The French-American film Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring my late husband, Dexter Gordon, as a jazz musician in Paris in the late 1950s, premiered in New York City 30 years ago today. As I near completion of Dexter’s biography, Dexter Calling: The Life and Music of Dexter Gordon, memories of the film come flooding back. They are bittersweet, as many of the performers have since passed away, most recently Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016), who died this past summer. Bobby plays Ace in the film and delivers one of its most memorable lines. In the hallway of the Hotel Louisiane, Ace is holding a bowl of jambalaya as Buttercup walks past. He says, about living in Paris, “It would be the best city in the world if I could just find some okra.” Dexter loved that line, and whenever he repeated it to Bobby, they would both burst out laughing.
In the title role of director Stephen Frears’s new film, Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep is more a wonder than ever. Playing a high-society music patron who longs for the operatic limelight but who cannot sing a true note, Streep will split your sides and eardrums even as she rends you in two. Tragedy is wriggling just inside the comic cocoon of this story of a real-life New York City doyenne who, in 1944, at age 76, achieved her lifelong dream of singing at Carnegie Hall—and who brought down the house, though not quite the way she wanted to.
On “the day the music died”—as Don McLean tagged February 3, 1959, in his hit song “American Pie”—the 22-year-old rock-and-roller Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash that also took the lives of rock stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Had he lived, Holly would be celebrating his 80th birthday this year, on September 7. Hollywood paid tribute to the bespectacled singer-songwriter with the 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey. But the similarly titled 1990 Broadway musical, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, is thought to be a truer depiction of the influential music-maker’s brief life.
In June 1986, I turned 16 and traded my learner’s permit for a driver’s license. That summer, filled with new freedoms and responsibilities, I went on my first unsupervised drives and began buying my music on cheap, car-playable cassettes instead of LPs. I drove my friends around hot Houston with the car windows down, blasting recent releases by Depeche Mode (Black Celebration), Prince (Parade) and R.E.M. (Lifes Rich Pageant), and, when the mood struck, Top 40 radio like Madonna, Wham! and Belinda Carlisle.
I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since roughly 1972. I had inherited a copy of Blonde on Blonde from one or other of my older brothers, along with a record player, and I spun all four sides incessantly. I laughed (“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”), I cheered (“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”), I cried (“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”), I sang along (every word). Three years later, Blood on the Tracks joined the rotation, followed by Desire in 1976. Those were great years to be a young Dylan fan.
At the business end of the Queens Museum’s current Ramones exhibit, Joey Ramone (a.k.a. Jeffrey Hyman) stands almost motionless, his body pitched forward over a microphone like a figurehead on the prow of a ship, leading his raucous craft into a sea of hopping, happy humans.
We all know the stereotype of urban ascetics. They resist material luxury. They make their own yogurt, churn their own butter. They live simply and self-sustainably in a small studio with a foldout couch or air mattress. They have no conventional responsibilities, no goals beyond graduation or the next gallery show. They are single artists in the morning of their life. They are not middle-aged parents.