Q&A with Lawrence Schulman, author of FREE: Words on Music by a Hi-Def Critic in an MP3 World

Q&A with Lawrence Schulman, author of FREE: Words on Music by a Hi-Def Critic in an MP3 World


1. What was your motivation in writing FREE: Words on Music by a Hi-Def Critic in an MP3 World?
My first book, Garland: That’s Beyond Entertainment – Reflections on Judy Garland, was a collection of all my writings between 1993 and 2023. Thus, thirty years. These writings included articles, reviews, liner notes, interviews, talks, and introductions. But I realized that many people must think that I’ve only written about Garland, which is not at all the case. Between 2000 and 2024, I have written about many, many other artists such as Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Mildred Bailey, Bernard Herrmann, Tim Buckley, Peter Allen, Maxine Sullivan, to name but a few. So, the new book is very much a follow-up to the first. Although since the completion of FREE, I have of course continued to write reviews for the ARSC Journal and do liner notes. The new reviews are on Garland and Bobby Darin, so I guess I will have to wait another quarter century to do another book… I might add that the deep motivation for the Garland book was when a certain unnamed individual took down a couple of my Garland interviews and an article from his website out of hissy-fit over something or other, and I suddenly said to myself that those writings could disappear forever if I didn’t find a way for them to be published, and thus live on. So, the Garland book was the result.

2. Can you explain the title and cover of the new book?
Well, living on an island in Maine, I see lots of FREE signs on the side of the road when people want to give stuff away. The idea that using FREE as a title has a lot of links to what I do. A critic is free to like or dislike what he is reviewing. On another level, I have dealt with many, many Garland fans over the decades, and have suffered their abuse and, I would say, hatred because I do not worship Garland, but respect her. That’s the difference. So, today, now, I am happy and free from these fans whom I have no use for. There is also a link to the picture I chose for the cover. The shot was taken in a photo booth in Paris around 1980. At the time, the person there for whom I had a passion, and for whom I left New York in 1971, was making it very clear that things were ending. I wasn’t depressed. I was in despair. I remember I went into a photo booth because I wanted some kind of memory of that despair. Nowadays, I am happily married and have a good life. That is, I am free of all the despair in the photo. Otherwise, the cover photo is honest, and I hope my writings are as honest as that photo. As for the rest of the title, over the years I have developed a strong interest in high-resolution sound. But for most of the world, MP3 sound is perfectly sufficient. Thus, a hi-def critic in an mp3 world. In other words, I am looking for perfection in an imperfect world, and have had to deal with that gracefully.

3. How do you choose the artists you write about?
Usually, they have to be dead. But actually, I write about artists who appeal to me. Other than that, there are no real other criteria. When I choose a CD, LP, SACD, or download to review, I first have to ask the editor of sound recordings at the ARSC Journal (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) for his green light, and most times I get it. That person is currently Lars Meyer. More recently, I wrote my very long article on the late singer-songwriter Peter Allen. It was first published in the Journal and was 45 pages long, which I think is the longest article they ever published. It was the Editor of the Journal, Christopher King, who first gave his approval to do an article. That article, which took me a year to write, just won Best Article of the Year at the annual conference of ARSC in St. Paul, which I attended and spoke at. I am quite proud and humbled.

4. Has your knowledge of Judy Garland been an influence on the other artists you write about?
I would put it this way. Just as when Dorothy opens the door of her house after the tornado onto Munchkinland and discovers a full and colorful universe she had never seen before, Garland has opened doors for me onto all kinds of music: classical, classic pop, country, rock, film, show, and others. She has opened my mind to other spheres and made me a better person.

5. What kind of music do you listen to most?
Mainly classical in surround sound. I have a fabulous set-up that I enjoy immensely.

6. Can you tell us the audio set-up you use to listen to music?
All the speaker elements are Cabasse, a French company. When I moved from Paris to Mount Desert Island in Maine in 1997, my spouse and I had left and right Cabasse speakers. After arriving in the States with the two Cabasse speakers, we had far more room to turn a 2-speaker system into a 5.1 system, which we did by ordering other Cabasse speakers for center, rear right, rear left, and the subwoofer. I know that nowadays there is 7.1 and even more, I believe, but I am happy with what I have. Otherwise, my player is an Oppo, my turntable is an Audio-Technica, and my amp is an Onkyo. I should say wiring the back of the Onkyo was a real challenge for non-geek me, including drilling holes in the floor to the basement and then drilling more holes up from the basement to connect to the rear speakers. If I go to 7.1 or more, the idea of having to rewire everything is rather overwhelming, so I’ll stick to what I have. Let me mention too that insofar as high resolution, I can only go to 24-bit/192kHz, whereas more recent amps can go higher. Again, I’m happy with what I have.

7. Where does your interest in high-resolution sound come from?
I don’t really know. I guess I have always wanted to listen to music on the best possible support. Also, when you listen to a lot of classical music, good sound is essential. Even in my apartment in Paris, I had tower B & W speakers that were as large as the Empire State building, and the neighbors occasionally complained. I don’t have to worry about disturbing the neighbors on an island in Maine.

8. What are you most proud of in the new book?
I don’t consider myself the most knowledgeable person there is insofar a classic American popular music (please phone Will Friedwald), but I guess I have gotten to a stage where I know enough to be able to be a critic. I am also proud to write for the ARSC Journal, which is a very learned magazine where authors take music very seriously. I am happy to be among that crowd. Also, this new book completes the publication of all my critical works, save my most recent, and as such I am thrilled that everything is now out there.

9. When did you first become interested in music?
I suppose it is when I arrived in Paris in 1971. There is lots of wonderful music you can hear there, as well as art and architecture and food and movies. My partner at the time was extremely knowledgeable about music too, so I learned a lot starting then. Since then, my knowledge of music is far greater just from listening and reading.

10. You primarily write for the ARSC Journal. Can you tell us about ARSC?
I have been with ARSC for thirty years now, and just attended for the first time their annual conference which was held this year in St. Paul, Minnesota. ARSC consists of academics, professionals, collectors, librarians, writers, and anybody else interested in music who wants to join. My Garland writings for them have allowed me to write, if I may say so, seriously about her, and not just as an entertainer. I guess my writings on her and other artists are all serious, which is fine with me. I am grateful to them for allowing me to express myself so completely. As the Sly & the Family Stone song goes, “I want to thank them for allowing me to be myself.”

11. What’s next for you?
I have recently finished work curating a new 3-CD/2-LP set from Acrobat Music/Trapeze Music & Entertainment called Judy Garland: A Celebration. It contains 73 tracks, including 12 that are new to CD. I wrote the liner and song notes, and the brochure is a whopping 40 pages. It will be released on July 5, 2024. I am also working on the French translation of my Garland book that will be published in 2025. In short, I have never been busier.

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