For Mr. Teachout

I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short-term. Earnest is long-term.

–Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”

Terry Teachout died the other day, at the age of 65.

Mr. Teachout was a critic, playwright, and commentator on the arts, primarily for the Wall Street Journal, but he was also a blogger from the early heyday of the format until his last entry, eight days ago. His blog was a daily read of mine for a long time, but as blogging went from Hot New Thing to Quaint Old Pastime in less than ten years, I regret to say that I lost touch with his work. A few years ago I suddenly remembered him not randomly, but when someone re-tweeted something of his on Twitter. I immediately followed him there and started reading his blog again, and my life was better for it.

Better writers than me have talked about Terry Teachout’s skill and perceptive criticism, and his enthusiasm for the theater and his other interests. Teachout was not the kind of critic to constantly hurl verbal knives and barbs at objects of his disdain. No, he was the kind of person to talk with endless and infectious enthusiasm about the things that moved him, the things that he loved. This is not to say that he loved everything, because he most certainly did not; but Terry Teachout was the kind of critic who even after his many years of doing the job, still seemed to approach each and every new thing he encountered as if it would be the next thing to change his life.

Teachout was also known for keeping a wide view of the theater world. He could have simply focused on the New York theater scene and left it at that; after all, the New York theater scene has riches aplenty for an entire life. Instead, Mr. Teachout would regularly travel and report on what he found in regional theater companies, in other cities, in places beyond the limits of Broadway and its environs. Even though he often wrote about things that I know very little about (if anything at all), his erudition and infectious curiosity and enthusiasm always shone through. His attitude toward the arts were a model for me.

Terry Teachout was devoted, openly so, to his wife, even through terrible health struggles that had her on the lung-transplant list for years. He frequently wrote about how they had to be prepared for them getting “the call” at any moment, at which time they would have to drop everything and rush to the hospital so Mrs. Teachout could get the transplant. This eventually did happen…but there was no happy ending, sadly; Mrs. Teachout died, and still, Terry Teachout soldiered on, taking in art and music and sharing the things that he found to try to keep some form of light in his life. It was the kind of poignant courage that often boggles the mind, even for those of us who have endured very awful things.

But then, just in the last year or so, Terry Teachout found love again. His life was again blossoming, and he wrote with new joy about the partnership he’d just found that was bringing light and love to him again. It really seemed like he was about to find some kind of happiness…

…but instead he died suddenly the other day. Word of his passing hit social media like a bomb, and the outpouring of love for him was astonishing. I am by no means alone in my admiration for Terry Teachout. Here is just one remembrance, from Alex Ross:

Terry had a great deal to do with the fact that I started this blog back in 2005. I saw him seldom in person, but he was a constant presence in my life nonetheless, through his writing and through social media. He was, as Ethan Iverson comments, an uncommonly generous soul who seemed incapable of holding a grudge. His inexhaustible attention to theater across the country was a model for me as a critic.

I like Mr. Ross’s initial point there: I forget it now, but Terry Teachout’s early entry into the blogging world did enormous good in demonstrating in an odd political time that blogs didn’t have to be about politics only. In the early 2000s, blogging was almost exclusively the purview of people arguing the merits of war in Iraq. Terry Teachout did something different, and he enriched the online world immensely in doing so. (Oh, and read the Ethan Iverson piece Mr. Ross links.)

I close, as Mr. Teachout liked to close most nights on Twitter, with a musical offering. I honestly have little idea how he felt about Ralph Vaughan Williams, although this article offers a hint. I’m offering this, anyway, as a reminder of the need to seek out quiet beauty in a world of noise. I think he’d approve. I hope he would, anyway.

Here is The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams; Sir Neville Marriner conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with Iona Brown as violin soloist.

 

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