Aldous Huxley’s views on jazz

aldous huxley

‘A brimming bowl of hogwash’: Aldous Huxley’s views on jazz…

It was the first time, I realised, that I had ever clearly seen a jazz-band. The spectacle was positively frightening…

Oh, those mammy-songs, those love-longings, those loud hilarities! How was it possible that human emotions intrinsically decent could be so ignobly parodied? I felt like a man who, having asked for wine, is offered a brimming bowl of hog-wash. And not even fresh hog-wash. Rancid hog-wash, decaying hog-wash. For there was a horrible tang of putrefaction in all that music. Those yearnings for Mammy of Mine and My Baby, for Dixie and the Land where Skies are Blue and Dreams come True, for Granny and Tennessee and You – they were all a necrophily. The Mammy after whom the black young Hebrews and the blond young muffin-faces so retchingly yearned was an ancient Gorgonzola ; the Baby of their tremulously gargled desire was a leg of mutton after a month in warm storage ; Granny had been dead for weeks ; and as for Dixie and Tennessee and Dream Land – they were odoriferous with the least artificial of manures.

Thus wrote Aldous Huxley, in Do What You Will (1929). Had he lived to hear it, one shudders to think how he would have reacted to the music later to be made by the young door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who called at his California home shortly before his death on 22 November 1963. This was Don Van Vliet, soon to be known as Captain Beefheart. I do not know if Huxley bought a vacuum cleaner from him.


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Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

10 thoughts on “Aldous Huxley’s views on jazz

  1. Gaw
    May 25, 2012 at 08:07

    Perhaps Huxley pushed Van Vliet some acid?

  2. Worm
    May 25, 2012 at 08:19

    captain beefheart – worlds worst music?

      May 25, 2012 at 13:33

      Not at all. As any fule kno, the worst music in the world is The Music Of Erich Zann, in the story by H P Lovecraft.

    May 25, 2012 at 09:28

    <i.Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves or in Huxley’s case, tone deaf in Gaza. Would expect no less from the bloke that wrote the book, head scratching ‘best seller’ turned into an incomprehensible TV drama.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:11

    I hadn’t realized what an old reactionary he was. So I checked out the context. Huxley had just been to see his first talkie, the first talkie: The Jazz Singer. The full piece is here: The content of his critique is, alas, spot-on; the form is…a little ripe.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:25

      Connoisseurs of a sort may remember that The Jazz Singer was remade 30 years ago, with Neil Diamond in the Al Jolson part and Lawrence Olivier as his father the rabbi. The trailer for the movie was very funny. What astonished me more was that a couple of women I worked with planned to see the movie–they considered Diamond to be a real hot number. Given that I don’t remember them saying anything about it, it may have disappointed them.

      May 25, 2012 at 13:30

      Ah, I had never seen the context. It does cast a rather different light on it. Thanks Jonathan.

    May 26, 2012 at 01:10

    One can only imagine what poor Huxley would have made of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj…

    May 26, 2012 at 02:13

    Huxley is turning in his grave nearly 100 years after his visionary prophecies began to form into his own mode of fiction. He is one of my favorite authors and raised serious issues and made world-wide breakthroughs in the research of psychedelics as well as our cognitive liberties. I drew a portrait as homage to the man and his works. See the him roll with the mushrooms, the pills and the doors of perception at

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