You Call It Madness

Sheet music

Phases & Stages

You Call It Madness

By Lenny Kaye

Villard, 432 pp., $25.95

Imagine Walter Winchell, ear cupped and mic clenched. "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press!" Lips smoothly defy the 238 words per minute spit like little daggers into the cold steel. This stiletto staccato sets the pace of Lenny Kaye's latest project, You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon. Kaye's literary love song is a frenetic delving into the life of post-Jazz Age's most promising yet long-forgotten figure. Had this handsome, satiny baritone survived his youth, the name Russ Columbo would rest next to kingly peers Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby. Sadly, Columbo went the pistol route at the hand of his best friend. Kaye, not exactly relegated to obscurity himself, is best known as Patti Smith's right hand. This ultimate fanboy turned rock god began his musical life as the musicologist responsible for the excavation of Nuggets, the seminal garage rock compilation. A punk pedigree like his might seem an unlikely source for such crooner arcana, but Kaye knows his onions. Think Kenneth Anger's blasphemous Hollywood homage, Hollywood Babylon. Likewise, Kaye, in ways, also seemingly out of his element, is actually at one with his subject, for it was the crooner's art that brought poetry to pop, with phrasing that evoked as much emotion or meaning as any word could. In reaching this far back and writing the past in present tense, Kaye connects-the-dots from jazz, to standards, to beat poets, to Tiny Tim, to punk and makes it work. (Patti Smith's very loving, very straight take of "White Christmas" comes to mind.) A stream of semiconsciousness, the book sometimes plays like the better parts of noir-y David Lynch. Ultimately, You Call It Madness makes good use of this device, where style is the substance as opposed to implying a lack of it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Music Reviews
Review: Heartless Bastards <i>A Beautiful Life</i>
Heartless Bastards A Beautiful Life
A Beautiful Life (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, Sept. 17, 2021

We Asked Writers to Review Bands They’d Never Seen Before at Hot Summer Nights
We Asked Writers to Review Bands They’d Never Seen Before at Hot Summer Nights
Going into the unknown with TV's Daniel, xBValentine, Holy Death Trio, Frederico7, and Los Kurados

Kevin Curtin, Sept. 3, 2021

More by Kate X Messer
LBJ Library at 50: All the Cake
LBJ Library at 50: All the Cake
Getting some free cake on LBJ's birthday is a rich tradition

Aug. 26, 2021

The Gay Place: It's Aliiive!
It's Aliiive!
You can't keep a Gay Place down; just ask Sarah Marloff

Jan. 20, 2016

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle