Middle-Aged Man with a Horn

I’m guessing that if you gave a magazine article the title “Middle-Aged Man with a Horn” these days, not too many people would get the reference. But back in 1953, the editors of the New Republic trusted their audience to know all about the famous Otis Ferguson articles that appeared in TNR not quite 20 years earlier extolling the dead jazz hero Bix Beiderbecke. And of course there was the novel based on the articles and then the movie based on the novel.

What seems strange is that the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would connect these bits of pop culture to a political theorist like James Burnham, a former Communist who believed that the managerial class—not the workers—were going to take over the world. Which was not a bad insight, but Schlesinger was never impressed. In the March 16, 1953, issue of the New Republic he accused Burnham of being a man “in permanent apocalypse, a catastrophic thinker whose tiresome prophecies of doom can only dazzle once. He is the Bix Beiderbecke of our political journalism, only he has hit that high note once or twice too often.”

As far as strange Bix references, this one ranks right up there. Is it pluriactive? Okay, maybe not. But either way, it got me to wondering whether there is a Bix Beiderbecke of anything anymore. Oh wait. Eminem, for those who haven’t heard, is the Bix Beiderbecke of rap. But who would today’s Bix Beiderbecke of political journalism be?

[March 18, 2008]