Jules L. Coleman
My father's family came from the
Ukraine. Our Russian name was Kahane. Coming to America, my grandparents and
their relatives passed through Ellis Island at different times, the net effect
being that none of them were given the same last name. Some Kahanes were to
become Cohens, others Kohn; some became Kahan, still others King. My
grandparents became Cohens. My father and his brother were born Herbert and
William Cohen, respectively. I was born Jules Leslie Cohen. Jules! What
kind of name was that? For years, I imagined that my parents envisioned me as
some sort of Jewish-French actor/intellectual. Why else would they have
subjected me to such ridicule in the schoolyards, ballfields and streets of my
youth's tough Brooklyn neighborhoods? It wasn't until much later that I
entertained the thought that they might just have been sadistic.
Twenty years later, I had a largely but not completely unhappy affair with an older woman of the world who promptly informed me that ‘monjules’ was Parisian slang for ‘my lover’; and that ‘Je vais chez monjules’ was used to express -- typically -- a married woman's intention to see her gigolo. What a sensational revelation! When my wife and I met, she told me that I looked like a French revolutionary/intellectual. What, not an actor? Zutalors. Close enough though. I married her, realizing it unlikely to find another woman of such insight. I began to think of myself as French. (This was trendy at the time, and in any case preceded by many years of U.S. forays into Iraq. And so, my assumed identity posed no threat to either my health or security.) My favorite films were And God Created Women and Jules and Jim. It was only a matter of time before I would be forced to go Woody Allen and sort out these issues in therapy.
In time, I was to learn that my parents' intentions in naming
me "Jules" were neither mysterious, grandiose or sadistic. Apparently,
my conception was precipitated by an evening my parents spent at a local movie
theater, watching what was then euphemistically referred to as "French
I don't know whether in naming me, they were expressing
gratitude towards the male lead or suggesting a career option. I am quite sure
that they did not see me as a budding intellectual, French or otherwise. They
certainly never envisioned me as a revolutionary. We were working-class poor.
Very likely, they saw me as either the family accountant or a Rabbi. In either
case, someone powerful - close to both God and money, if not necessarily in that
order. My father was a terrific athlete and an avid reader; his brother was a
rogue and a gambler. My father quit high school to pay off his brother's debts.
His debts paid off, my uncle managed to accumulate more. My father tried his
hand as a baseball player. His career came to a close with the Second World War
My father became chronically ill with a slow-growing cancer;
my uncle became a successful businessman. My father went to work for his brother
in an organization that had strict anti-nepotism rules. To skirt those rules,
both my father and his brother changed their last names without telling one
another. This level of communication typified their relationship. My father
became Herb Coleman; his brother William Cole. It was as close to family as they
would ever be.
We were not a particularly musical family. More of a comedic
crowd. My father's uncle was Henny Youngman, the comedian best known for his
one-liners, including the classic, "Take my wife, PLEASE." We did
listen to records on Sunday mornings: some Belle Barthe, a little NicoloPaone,
'Tony the Ice-Man' and Show Music. Lots of Show Music. Carousel and
Oklahoma were our idea of Classical music. We were not a particularly
cultured household. Needless to say, we did have a special place on our
turntable for Jewish composers (and comedians). We listened to Leonard Bernstein
- often. Eventually, our playlist expanded to include Robert Zimmerman and Marc
Bolan: both Simon and Garfunkel - the Jewish Everly Brothers. During the Civil
Rights movement, I tried to convince my parents that B.B, Freddie and Albert
King were Jews and related to us; that they too were Russian Kahanes. They
weren't buying it. Thank God for jews, Michael Bloomfield and Peter Green -
otherwise I might never have been introduced to the Blues.
The Blues is perfect for Jews: all the misery and misfortune wrapped in a repeating twelve (sometimes eight, sixteen and very rarely twenty four) bar structure. Like life. Well, I never became an accountant or a Rabbi. Soon after my Bar Mitzvah, I converted to atheism. This atheism was a natural outgrowth of my naturalistic and scientistic impulses to comprehend and master the world through Will & Reason alone. Will and Reason were less helpful in enabling me to grasp the power, majesty and mystery of a quasi- religious upbringing. Inevitably and, in retrospect inexorably, I was drawn to philosophy: Analytic philosophy. I had little time or patience, then or now, for Eastern philosophies. I have even less patience now for Postmodernist 'thought'.
At Brooklyn College, I studied philosophy and economics. I
secured a Ph.D in Philosophy from Rockefeller University (a school otherwise
dominated by the Sciences), wrote a dissertation on justice, fault and personal
responsibility, and studied law at Yale. I could leave the 'Temple' but not its
organizing ideas: Rules, reasons and authority. Can't live under them; can't
live without them. During my radical days, I professed to be an anarchist as
well as atheist. I used to dress in leather and wear a button that
prescribed that one "Question Authority". That was before I had
children. Once I had children, I wore suits with a button on the lapel
proclaiming "Because I said so!" I soon realized that most of my
writings were unconscious efforts to explain and defend authority.
In real life, I am Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning at New York University, where I am also a Professor of Philosophy and a member of the Clive Davis Program in Recorded Music in the Tisch School of the Arts. As part of my responsibilities, I also teach one course every year at NYU-Abu Dhabi. I have been fortunate to have had many excellent experiences in the academy, but this is a position that has surpassed even my wildest dreams.
I write books and articles that very few people outside the
academy read. Not that many inside the academy read them either. The titles say
a lot about what interests me as a legal and political theorist: "Risks and
Wrongs"; "The Practice of Principle"; and my personal favorite,
"Mischief and Misfortune".
One of my younger brothers, Reed, is a writer as well. He
writes detective novels.
In a way, we are both obsessed with life's fundamental mysteries. The
difference? His protagonists normally solve the mysteries they confront, whereas
I content myself with clarifying what the source of the mystery is and pointing
in the direction in which a solution might lie. Of course, I am too close to my
brother to have any judgment about just how good a writer he is, so I asked one
of my best friends, the poet John Koethe. I said, "John, tell me, how good
is my brother as a writer?" He replied, "Jules, I don't know, but he
has one hell of a way with sex scenes." No one ever said anything like that
about my books. No wonder he sells more than I do. He is also a two time nominee
for the Edgar Prize and a three time winner of the Seamus Prize, among other
awards. He must be doing something well.
I have a wonderful family; a wife of 42 years refers to me as
the 'incumbent' and not just during the political season. We have a home in
Connecticut and an apartment in NY. Our three children live in NYC. The eldest,
Jesse, is co-owner of an online book editing company, after spending his
formative years toiling at Farrar Strauss and Giroux where he edited several
award winning books. His younger siblings, Jeremy and Laura, have pursued
careers in the arts and together made up ½ of the now defunct indie pop band,
Murder Mystery, that had an internet hit with the song, ‘Love Astronaut.’
Videos of some of their performances and songs can be found on YouTube. My son,
Jeremy is singer, songwriter, lead guitarist and occasional keyboardist. He also
drums when my daughter, Laura, the regular drummer, steps up to the mic to front
the band. Laura is also the principal dancer in a NYC tap troupe.
Real musical talent skipped my generation. As a kid, I sang a little street corner doo-wop and toyed with the guitar. I loved the more obscure doo-wop songs and groups: Sonny and the Sunglows' "Talk to me"; the Impalas' "I ran all the way home (just to say I'm sorry)". I had been taught that there was a correlation between musical talent and mathematical competence. We were poor. I couldn't afford a proper guitar, so I joined the high school math team. Couldn't actually sing then. Still can't. For a time I was an avid if not an accomplished guitarist. I gave up playing after suffering irreparable psychological trauma upon listening to my playing.
My childhood friend is Matt Umanov of Matt Umanov Guitars. He
and Zeke help me pick guitars. Actually Zeke does; Matt mostly complains about
having to sell to me at a discount. For a guy who plays like shit, I have a very
fine collection of electric guitars including a rare 59 Fender Esquire and a 72
I got into high end audio almost 30 years ago when we lived in Wisconsin. At Koss, I had a friend in R&D. We got our hands on some fancy stuff on a regular basis. I loved it. It's been that way ever since. My first serious rig consisted of Magneplanar Tympani speakers, Dynakit amp and preamp, and a Connoisseur Turntable with a Formula 4 arm tracking a Decca Plum cartridge. Not so much high resolution as a big wet kiss. I amassed a large record collection that followed me from job to job. Every move precipitated a change in system. When we left Wisconsin for Berkeley/California, we went from a large house to a shoe box. Out went the Tympanis; in came Rogers LS3/5A and JR149s. So it went. In time, my colleagues at various Universities began seeking my advice about purchasing equipment.
I devoured information, loved listening, tried my hand at
building equipment, and generally obsessed. I still obsess a good bit, but now I
take clonopin. Most of my friends outside academia are either athletes or
musicians, sometimes both.
Needless to say, this spawned massive purchases, long
listening sessions with friends and a major obsession
Kidding aside, over the years I've developed a pretty good
ear; I listen to lots of live music.
I am a believer in both authority and modesty -- the two are
connected -- and so I am happy to rely on others to help me develop my tastes,
especially in have attacked audio playback a bit like a student. I spent six
years listening only to horns and low-powered tube amps. I know both pretty well
by now, a lot better than many who write about these combos in the audio press -
but not nearly as well as some contributors to various audio forums. I spent two
years listening to cables and power cords. That was enough for me. I have a feel
for cables and power cords, but I don't think of myself as an expert. I am now
interested in system synergy and whether it really only makes sense to review
systems holistically. Like my work i
I am concerned about making clear different senses in which
subjective reviewing can and must be objective. I want to explore the sense in
which evaluative judgments in audio reviews are objective and what notions –
I also reject the vast majority of the truisms of audio
reviewing as empty or false or worse, incomprehensible.
For me, the most surprising aspect of the time I have spent in
high-end audio including reviewing – and the most
Those of you who may have followed my reviews in the past know
that my reference system was an all-Shindo
I decided to get back into reviewing when I accepted the
position within the Clive Davis Program on Recorded
So it is a new journey for an old dog. Let’s see where it takes me.