"Writing about music is like
dancing about architecture."
The other day we got to talking about the origin of this famous quotation when a commenter attributed it to Sonny Rollins (who has indeed said a great many wondrous and memorable things, but with a saxophone*).
As I sometimes do when things like this come up, I did a little poking around. According to Alan P. Scott, the earliest appearance of the phrase in print was in an October 1983 interview of Elvis Costello by Timothy White entitled "A Man Out of Time Beats the Clock," in Musician magazine no. 60, p. 52. However, Costello himself denies that he is the originator of the quotation, and attributes it to Martin Mull (right), the actor and comedian....
...Who, it turns out, is also a painter. So one of the lines I threw into the water was an email to Martin's art dealer, Carl P. Hammer of Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago. Carl contacted Martin for me, and Martin confirmed that he is indeed the originator of the famous one-liner.
Not Frank Zappa
As happens to many famous quotations of uncertain provenance, this won't stop it from being attributed to many different people—among them, in this case, not only Elvis Costello, but Thelonious Monk, Steve Martin, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, and George Carlin. But at least now you know. (Instead of passing forward bad attributions, you could do as I sometimes used to do with mystery quotes, and attribute them to "not Frank Zappa.")
The most frequently encountered misattribution is to Laurie Anderson, because she used it in her 1986 video "Home of the Brave." Alan Scott thinks Laurie Anderson's riposte is itself quote-worthy: she added, "How about a square dance?"
(Thanks to Carl and Martin)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.