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Monday, September 5, 2016

Barbara, Martin & Paul

Which artist's work have you followed closely enough over several decades to discern a clear arc of growth?

In each of the three fields that command my continued attention - music, literature, and film - certain artists jump out for me. Paul Simon's evolution as a composer of popular music is difficult to match. It was obvious from "The Sounds Of Silence" (1965) that Simon had few peers as a lyricist. Then as the 60's concluded, he began releasing his exemplary solo recordings, each one elevating his mastery a notch. Listen to "Still Crazy After All These Years" (1975) then "Graceland" (1986) then "You're The One" (2000) in that order; it's hard to miss Simon's growth.  

In literature, the closet analogue for me is Barbara Kingsolver. Her early novels like "Bean Trees" (1988) are literary yet totally accessible. "Poisonwood Bible" (1998) took her up another level. And the prose in "The Lacuna" (2009) springs from an author with total command of her craft. Try reading any of her books side-by-side with many popular bestsellers and notice how the clunky sentences and strained metaphors of the latter become more noticeable to you.

Martin Scorcese is not a filmmaker for everyone. His most well known movies - "Taxi Driver", (1976), "Raging Bull" (1980), "Goodfellas" (1990) - are graphic, profane, and violent. But his entire oeuvre end-to-end - like Paul Simon and Barbara Kingsolver's - never succumbs to complacency or formula. Watch "Alice Doesn't Live Her Anymore" (1974) or "The Age Of Innocence" (1993) or "Kundun" (1997). Even a film like the recent "The Wolf Of Wall Street" - which I found objectionable because it glamorized a reprobate - felt fresh. Scorcese always surprises me because he's always growing.

Curious to hear which artists you'd put in this rarefied company.

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