Columbia Journalism School


An April Fool's Day obituary from Prof. David Hajdu

April 01, 2011

Prof. David Hajdu has been writing about music for more than 30 years. He is the music critic for The New Republic, where he writes a weekly column.

Nick Hathaway
Image courtesy of David Hajdu

Last Friday, April 1, he wrote something a bit out of the ordinary. It was an obituary about Jameson "Nick" Hathaway, a forgettable, fictitious musician — an homage to April Fool's Day, as was subtly stated at the end of the piece.

The blog includes an illustrated portrait of Hathaway, video clips of real musicians playing Hathaway's songs and a reference to Bob Dylan once quoting Hathaway's lyrics. Hajdu even posted a Wikipedia entry for Hathaway, which gave a full description of the legendary but obsolete musician. (It has since been updated to reflect the joke.) And although some, including Entertainment Weekly and The Daily, understood this was an April Fool's stunt, many did not.

"I wrote it as a parody of myself, and it pokes fun mainly at the inclination to self-aggrandizement that critics pass off as benevolent advocacy or mastery of arcana," said Hajdu. "When I saw how quickly the piece took off — and how widely it was taken so seriously — I was pretty shaken up. An awful lot of people responded to the thing without reading it or thinking about it."

The videos Hajdu created to accompany the fake obituary have been viewed more than 700 times at the time this story was posted.

The Hathaway piece was a highly intricate undertaking, Hajdu explained. He wrote most of the words to "Ooka Dooka Dicka Dee," while Jill Sobule and John Doe wrote the music they're singing in the video, and Jon Weber wrote the music for both his video and Geoff Muldaur's. Prof. Stephen Edwards in Columbia's computer science department also provided technical assistance.

Also, Hajdu recently participated in a two-day conference titled “Bob Dylan and the Law.” Read about it here and here.

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