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Terry Teachout, art critic with a wide range, dies at 65

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Terry Teachout, a cultural critic who, in his columns for the Wall Street Journal, Daily News and other publications, has put his global intelligence to work on Broadway, ballet, bluegrass and virtually every art form intermediaries, died Thursday at a friend’s home in Smithtown, NY, on Long Island. He was 65 years old.

His brother, David, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

Mr. Teachout was one of a dying breed of culture enthusiasts: omnivorous, humane, worldly without being pretentious, often conservative in their politics but utterly liberal in their approach to the world and its dizzying array of peoples and cultures. cultures. He carried his scholarship lightly, enjoyed it, and hoped that through his prose others might too.

He was comfortable writing about Haydn and Mencken, Ellington and Eakins, Bill Monroe and Balanchine. Born in a small town in Missouri and later earning an undergraduate degree in music journalism, he called himself an avid hobbyist and aesthete, someone who loved beauty in all its forms and believed that it was was his job to find it and explain it.

He’s been prolific: Over the past 30 years, there’s been a rare period when his signature didn’t appear anywhere, and not just because of his weekly Journal obligations. He was a general reviewer for Commentary; he has blogged for Arts Journal; he co-hosted a podcast for American Theater magazine; and for many years wrote freelance book reviews for The New York Times.

He has also written several highly regarded biographies, including The Skeptic: A Life of HL Mencken (2002), Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (2009), and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (2013).

He took some of what he learned while digging through the Armstrong archives to write Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-act play that premiered in 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Not being constrained by prose, he also wrote the librettos for three operas, all by composer Paul Moravec.

Acolyte of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Podhoretz, he emerged from the fray of young urban conservatives energized by the Reagan presidency and eager to go further; he once called for a Ronald Reagan of culture who could present an affirmative view of the common culture of the Americas.

But he was careful to separate his politics from his criticism, and he mocked those who mixed the two. Nor was he a cultural reactionary: he played bass in a rock band in high school, loved the TV show Freaks and Geeks, and welcomed the possibility that film could replace the novel as a storytelling medium. dominant.

The older I get and the more completely I immerse myself in all the arts, the more certain I am that there is a broader and more fundamental sense in which they all seek to do the same thing, he said in a 2004 interview. This deep resemblance means that I understand that I apply the same type of aesthetic criteria to, say, a ballet and a film.

Terrance Alan Teachout was born February 6, 1956, in Cape Girardeau, southeast Missouri, and grew up in Sikeston, about 30 miles south. Her father, Bert, sold equipment and her mother, Evelyn (Crosno) Teachout, worked as a secretary for an accountant.

It was, he recalled in his 1991 memoir, City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy, an idyllic childhood, full of big Americana backyards and Fourth of July parades and football. Her mother was a beauty queen in high school. He loved and missed her, long after moving to New York.

I remain a small-town boy, uprooted and repotted, he wrote, and nothing much has changed about me except where I live.

Yet he was precocious enough to persuade his parents, at the age of 12, to subscribe to Soviet Life, a propaganda magazine published by the Russian government, not out of communist sympathy, but rather out of curiosity about life. under a totalitarian state.

He spent a semester at St. Johns College in Annapolis, Md., before transferring to William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., not far from Kansas City. He majored in music journalism, a degree, his brother said, that the school created just for him.

After graduating in 1979, he began writing music reviews for The Kansas City Star while playing bass in a jazz band and working a string of dead-end jobs. He wanted to become a successful writer, but he was discouraged by his chances of making it in a Midwestern town. He began his graduate studies in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but left before earning a degree.

His first marriage, to Liz Cullers, ended in divorce. He married Hilary Dyson in 2007; she died in 2020. Besides his brother, he is survived by his partner, Cheril Mulligan.

A break came in 1981 when, to his surprise, Mr. Buckley accepted one of his submissions for publication in National Review. A few years later, Mr. Podhoretz took a piece of him for commentary. In 1985, convinced that he had a chance for a career in literature, Mr. Teachout moved to New York.

He got a job as editor of Harpers Magazine, and in 1987 he joined the editorial board of the Daily News. That same year he began writing for the Wall Street Journal, a relationship that would last the rest of his life. In 1993, he became a classical music and dance critic for the Daily News.

He also encountered a group of like-minded young conservatives who felt ostracized by the liberal culture around them. He helped start a salon, the Vile Body; its name was taken loosely from a book by British writer Evelyn Waugh, who was then experiencing a renaissance among right-wing youth.

The salon has become a regular haunt for conservatives in their 20s and 30s along the Washington-New York-Cambridge axis, including Bruce Bawer, Richard Brookhiser, David Brooks, Roger Kimball and John Podhoretz.

He edited a collection of essays of 15 of them, Beyond the Boom: New Voices on American Life, Culture and Politics (1990), with an introduction by Tom Wolfe.

Collectively, they argued that baby boomer liberalism was either a failed holdover from the 1960s or, as Mr. Teachout wrote, a frivolous affair that barely masked rampant materialism. The true legacy of the baby boom, they wrote, was ascendant conservatives like them who were poised to remake American culture.

At the Journal, where he became a drama critic in 2003, Mr. Teachout has earned a reputation as an advocate for regional theatre. Last month, he wrote approvingly about repertory companies in Philadelphia and Providence, RI, and their performances of A Christmas Carol.

Especially in recent decades, his writing has become more generous, though he retained a deep reserve of anger for writers he found flashy and affected. He called Norman Mailer an act of nostalgia whose prose was notable only for its flabby horror.

But it was as far into controversy as Mr. Teachout would typically go, and except for occasional jabs at victimhood or multiculturalism in his reviews, he preferred to work in an apolitical register, assessing art and culture according to their own terms.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any important artist whose works I would avoid just because of their politics, he said in 2004. Whether or not I accept a dinner invitation from them is another story.

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