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Mark Judge’s Music Writing Sucked

Mark Judge's Swing Dancing Obsession Is Weird

The most curious character to emerge from the Brett Kavanaugh saga is the Supreme Court nominee’s old high school friend Mark Judge. According to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Judge was Kavanaugh’s accomplice in an incident at a high school party in 1982, when she says the two men locked her in a room and turned up the music so that no one could hear her screams while Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.

While Kavanaugh defended himself against Dr. Ford’s claims in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, the Washington Post located Judge hiding out in a friend’s Delaware beach house with a stack of Superman comic books. Although Judge is keeping a low profile, he left behind a trove of writing and other internet detritus to help us piece together exactly who he was.

It turns out, he was a guy who really liked swing dancing? So much so that, according to the Washington Post, he apparently threatened his editor at the Washington City Paper with a lethal hate crime because he ignored Judge’s story ideas regarding the ’90s swing dancing revival. From the Post:

In 1998, Judge wrote a piece about 1950s-era swing dancing, recalled Brad McKee, the arts editor at the time. But when Judge pitched more articles about swing dancing, McKee rejected them; the weekly was more focused on the District’s booming punk-rock scene.

McKee said Judge blew up at him after the rejections. McKee, who is gay, said Judge sent a vituperative email wishing him the same fate as Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left to die in Wyoming in 1998.

“He shows signs of true hatred,” said McKee, now the editor of Landscape Architecture magazine. “It was one of those few kind of showstopping moments at the paper.”

Other ex-City Paper staffers corroborated the Judge email in a story the alt-weekly published on Wednesday. The piece McKee may be referring to is either this brief item Judge wrote previewing a concert by the swing revival band Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys or this tribute to a defunct venue that hosted swing nights. In the latter piece, Judge comes off like an awkward dork. From WCP:

It often didn’t matter at Twist & Shout. D.C.’s zydeco family was wall-to-wall at the club that afternoon, grinding itself into a sweaty frenzy as the sun lowered over scenic Georgia Avenue. Zydeco dancing requires close contact and a lot of hip action; like a lot of dances, it’s an upright approximation of doin’ the nasty. At T&S, it was possible to get so close to the band you could kiss the accordion there was no big riser to separate the worshipers from the worshiped and I was right up front, dancing with a young lady I had just met and had instantly fallen in love with. I cradled her waist and was so taken, I could barely remember to shuffle my feet. I happened to see the drummer as I burrowed into her neck. Noticing the hip-lock my partner and I had each other in and the hopelessly smitten horn-dog leer on my face, he gave me a shit-eating grin. Then he winked.

While most of us probably remember the ’90s swing revival as something that inspired that one annoying dude from freshman dorm to dress up in fedoras and zoot suits for a few months after seeing Swingers, Judge was deeply invested in the thriving D.C. scene. Even though the City Paper rejected his pitches on the burgeoning scene, Judge nonetheless posted his musings on JitterBuzz, a still-active site dedicated to “swing dancing and retro lifestyle in Washington D.C.” The site hosts Judge’s sprawling essay on the intersection of swing dancing, spirituality, and sobriety in his life, which mostly just ends up sounding corny as hell. Here’s the intro:

It usually takes about an hour for it to start to happen. Heavy with sweat, I feel exhilarated, transcendent with a mystical inner peace. As I cradle my partner, I’m preternaturally calm and at totally at ease with the world. It is a state of trusting infancy, as if my ego and it’s confusion, worry and entanglements has drifted out of my body. I am outside of myself, filled with spiritual ardor.

No, I’m not talking about sex. The feeling I’m describing comes over swing dancing.

What drives a man to invoke Matthew Shepard over a musical trend that gave the world Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? Perhaps the answer lies in his 2000 non-fiction book If It Ain’t Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture, in which he credits the swing revival for inspiring his political leanings to transition from moderate liberal to right wing reactionary. It was mostly panned for being ahistorical and solipsistic.

“In these meandering pages, Judge counterpoises the male chivalry of the swing dance revival with Bill Clinton’s philandering,” read a particularly savage review from Library Journal, “which he uses to condemn the hypocrisy of liberalism and the bankruptcy of a feminism that encourages disrespect.” The fact that Judge uses an art largely created by POC to argue on behalf of regressive neocon values feels especially egregious.

A Kirkus review of book summarized Judge’s book as “ambitious pop-cult criticism that fails because of its single-mindedness and humorlessness,” which you probably could have guessed.