January 14, 2022

"The best blogs are idiosyncratic, unmediated expressions of an individual sensibility, a notion which tends to make old-media executives squirm, so much so that many print-media publications refuse to let their employees blog."


I'm reading my old posts about Terry Teachout, because he has died. Read "Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal Drama Critic, Dies at Age 65/Missouri-born author and musician wrote biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and H.L. Mencken" (WSJ).

I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Terry Teachout when he came to Madison to see the play "Rembrandt's Gift" at the Madison Repertory Theater in 2005 and — simply based on knowing this blog — invited me to join him. 

He was devoted to visiting theaters around America, choosing carefully, rejecting productions of "The Santaland Diaries, Tuesdays With Morrie, and anything with the word 'magnolias.'" And he was eager to see "The Beauty Part, The Cocktail Party, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, Man and Superman, Rhinoceros, Six Characters in Search of an Author, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit, What the Butler Saw, or anything by Jean Anouilh, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, or August Wilson."

He was gentle when regional theater productions — such as "Rembrandt's Gift" — were flawed, and he gave important recognition where it was done well:

Teachout called [American Players Theater] "America's finest classical theater festival, unrivaled for the unfailing excellence of its productions." Teachout hated a 2015 Broadway production of "A View From the Bridge." He called it a "flatulent exercise in Eurotrashy gimmickry." He called this APT production "a masterpiece of sustained tension" and "of the two best Miller revivals I've ever seen."
Every aspect of [Tim] Ocel's production is distinguished, not least Takeshi Kata's set, a near-abstract assemblage of wooden warehouse pallets that is appropriately stark and austere. But it is [Jim DeVita, a 23-year company veteran,] who catapults it into the stratosphere. Unless you frequent Spring Green, you probably aren't aware that he is one of America's leading classical actors. Until now, though, I'd never seen him in a purely naturalistic role, and I confess to being just a bit surprised to discover that he can change hats with complete ease. His performance as Eddie Carbone, the hardworking, easy-to-anger Brooklyn longshoreman who harbors an illicit passion for his innocent young niece (Melisa Pereyra), is replete with the same force and focus that he brings to Shakespeare. Had Robert DeNiro chosen to be a classical stage actor instead of a movie star, he might well have given a performance as good as this one.

I loved this attention to American Players Theater — one of the reasons I still live in Wisconsin. 

Looking through my old posts, I found a link to this blog post of his about death: 

Like many a middle-aged man with a taste for poetry and a preoccupation with lost possibilities, I caught myself thinking the other day of the first stanza of Dante's Divine Comedy. It can be translated in countless ways, but comes most fully to the point in the most literal of renderings: In the middle of the journey of our life/I found myself in a dark wood,/for the straight way was lost. One of my fellow bloggers has lately been reflecting on the meaning of the expression “midlife crisis”...

"One of my fellow bloggers" — I click on the link and — oh! — that's me! 

... but she and her readers are so preoccupied with the more florid symptoms of that often-absurd phenomenon that they seem to have lost sight of the thing itself, the terrible moment in the middle of the journey when you wander into a dark wood and suddenly notice that you can no longer see the signposts that led you there.

That moment came for me when death first touched my life. I'd somehow managed to make it to the age of thirty-nine without losing anyone to whom I was close. Then one day the bolts of lightning started falling all around me. First my best friend, then my father, and in the twinkling of an eye I was picking up the paper each morning and turning to the obituary page. I'd joined the club, the society of those who no longer need reminding that we all die sooner or later—and that some of us die too soon. Such knowledge changes a man permanently, and often the first outward sign of the change is the predictably embarrassing behavior popularly associated with midlife crises.

Aside from these transient embarrassments, the trouble with middle age is that people keep dying on you.... 

In the middle of the journey of my life I found myself in a dark wood, and though I finally seem to have reached its far edge and started to make my way back into the light, one thing hasn't changed: the people that I love keep dying on me. I noticed to my surprise a few years ago that most of my closest friends were now a good deal younger than I am. This is one of the gifts middle age gives us to compensate for that which it takes away, and I'm as grateful for it as I can be. Still, no gift, however generous, can possibly make up for the empty feeling with which we say farewell to the kindly men and women who once upon a time helped to show us what we were.

The divine Mr. Teachout.

48 comments:

David Ermer said...

Beautifully written. Thanks.

David Begley said...

He died at age 66. I’m 64.

My Jesuit high school sends me an email when one of my classmates dies. Got one last month. They also attach a list of the deceased and living classmates.

Remember man that thou art dust, and dust thou shall return.

FleetUSA said...

Well done, Professor.

AJ Ford said...

I began reading you, Megan McArdle and Terry Teachout’s blog around the same time, when I lived in New York City and later Jersey City. They were everything great about blogs. Ms. McArdle parlayed hers into working for The Economist, The Atlantic and now The Washington Post, but I still miss her blog. At some point after leaving NYC, I stopped regularly reading About Last Night, but kept up with Mr. Teachout via Twitter, where he kept us up on what he was watching and listening to, as well as his writings. I thanked him recently for all the great recommendations over the years. He seemed genuinely happy to hear that. I will miss learning of forgotten gems and listening to his recommended lullabies. I have many old columns to look up, and these will have to suffice. It is the closing of another door on a past life. I still have Althouse, though. This gives me great pleasure to say.

Jeff Gee said...

I never met Terry Teachout but we had a number of pleasant email exchanges on subjects like Warner Brothers Loss Leaders and Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. He was generous with his time but he got an awful lot done. His biographies of H.L. Mencken and Louis Armstrong are terrific. He loathed the music of Philip Glass but gave Glass's autobiography a not-at-all begrudging rave. He was always a pleasure to read and he was by no means written out when he died. I'll miss him.

Alan said...

I've been a regular reader of Terry Teachout's columns in the Wall Street Journal and Commentary for years, not because I'm all that interested in theater or music but because of the writing. And because of his fair-minded, honest judgments. Never once have I seen a trace of malice in anything he wrote.

Tom T. said...

"...so much so that many print-media publications refuse to let their employees blog."

If only they kept them off of Twitter too.

Balfegor said...

I think I first encountered his writing as a college student, possibly via his writing at Commentary, possibly via his blog, About Last Night. Hard to remember now. I enjoyed his writing, although his subjects were generally a little outside my interests (I haven't been to a play in at least a decade). I hadn't browsed over to him recently, but I am sorry to see him gone.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

I've been following him daily for years. I think it's now down to Instapundit being the only blog I've followed longer than yours, so this really hit hard. I'm an English major turned music therapist and the main reason I read him was his astonishing ability to talk about music and music making in always fresh ways. (By the way, saw the other day you and I are the same age - I knew you were my generation - but always had you pegged a few years younger ;-)

rehajm said...

I don't want to step on his death announcement by criticizing his lamenting of everyone dying in middle age (waht?) or the reminiscing on the golden age of blogging when everyone with a keyboard could almost taste the riches of monetizing 'I had this dream last night...' or rub elbows with actual print journalists...

He seemed an accomplished navigator of his lane, knowing when to use the gas and brake...

Temujin said...

Beautiful post. And on this, I believe to be the anniversary of your post, I thank you for this kind of light brought to us daily. For 14 years. Every day.

Amazing.

Thank you.

Lem said...

Did he lose a battle with some disease?

I'm thinking of a Norm comedy bit.

Jim said...

I agree.

TT reviewed the Missouri Rep’s Our Town in Kansas City. TT loved it; I’d never seen it; so, we went. The memory of the play makes me tingle from my neck down to my toes. Thanks TT.

Limited blogger said...

Sorry you lost a friend, Ann.

guitar joe said...

Such sad news. I loved his bio of Louis Armstrong and I pull the Terry Teachout Reader off my shelf often. A generous and fair minded critic, and an elegant prose stylist.

Bitter Clinger said...

By all accounts TT sounds like a kind, perceptive, and accomplished man. I'm left with a little doubt, however, upon learning that he would attend "anything by August Wilson." I quietly, but quickly, head in the other direction at the mention of a play by August Wilson. I have never sat through anything quite as boring as an August Wilson play. In fact, I didn't sit through the second AW play I attended. It was so bad that I was able to convince my wife to leave. Usually she succumbs to the sunk cost fallacy and we sit through plays even if we aren't enjoying them.

Howard said...

I've heard of him but almost never read critics, so never read his stuff. Went over to his Twitter feed and scrolled through the last couple weeks. One obvious thing stood out was that he was deeply in love in many different ways. Most importantly he was in love with his woman. Professionally, he was in love with the arts and artists. He is gone but his heart remains in this world. His friends and fans were obviously enriched by knowing him.

Gerda Sprinchorn said...

Very nice.

rehajm said...

Bitter Clinger said...

It was so bad that I was able to convince my wife to leave. Usually she succumbs to the sunk cost fallacy and we sit through plays even if we aren't enjoying them.


...and now I am a fan of Bitter Clinger...

wild chicken said...

Sounds like a lovely man. I read his Pops and Duke books, because they were the newest bios in the library. Pops was quite the stoner!

Anyway yes everyone is dying, even the younger ones I thought would outlive me. Men generally die too young. It's unfair.

Odysseus said...

Ann, thank you so much (!) for your own poetic writing of yesterday, and now this,
regarding aging and death.
Gentle, wise, beautiful.
Blessings.

retail lawyer said...

The Althouse blog is by far my favorite. Even the comments are good, and I missed them when you suspended them. A few yeas ago I noticed that your photos, which I really enjoyed, were becoming less frequent. Then you posted about your vision problems. I was so relieved by that post! Mr. Teachout was correct about blogs, and I'm not at all surprised that he reached out to you. Well, thanks for your work.

Rollo said...

He did seem to be more motivated by love, than by hatred or bilious contempt. I don't think I would have been a regular visitor, but do wish I'd found ArtsJournal and Teachout's blog there while he was still alive.

I did see a retweet of Bill Kristol, but it didn't seem representative of his blogging and tweeting. If you were a member of the Conservative Club, you are likely to be more attached to the Club than outsiders are. It was a great relief, though, to open up Commentary or some other periodical and find articles and reviews that didn't expect or demand ideological compliance, even if one didn't always read them.

Andrew said...

Thank you, Ann. I read Teachout on occasion, mainly because his writing was so captivating. A critic without a chip on his shoulder, or an ideology to proselytize. RIP.

MadisonMan said...

I noticed also that Mike Wilmington, who reviewed film for Isthmus, has also recently passed. As with TT, another interesting writer gone.

Two-eyed Jack said...

Death often surprises me. It's not that everyone around suddenly starts dying, but that the people you know who are around your age no longer die by drowning or in a car crash or some similar reason, but from cancer or a heart attack. This is, at first, a profound shock, but turns into a hovering awareness that being careful when you go out is no longer sufficient protection.

I read Terry's blog almost every day. I followed his thinking on arts that I did not attend and felt enriched, but I learned a bit about his life as well and, in particular about the deaths of the people close to him. I never met him, and he never addressed me personally, but he was a well-known voice in my life for many years and I will miss him a lot.

Chris N said...

R.I.P.

Thanks Althouse.

Václav Patrik Šulik said...

Thank you - very nice appreciation.

I have mentioned a podcast I like, Political Beats. They had Terry on to cover The Band. He had a devastating aside on CSNY - I've never looked at the same since. They used to be one of my favorites, but I stopped listening to them in the late 1980s. Terry showed me why.

Anyway, this is worth a listen:

https://www.stitcher.com/show/political-beats/episode/episode-29-terry-teachout-the-band-53939982

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

The Soviet institutional corporate press(D) demand you stay clear of any information they cannot control.

guitar joe said...

"He had a devastating aside on CSNY" CSN, but I think he liked Young.

Wilbur said...

James Lileks had a similar post on his blog this morning, regarding being invited to dinner when Teachout came to Minneapolis:

"We had supper here when he came to town to review a play, and it was a delightful evening. Witty, erudite, full of hearty passions, never boastful, funny. One of those evenings where you’re sad you haven’t known him all your life, and glad you met him for a single night."

victoria said...

Absolutely loved his reviews in the WSJ. Looked forward to them Fridays. What a loss.
The reviews and the Mansions section of the WSJ are the only reason i read it every day.

vicki from Pasadena

Skeptical Voter said...

I knew of Terry Teachout only through his columns and pieces in the Wall Street Journal. He was a delight to read. There's a nice short obituary of Teachout in today's WSJ. It quotes him re his being brought up in Sikeston Missouri--a small town of just 12,000 when he was living there. Then on to William Jewell College in Liberty Missouri. Student population there today is 739.

So he is or was a small town boy who went to a small liberal arts college, who said that he "still thought in Central Standard Time". Not your city slicker at all.

Václav Patrik Šulik said...

guitar joe said...
"He had a devastating aside on CSNY" CSN, but I think he liked Young.

You're right - that's about 12 minutes in.

BTW, Jeff Bleher unlocked the Patreon only version of the show:

https://t.co/IcujKLMHLh

And his comment on that one is at 13:51

Terry di Tufo said...

I have read several Terry Teachout remembrances today. Yours is by far the best. I love that you got to spend an evening at the theater with him.

guitar joe said...

I enjoyed the podcast link above. I was a little surprised at the sideswipe at the Airplane, who I really like, but tastes differ, don't they? Otherwise, I often agree with Teachout on pop music. I live the Dan, too. It's interesting that Hot Tuna, the band Jorma and Jack started near the end of the Airplane's run, didn't have much in common with the group that made them famous. If anything, they were more like the Band.

Pete said...

Wonderfully done, Althouse. I remember somewhere reading Teachout's tips about reviewing artistic works that no matter how bad he thought it was, there was always something to praise: the music, the costumes, the sets - he had the belief that what he was seeing was the best these artists could produce and so someone should recognize that and he was that someone.

On Twitter, I interacted with him a few times but to hear my wife talk about it, I must've thought I was the only person he ever talked to. Reading the tweets of others about his death, he made a lot of people feel the same way, too.

Silently, I mourned with him the death of his wife - if you think that the Hemingway code of courage being grace under pressure, well, Teachout's writings during this time are all about this.

I'm thankful he found happiness again before his death. I pray his family knows how well he was loved and that it brings them comfort.

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr Weevil said...

I'm surprised to find myself in the same club as Lileks and Althouse: those who have had dinner with Terry Teachout once, while he was visiting town to see a play, and found him charming. I had probably met him before: he was a freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis in the fall of 1974, when I was a senior. He dropped out mid-year and must have been sensitive about that, since he never mentioned it in anything he wrote that I have read (I would have noticed). SJC is not for everyone, so I certainly don't blame him for leaving.

Anyway, despite my lack of musical talent and knowledge, I got Terry's student job in the Music Library when he left, since the other student assistant, now a priest in Toronto, was (and is) my oldest friend. In 2009, he (Teachout) mentioned on his blog (or maybe Twitter) that he was coming to Staunton to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Blackfriars Playhouse, starring Rick Blunt and Ginna Hoben, and I e-mailed saying (roughly) "You wouldn't remember me, but I got your job in the music library at S.J.C. when you left. Would you like to have dinner?" When he arrived, his wife was feeling out of sorts, so I didn't meet her, but he bought me dinner at the best restaurant in town, we saw the play from two of the seats reserved for critics (4th row), and had a very pleasant and informative (for me, at least) conversation, though he did have to go see his wife right after the play.

In sum, a gentleman and a . . . not just a scholar, but much more than that: a critic, an intellectual, a man of letters. Is there some better word to describe someone like him? Not that there is anyone at all like him. This difficulty in describing what he was reminds me of what A. E. Housman said in the obituary of a professor friend: "Yet what most eludes description is not the excellence of his gifts but the singularity of his essential being, his utter unlikeness to any other creature in the world."

Leora said...

A lovely post. A ditto for AJ Ford who said exactly what I wanted to say.

Earth2PowerGirl said...

I'm getting this off my chest. Teachout was (rightfully, I'll concede) railing against the Catholic Church on Twitter when the last big sex abuse scandal broke in 2018 or so. However, I thought his comments were over stereotyping the clergy, and I pointed out to him that my wife's brother is a priest who isn't a pedophile. Terry's response was:

"That we know of."

So, that's my lasting image of Terry Teachout: the guy who suggested that my brother in law is a child molester, sight unseen, based on religion and profession.

I may be over judging him based on a bad comment on a bad day, but he's gone to his grave leaving me that image of himself. Maybe leave this as a lesson on how you never know how your treatment of strangers will live on after you.

rcocean said...

Somehow I missed this. Excellent tribute.

Mr Teachout loved theater and he seemed to be intelligent and very nice. Which rarely goes together. I'd just read his bio of Mencken and was impressed by his generous and thoughtful reflections on the sage of Baltimore. I wonder how much better the book would've been without the external pressures of the publisher.

Personally, I could think of no more impossible job than having to attend various local theater productions and then writing about them without vitriol or derision.

Hat off to Mr. Teachout. YOu will be missed.

stephen cooper said...

Earth2powergirl --- the people who are praising him are not saying he was perfect.

What he said to you was unkind, and worse than unkind, and I trust he would have felt bad about it if he had given it much thought.

William said...

I never read or even heard of him to just now. My loss. A lot of perceptive people went out of their way to follow him and to mourn his death. I'll put his book on Louis Armstrong on the list. Teachout is a good name for an educator.
He seems to have been more a guide than a straggler on the forest paths.....Re being lost in the dark wood: There's a line by Auden about "children lost in the wood, who have never been happy or good". If you get lost in midlife, that's all to the good. The forest is dark and deep and many got abandoned there in childhood.

Bilwick said...

Teachout's biography of H.L. Mencken, THE SKEPTIC, is well worth reading.

JZ said...

TT’s remembrance of his time with his wife, written right after she died. was beautiful and heart breaking. He was able to write when it was hard to think let alone write. He responded to a little jibe I aimed at him on Twitter, and I felt honored.

rcommal said...

Thanks, Althouse. Thank you, Ann.

Narr said...

I'll add the Mencken bio to my list. Mencken and Bierce changed my life.

I used to read and appreciate some of TT's music criticism, but the theater has never been of that much interest to me, after a youthful infatuation. Not enough that I could read about plays and players I would never see, regardless of the excellence of the writing.

It strikes me that TT and HLM had much in common--provincial or heartland individualist elitists in the best sense, going against the grain in the best way.