Terry Teachout, Arts Critic With a Wide Range, Is Dead at 65

Terry Tecott, a culture critic who, in his columns in the Wall Street Journal, Daily News and other publications, offering his sweeping thought to influence Broadway, ballet, bluegrass and practically every art form in between, died Thursday at a friend’s home in Smithtown, New York, on Long Island. He was 65 years old.

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

Mr. Tekotte was one of a fading breed of cultural maven: carnivorous, humane, mundane without being pretentious, often inclined to conservative in their politics but quite liberal in how they treat the world and an astonishing array of peoples and cultures. He wore his erudition lightly, and he enjoyed it, and I hope others can through his prose.

He was comfortable writing about Haydn and Mencken, Ellington and Eakins, Bill Monroe, and Balanchine. Born in a small town in Missouri and later earned a college degree in music journalism, he called himself a “knowledgeable amateur” and a pretty—someone who loves beauty in all its forms and thinks it’s his job to find and explain it he-she.

He’s been prolific: over the past 30 years, it’s been a rare period of days when his by-line hasn’t appeared somewhere, and not just because of his weekly commitments to The Journal. He was a freelance critic of the comment; He blogs for the arts magazine. Co-host of a podcast for American Theater Magazine; For many years he wrote independent book reviews for the New York Times.

He has also written several prestigious 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 from digging through Armstrong’s archives to write “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” a one-man, one-act play that premiered in 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Not to be restricted by prose, he also wrote the script for three operas, all composed by composer Paul Moravec.

An aide to William F. Buckley, Jr. and Norman Podhoretz, he emerged from a group of young urban conservatives energized by the Reagan presidency and was eager to move forward; He once called for a “Ronald Reagan culture” who could “offer an emphatic vision of common American culture.”

But he made sure to separate his politics from his criticism, and he mocked those who conflated the two. Nor was he culturally reactionary: He played bass in a high school rock band, loved the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” and welcomed the possibility that film might replace the novel as the dominant storytelling medium.

“The older I get, and the more fully I immerse myself in all the arts, the more certain I am that there is a larger, more substantial sense in which they all strive to do the same,” he said in a 2004 interview. “This deep similarity means that I understand that I apply the same kind of aesthetic scale, for example, to ballet and film.”

Terrance Alan Teachout was born on February 6, 1956, in Cape Girardeau, in southeastern Missouri, and grew up in Sexton, about 30 miles south. His father, Bert, sold the devices, and his mother, Evelyn (Krosno) Tecott, worked as a secretary to an accountant.

In his 1991 memoir, City Limits: Memories of a Small Town Boy, he recounted an idyllic childhood filled with Americana textbooks—large backyards, Fourth of July parades, and soccer. His mother was a beauty queen in high school. He loved her, and misses her, long after he moved to New York.

He wrote, “I am still a small-town boy, uprooted and re-uprooted, and not much about me except where I live.”

Yet he was precocious enough to persuade his parents, when he was twelve, to subscribe to Soviet Life, a propaganda magazine published by the Russian government—not out of any sympathy for the Communists, but out of curiosity about life under a totalitarian state.

He spent a semester at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland before transferring to William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, near Kansas City. He majored in musical journalism – a degree, as his brother said, created by the school 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 holding a string of dead-end jobs. He wanted to become a bestselling writer, but became desperate for his chances of success in a Midwest city. He began his graduate studies in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but left before he could earn a college degree.

His first marriage to Liz Kollers ended in divorce. He married Hilary Dyson in 2007; She passed away in 2020. In addition to his brother, he is survived by his mate Sheryl Mulligan.

A break came in 1981 when, to his surprise, Mr. Buckley accepted one of his requests for publication in the National Review. A few years later, Mr. Podhoretz took a piece of it for comment. In 1985, Mr. Tekotte, convinced he had a chance at a literary career, moved to New York.

He got a job as an editor at Harper’s Magazine, and in 1987 he moved to the editorial board of The Daily News. That same year he began writing for The Wall Street Journal, a relationship that lasted for the rest of his life. In 1993 he became a classical music and dance critic for the Daily News.

He also fell in with a group of like-minded young conservatives who felt alienated from the liberal culture around them. Help create salon, The Vile Body; His name was taken loosely from a book by British writer Evelyn Wu, who was then enjoying a renaissance among right-wing youth.

The Salon became a regular hunt for conservatives aged 20-30 along the Washington-New York-Cambridge axis, including Bruce Power, Richard Proxer, David Brooks, Roger Kimball and John Podhoretz.

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

Collectively, they argued that the liberalism of the baby-boom generation was either a failed relic of the 1960s or, as Mr. Tecott wrote, a “trivial relationship” that barely concealed rampant materialism. They wrote that the real legacy of the baby boom were rising conservatives like themselves, who were on the verge of reshaping American culture.

At The Journal, where he became a drama critic in 2003, Mr. Teachout gained a reputation as an advocate for regional theatre. He wrote last month approving reference companies in Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island, for their performance of “A Christmas Carol.”

In the past few decades in particular, his writing has become more generous, though he has kept a deep reserve of anger for writers he finds gaudy and touching. Norman Mailer called it a “nostalgic act” whose prose was “notable only for its flabby atrocity”.

But this was as controversial as Mr. Tichot was usually, and, with the exception of occasional criticism of “victimization” or multiculturalism in his reviews, he preferred to work on a non-political register, evaluating art and culture on their own terms.

“Out of my head,” he said in 2004, “I can’t think of any significant artists whose work I would avoid solely because of their politics.” “Whether you accept an invitation to dinner from them or not, that is another story.”

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