Monday, January 17, 2022

Terry Teachout

Terry Teachout died unexpectedly on January 13, apparently in his sleep, at 65. Terry was many things in his life: a professional jazz bassist, classical music reviewer, book reviewer, editorial writer, biographer (of Armstrong, Ellington, Balanchine, Mencken),  prolific blogger, podcaster, writer for Commentary and the National Review, the longtime drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, playwright, and opera librettist. You could summarize this all as "damn good writer," because he was, in all of the forms in which he wrote. He was clear, eloquent, discerning, passionate about what he loved, fair to what he disliked, never mean or cruel or out to score points in his reviews.

He was a loving son and wrote of his parents often, the adoring husband of the late Hilary Dyson Teachout (the Mrs. T. of his blog), whom he cared for tenderly and devotedly during her long illness, loving brother of David, uncle to David's daughter, recently the delighted partner of Cheril Mulligan, best friend of Laura Demanski ("Our Girl in Chicago" on his blog), and friend of, I think, thousands of people. To all I offer deepest condolences.

He was kind, generous, and respectful to all; he was interested in everyone.  I won't quote John Podhoretz approvingly on most subjects, but in this he is 100% correct: "[Terry] believed that the everyday lives of everyday people were as fascinating and as revelatory as depictions of the great and near-great."

Terry also had the right combination of confidence and humility that let him accept disagreements and criticism without defensiveness. See Ethan Iverson's comments on the Armstrong and Ellington biographies in his memorial blog post, for example. (I'm grateful to Ethan for this because I'd wondered about, and have not read, those two biographies, wondering whether a white man from Missouri, whose fantasy decade to live in was the 1950s, was really the right person to write those books.)

And Terry would occasionally take a facile idea and run into a wall with it. He tried to ascribe the Metropolitan Opera's financial problems to Baumel's cost disease without either looking at how other companies were managing or examining the Met's long-term finances carefully enough, for example. I rebutted that as best I could. (Rereading my blog post now I'd edit a couple of things in it.)

Terry had wide knowledge of Western classical music, with a particular love for French music and mélodie. I don't know how far back his knowledge went; I can't remember him saying much or anything about music before the 18th century. As for 20th century music, he loved some and strenuously disliked some of the more esoteric strands, particularly high modernist music. When Elliott Carter died, he said he thought Carter would soon be forgotten. I didn't buy that, because there will always be musicians eager to play and interpret complex and challenging music. I offered him a bet, stipulating that we'd have to decide exactly what "forgotten" meant in advance. He was quite busy at the time and never responded, which I'll always regret.

The various obits that I have read barely discuss Terry's politics. I never discussed politics with him; from context and reading his blog from 2004 until this year, I know that he detested Donald Trump, and was friends with and liked William F. Buckley, Jr. You can certainly tell something from the facts that he was a regular contributor to Commentary and The National Review as well as an employee of The Wall Street Journal. He was a winner of the Bradley Prize, which is dedicated to...well, take a look at their web site. That said, his friends and admirers extended across the political spectrum, because of his erudition and the kind of person he was.

My obituary list below includes a link to "his legion of friends and acquaintances on Twitter," because goodness knows, thousands of people followed him and many of them clearly interacted with him regularly, there or offline or in email. Here's something that is both extraordinary and utterly typical of Terry and why he was so widely loved: Playwright Marissa Skudlarek posted that during Summer, 2020, she'd run in a writing problem and chatted by phone with Terry about it, which helped her greatly. This was just a few months after the death of his beloved Mrs T., a grievous blow to him, and in the midst of the first year of the pandemic, yet he had the heart and generosity to help a friend and colleague out.

I think that Terry's kindness and generosity, as well as his legion of friends, helped enormously to sustain him after Hilary's death. I know that everyone was thrilled for him when he found new love; he was a delightful and very lovable man, and that was widely recognized by all who knew him.

In his blog post, Alex Ross notes that "[Terry] had a great deal to do with the fact that I started this blog back in 2004." I started my blog in 2004 because Alex had a blog. In some sense, this made Terry a progenitor of this blog, which has made me so many friends, including Terry himself.  We didn't see each often, but he was always encouraging to me, especially about one particular project. I regret that I was not in more regular email contact with him, particularly over the last two years. Goodbye, Terry, you're gone much too soon and so many of us miss and will always miss you.



Paul McKaskle said...

As someone who enjoyed what Terry wrote, I was extremely sad when I read about his death. Your post is a very heartfelt statement about what a wonderful person he was. He will be missed.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you, Paul. He will be greatly missed.