Letters to the Editor

Why must Marsalis suffer to be considered good? Plus: A vote for Sega is a vote for Microsoft; comics creator Stan Lee's disputed legacy.

By Letters to the Editor
Published August 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
main article image

Sharps & Flats: "Sweet Release and Ghost Story"

I suppose you'd like Wynton Marsalis better if he had some dark, secret, suffering
past? Let him be a junkie or a drunk, a closet homosexual or a '60s radical with an official intelligentsia, "outsider" passport. Let him be a philanderer or prodigal son, let him be a she and write duets with Wendy Carlos, let him fail gloriously and then you'll embrace him, eh? Ask yourself whether you as a listener and critic would receive his music
differently if his biography were different, or if his prolific output were
halved or quartered. Is it too much, too smooth? Where's the
effort, where's the sweat?


Sometimes the front-runner is Secretariat. Sometimes an
artist can actually find the material for greatness in a "silver trumpet"
youth and adult existence. Must a young virtuoso/composer run off the
rails to be deemed worthy in your eyes? Please state your
conditions for acceptance at the beginning of your next review.

And what about "pretentiously ambitious"? Is any large plan by a successful
artist going to be labeled as such by you? It has long been the fashion in
New York fringe critical press to tear down the provincial strivers who
have flourished in the embrace of the mainstream public, but I have yet to
see or hear any dilution in the Marsalis product. Here in the backwaters
of Chicago, we like to say, "Make no small plans." That doesn't mean every
building has to be the Parthenon or every opera the Ring cycle, but why not
dream big?

Man, if I had music pouring out of me like Wynton does, I'd just open the
faucet and let flow. Hold on to that hose, Seth, get a bucket, get a tub,
let Wynton fill up all your vessels -- because the man is still young.
Just wait, there's more to come.


-- Chris Toft

I've always found Wynton Marsalis to be a technically proficient and emotionally frigid artist. My head tells me he's got tons of reverence for classic trumpet players, but he's just so goddamn precise that Marsalis' playing is as exciting as a computer programmer writing code.

I'd rather listen to my poor dead Miles Davis in his worst electric phase noodling than the tastefully boring work of Wynton. I'm afraid while Wynton learned everything he knows from Miles, Louie, Dizzy and Charlie, he's didn't learn everything they knew.


-- Jeff Winbush

Columbus, Ohio

Finally someone came out and said it: Wynton Marsalis is a trumpeter
with superior technique, but he's led a comfortable life, never knowing
real fear, desperation, and heartbreak. I don't think he's ever had to
worry about racing to the bank with money obtained from pawning an
instrument to try to cover a rent check that would otherwise bounce.
He's never had to kick a habit, or worry about whether a club he's
playing at will go under and he'll be out of a job and might have to
live in the shelter. Few if any devils -- except a Muse that demands
higher and higher levels of tonal perfection -- seem to haunt him. As
you so eloquently put it, "jazz finds its base in pain." And judging
from his beautiful but antiseptic work, Wynton Marsalis doesn't seem to
feel it.


-- Russell Shaw

Portland, Ore.

Story Minute: "Time bomb"

Carol Lay's Aug. 17 cartoon extolling, in purportedly witty fashion,
the merits of mass democide as punishment for "breeders" was indeed a thigh-slapper -- but her
scope was a bit too expansive. Perhaps she should display her
misanthropy to better effect on a smaller canvas. Rather than urging the
slaughter of billions, why not begin with a smaller cohort -- say, ethnic
Albanian or ethnic Serbian Kosovars (take your pick).
Better yet, why not begin the crusade to "save the Earth" by taking out
a small, relatively accessible target -- for instance, a federal
building equipped with a day-care center?


I do hope that attentive readers will remember Lay's scabrous little
cartoon next time Salon's editorial collective treats us to another
sanctimonious treatment of "right-wing hate literature" such as "The Turner Diaries."

-- William Norman Grigg

Can the Dreamcast save Sega?




One thing you didn't mention in the article about Sega's Dreamcast:
The Dreamcast runs Microsoft's Windows CE. Those who buy Dreamcast
will be helping Microsoft to gain control of the gaming console
market -- one of the few computer software markets they don't already
control. Me? I hope Dreamcast flops, for exactly that reason.

-- Mathew Murphy

Brilliant Careers: Stan Lee


I was struck by the fact that Stan Lee had reserved his given name,
Stanley Leiber, for the Great American Novel he hoped to write someday. It
is ironic that he may have done just that with his adopted nom de plume.
The aggregate portrait of New York City in the '60s, bursting with color
and drama, angst and power, that Lee and his fellow artists put together
has had a remarkably pervasive influence on several generations of children,
both young and old. It is great to see him recognized for not only his
popularity and influence in the comics industry, but for his art and
innovation and literary influence. It doesn't take more than a cursory look
at today's young novelists to see this debt.


-- Brian C. Kenney

Somerville, Mass.

I take issue with Frank Houston's claim that the Marvel Universe was "hatched largely in the mind" of Stan Lee. Lee was certainly instrumental in guiding the evolution of the Marvel Age of Comics back in the 1960s. He's deserving of considerable recognition for his good old-fashioned salesmanship in spinning the output of a third-rate comic book publisher into a genuine pop culture phenomenon. But as many comics fans will tell you, his status as an auteur derives primarily from his enormous talent for self-hype. Artist Jack Kirby was the creative engine without whom Lee would have been just another prodigious, hyperbolic hack (albeit an amusing one.)

The authorship of the Marvel line has been in dispute from the time Kirby left the company at the end of the '60s, with Kirby claiming credit for the vast majority of the Marvel concepts up until his death in 1994. This is due to the way Marvel produced comics. Whereas most other publishers had writers supply artists with full scripts to execute, under the Marvel method Lee and Kirby first discussed plot ideas, which Kirby then proceeded to fully flesh out and draw. Lee took the finished pencils and crafted dialogue to go along with the pictures.

Kirby fan R.C. Harvey wrote: "The pages of art that Kirby turned in transformed Lee's story ideas into dramatic action; and Lee embellished the action with his verbiage, writing captions and speech balloons that gave the stories a self-deprecating patina. Kirby could not have injected any such mocking tone into the tales; but Lee's contribution was as lyricist, refining the creative output of his collaborator. This is no small achievement. But the creative workhorse here was -- in my view -- Kirby, not Lee."


Kirby's genius, which he would later take to DC Comics for his short-lived New Gods epic, is all over Marvel's Fantastic Four, Thor, early X-Men, Hulk, Captain America, etc. The vast majority of the characters are easily identifiable as Kirby creations. However, Lee outlasted Kirby at Marvel and took over the reins of the company, making sure that the banner "Stan Lee Presents" was placed in front of every story. Through his nostalgic books and lectures Lee became the human embodiment of Marvel Comics -- but he only deserves half of the credit.

-- Cole Odell

Kalamazoo, Mich.

Stan Lee himself is perhaps
somewhat to blame for muddying the waters of history concerning just
what his contribution to the Marvel heroes was. It's well known that
Jack Kirby had far more to do with the creation of these heroes than Lee
had initially admitted to. For years, Lee was the company man who
downplayed the true contributions of many artists behind the greatness
of these comics, taking credit for much of the original ideas. While he
surely had a part, others were involved also, like Jack Kirby and Steve

Lee doesn't seem to have performed this cover-up for personal reasons;
it seems that he was just reinforcing a marketing image of himself and
the company. It is unfortunate, however, for it has shadowed an
otherwise strong reputation. It has led people to question his talent at
all. This is a shame, for the mythic power of the characters was surely
born in part by his wonderful dialogue.


-- Bill Bridges

Hate books still for sale on Web


Why is "The Anarchist Cookbook" considered a hate book?
While it may very well be illegal in some countries, it's a far cry from
the "Protocols of Zion." The main thrust of the article is about hate
literature being shipped to Germany, and the "Cookbook" has nothing to do
with this. It seems a poor choice to illustrate the article, and perhaps
indicative of some knee-jerk reaction to its reputation, not its

-- Robert Fernandez

Letters to the Editor

MORE FROM Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------