brown said to novelist and cultural critic Stanley Crouch at the close of her CNBC chatfest, 'you have something to confess this week. What did you do, you naughty man?'
'I slapped Dale Peck,' Crouch replied matter-of-factly. 'You bitch-slapped Dale Peck?' Brown squealed. 'That is true,' Crouch replied. 'He deserved it.'
'I was asked a question,' Crouch later told PAGE SIX's Lisa Marsh. 'I had no idea the sound was going out.'"
Thankfully, It doesn't happen often, perhaps once every ten years, but still, not many writers these days like to assert their perspective like this. People shy from controvery, afraid of offending someone. But not Stanley. He reminds me of Hemingway, or those other heavy drinkers from the 20s. Can't say if he likes a taste now and then, although alcohol has a way of fueling such outbursts.
Imagine if artists regularly attacked critics for bad reviews? Beat the living daylights out of them when their priceless prose was less than congratulatory? I know a lot of artists who wouldn't mind, saying that critics have long written without consequence.
And how did Stanley become part of the tabloid culture? Well, Tina Brown is a good case for forced sterilization, for starters. In fact, she should be locked in room with a Sadam Hussein loaded on Cialis for a couple of days, to attone for her contributions to the dumbing down of American journalism. Posing as an editor in search of good writing, she's a tabloid maven, one of those New York people who live for fame and the lofty position it occupies in our culture. If anything, I think Stanley enjoys the forum she offers. Much to his dismay, television hasn't been particularly kind to Stanley. His 60 Minutes slot was cut after just a few weeks.
As for why he went bonkers:
"The bad blood that caused Crouch to slap Peck across the face at Tartine in the West Village last week stemmed from Peck's withering review of Crouch's novel, "Don't the Moon Look Lonesome," in the New Republic way back in 2000. Peck wrote: 'Let's be blunt. Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed and put forward in bad faith; reviewing it is like shooting fish in a barrel."
Crouch told the New York Post, "I've been known to write a negative review or two in my time." However, "the only hatchet job I've ever gotten was from him" refraining from mentioning Peck by name. Still-seething Crouch claimed Peck "is a widely hated person in the realm of literature. He publishes reviews full of lies . . . his sole purpose is to elevate himself." For good measure, Crouch said Peck deserves "a gob of spit in his face he's deserving of that.
"All I can say is this I've become the people's man. I've gotten many telephone calls. I've gotten so many commendations and accolades. For the first time I've been in New York, I feel like the people's hero."
Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, and the Village Voice's Harry Allen may not share that sentiment, as they've been on the receiving end of Crouch's swing in the past. "I used to be a boxer," Crouch admitted. "It has happened."
Before he got into a tiff with JazzTimes and lost his column, before he became Wynton Marsalis' creative consigliere for Jazz at Lincoln Center, before the MacArthur Grant, before his column in the New York Post, which he still writes, Stanley was an opinionated drummer who was also writing for the Voice. Back in the late 70s, he also did the booking at a Lower East Side club, Tin Palace, and his choices were so admirable, I was there practically every night.
And that's what I remember about him. He's talked my ear off a number of times in the Jazz department of Tower Records, but for me, I remember the excitement he created with his programming at the Tin Palace, with John Hicks and Gary Bartz roaring through the night. Now that was something.
As for the "racial" perspective, and whether or not that conflict is at the core of his work, I dunno. That's for greater minds than I to sort out. I only know that Stanley is a dramatic character, sometimes surrounded by the winds of controversy. A lovely contrast to the egotisical dullards whose work frequently fills the pages of our so-called Jazz publications. If only they were more dramatic characters, like Stanley, we'd have a much lively discourse.
Thankfully, this is the web. So don't believe what I say, read Stanley! Make up your own mind.
Here's a page that links to all things Stanley.
Note: Since this article was written last Fall, Stanley Crouch has survived a stroke, and is back in action. Our best wishes for his good health. We need strong voices!