Thursday, January 13, 2022

Terry Teachout, R.I.P.

My friend Terry Teachout died today at age sixty-five. Like a million others I’m feeling cold-cocked. Shortly after Thanksgiving he posted a Tweet that included a link to Anecdotal Evidence and a brief comment: “This is my favorite blog. I wish I could write like that every day.” Typical, casual, no-strings-attached thoughtfulness that could earn him nothing but my gratitude. I sent an email thanking him for the sentiment and added, “I’m delighted with your new happiness,” referring to the new love in his life. Terry replied: “I never thought I would be blessed with such love twice in my life.”

 

I liked Terry because he was a regular guy, without pretentiousness. He was erudite but relaxed about it. You never sensed he was trying to prove something. He seemed American in an old-fashioned sense I can’t define – democratic with a lower-case “d.” He was unafraid to say he loved something or someone. He variously called himself an “ebullient pessimist,” a “Midwestern aesthete,” an “ardent philosemite” – all titles I would happily claim for myself. He always worked hard.

 

The best way to honor a writer is to read his books. The Mencken, Armstrong and Ellington biographies are essential. Another favorite is one he edited: Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers 1931-1959 (Regnery Gateway, 1989). The only book about ballet I have ever read is his All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine (2004). Try The Terry Teachout Reader (Yale University Press, 2004). In that book’s first section, “American Wayfarers,” he celebrates Dawn Powell, Stephen Sondheim, Randolph Scott, Chuck Jones, Bill Monroe, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, among others. That gives you a sense of Terry’s catholic enthusiasms.  

 

In 2014, following the death of our mutual friend the critic and blogger D.G. Myers, I co-organized a Festschrift and asked Terry to contribute. What he wrote about David applies without revision to Terry:

 

“David Myers was a tough critical customer. He took no reputations at face value. All he cared about is the quality of the art object itself, and he applied his standards rigorously and unflinchingly. But that makes him sound like something other than what he was, a thoroughly decent man of deeply humane values who looked to literature for that which great art is uniquely well suited to provide: beauty, clarity, consolation, truth. I in turn  looked to him for critical guidance, confident that whatever he recommended will be worth reading. We didn’t always agree, but I knew I could always take him seriously. That knowledge is a blessing.”

5 comments:

Thomas Parker said...

Awful news. I greatly enjoyed his Mencken biography (very difficult to make temperate judgements with such a subject) and loved listening to his conversations with Titus Techera on classic American film noir. I will now never hear his thoughts on Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, which had been promised just before COVID hit. I daily looked in on his ArtsJournal blog, and always found the visit worthwhile; I have it in a favorites folder that I have named "sanity" (the same place that Anecdotal Evidence rests) and that word best characterized Mr. T. What a loss!

Richard Zuelch said...

I never met him in person, but we were Twitter correspondents who became email correspondents. I occasionally suggested "Almanac" quotations for him to use, and I think he only declined to use one of them. I once sent him a book about Art Tatum, feeling honored that he trusted me with his street address in New York.

He was one of the best writers I've read - and I've read most of his books. Intelligent, compassionate, and engaging, but never snobbish or condescending.

He liked to refer to death as "the Distinguished Thing," a quotation he remembered from some author or other. Well, "the Distinguished Thing" came for Terry this morning. His death is a great loss to all culturally literate people. His memory will always be a blessing.

rgfrim said...

Among Mr. Teachout’s (as a former newspaper person I respect the practice of formally addressing the deceased ) more endearing practices was his active interest in local theatre. He regularly bestirred himself to make the trip to Philadelphia or St. Paul, say, for the purpose of doing credit to a local company’s production that in his view was worth wider mention. May his memory be a blessing.

Edward Bauer said...

I looked last night, figuring you might have something to say about this terrible news. Although I didn't know him, over the years we had bantered and condoled back and forth through the Internet (one of the real benefits of this invention). I liked what John Podhoretz and Richard Brookhiser had to say as well. All fine tributes to a man who searched sub specie aeternitatis, while firmly rooted in the everyday.

-Z. said...

Terry Teachout was one of the very best writers at work in this country and his writing and social media presence left no doubt that he was also a lovely guy. It's a tragedy he died so abruptly. Fortunately for us, he left a thick body of first-rate work to be read and re-read. I wish I could thank him in person for all the pleasure he's given me as a reader. RIP