For those unlucky readers who've missed such singularly American books as The Omni-Americans (1970) and Stomping the Blues...


THE BLUE DEVILS OF NADA: A Contemporary American Approach to Aesthetic Statement

For those unlucky readers who've missed such singularly American books as The Omni-Americans (1970) and Stomping the Blues (1976), Murray has collected his most recent essays from largely obscure sources and assembled another world-beating prose obbligato--necessary for the times by virtue of its transcendent aesthetics. The second half of Murray's one-two punch (see p. 1590 for a review of his new novel, The Seven League Boots), these essays extend and restate his abiding belief that art at its best is ""fundamentally existential,"" and that ""stomping the blues"" means nothing less than fearlessly facing chaos and entropy. To make art out of raw experience, as Murray further asserts, requires skill and style. Murray also relies on Kenneth Burke's notion of the ""representative anecdote"" as the storyteller's main concern. For him, as he demonstrates in a breathtaking series of essays on Armstrong, Ellington, and Basie, that fundamental myth is ""the fully orchestrated blues statement,"" never to be confused with the blues as such (i.e., feeling overwhelmed by the devils of negativity). Ellington's autobiography, in Murray's opinion, is so inviting because it's true to his personality and imposes no extra-artistic agenda on the story. Which is also what Murray tried to do when he ""accompanied"" Basie on his autobiographical Good Morning Blues, an experience he describes in ""Comping for Count Basie."" Pops Armstrong, in turn, is the great culture hero, a ""herald of the age"" who transforms the effluvia of pop culture into fine art. And never say to Murray that his resilient art gods aren't fine artists, for he drives home the analogies with Picasso, Matisse, et al. over and over again. And if you wonder about the title of this collection, Murray's essay on Hemingway explains that bluesman's struggle with the void. Stringent in aesthetic matters, the magnanimous Murray has no time for the ""fakelore of black pathology."" But he's totally on time when it comes to great art, and in a critical idiom that's his all alone.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 1996


Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995