Thursday, December 28, 2006

Year-end review

Roaringest Radical Resurgance

Living With War, by Neil Young. It was a sledgehammer protest album released at the key moment in the zeitgeist, an anti-Bush, anti-war wolf whistle that happened to rock hard. Neil's dreary 2005 release "Prairie Wind" sounded like the twilight of a great artist content to fade away. In its ragged glory, "Living With War" showed an angry legend rage against the dying of the light. It brought his career, politics, and music full circle.

And for those who considered it too blunt: fuck subtlety. Sometimes, metaphor can sound like an apology. This was Neil's year to thrash.

Best Reason to Go to Minor League Ballparks

Because they're Bob Dylan's summer tour venues of choice. As I wrote at the time, there's something irreplaceable about "watching him in an infield the size of Webster Hall, looking up during 'It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding,' and seeing the Big Dipper overhead."

Best Show that Has Zer
o Gimmicks But Nails it Completely

Friday Night Lights.

If you don't love this show, we have less in common than I thought.

Best Show that Nobody Watched

Sons & Daughters on ABC was the heir to Arrested Development. The show died an early death, and now all I have are episodes saved on Tivo that I watch once a month and refuse to delete.

Best Show Ever

The Thick of It on BBC America. Angry bureaucrats who want to kill each other shout expletives behind closed doors. Sabotage and betrayal are ways of life. In these respects, it depicts the workplace more authentically than either version of The Office.

Best Movie that Nobody Wanted to See

United 93. Not to kill the mood or anything, but in addition to being a damn fine piece of filmmaking, it was a major cultural moment to see the events of that day depicted without kitsch or sloganeering or sentimentality. Less exploitative than anything you'll see on network news or the History Channel. Makes you want to be a better person and an angrier person and to care deeply about things. It is superb and grueling and indispensible.

Best Novel of 2006

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. At some point in junior high I started reading Stephen King. Ever since, I've been waiting for a book that kept me up until 3 a.m., leaving me with nightmares, causing me to wake the next day feeling bleak and tired and just a little bit scared. The Road did that, and then left me reeling for entirely different reasons. It's a book about the end of the world, as cross-bred with The Old Man and the Sea, As I Lay Dying, and The Plague. Man against nature? Check. Questions about civilization? Yes. Poignant depiction of a father and son? Yes. That, and starvation and cannibalism, mercy and cruelty, and a landscape so deftly described that I believed it in full.

It freaked out my inner thirteen-year-old and then gave me one of my best reading workouts since college.

Best Novel of 2006 That I Didn't Want to Read

The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud. A book with a terrible title, a plot that sounds like a weak Jay McInerney imitation, written with too many adverbs and adjectives, about people that are intensely unlikeable. But like Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, Claire Messud's novel draws a panorama of ambitious writers, thinkers, socialites and businessmen, letting their clashing agendas and egos leisurely burn themselves out in a series of social gatherings and romantic indiscretions. Powell's characters became a part of the world with World War II, and Messud uses 9/11 to similar effect. Her portrayal of September 11 isn't totally persuasive, but it's serviceable, which is better than any other novelist has so far mustered.

Best Novel of 2006 That Was Cruelly Overrated, Thus Setting Up the Writer to Be Later Condemned as a Disappointment

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl. Sometimes talented young writers publish good first novels. Anxious for hope in the future of literature, critics and readers hype the book's quality beyond reason. Rather than being lauded as talented authors with potential, the young writers instead are compared to Pynchon and Nabokov and Salinger. They publish subsequent novels, which are received as disappointments and cannibalized. The young writers never had a prayer.

This year's victim was Marisha Pessl, who gave us a perfectly entertaining and thoughtful novel that overexcitable critics have tried to ruin through overpraise. Nabokov? Not even close. An ambitious mixed success written by a likeable and promising voice? Yes, and that's good enough.

Best Working Band Since the Stones Released Sticky Fingers

The Hold Steady burned itself so deep into my brain that on a recent night stumbling out of a bar, I blurted lyrics ad naseum and continued sputtering them for blocks.

Sure, I think that their fall release Boys and Girls in America fell just a tad below the standards that the band set in Separation Sunday and Almost Killed Me, but it still creates a lyrical epic of lost love, moments of clarity and all the flashpoints where everything simultaneously goes so right, so wrong, and so drunk. Over three albums, they've assembled a singular and persuasive cast of characters and drawn a roadmap to the United States -- comparable to Bob giving us Desolation Row, the story of Highway 61, and Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.

Best Description of The Hold Steady by a More Objective Observer

Courtesy of Jeff Weiss:
The Hold Steady are a cult. Like Scientology. Or Kaballah. Or Cory Kennedy (No Vincent Gallo). Except that they don't want your money, your time, or your ability to make Cobrasnake's site traffic spike. They just want you to have a good time. That's all. They offer everything you could want. Boozy anthems for the frat-boys, introspective lyrics for the ladies, relateable tales for the teens, literary leanings for the book dorks and enough substance abuse references to satisfy Mel Gibson. Boys and Girls is the Hold Steady's best album yet, a complex and articulate collection of 11 short stories of growing up in America. Inspired by a Kerouac quote about "boys and girls in America having such a sad time together," they too will live on like the deceased novelist. People will always need things to make them a little less sad.
Best Excuses for Going Hoarse

Photo taken from GRW's photostream.

The Hold Steady's 2006 shows at Warsaw and Irving Plaza.

I think you're old enough to know that if you're lucky, once in a decade you'll experience a show where the performers and the crowd are synchronized, and your arms go sore and your voice gives, and there's a flash of intensity and comeraderie usually limited to a stadium at the moment of your team's biggest triumph. This year we got two of these.

In summary, I consider this band enjoyable.

Best Reasons Not to Throw in the Towel

Ohio: For once, not ruining the country.

Senators-elect Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill and John Tester.

Never happy with New York's two senators, for the last few years I've thought of Barbara Boxer and Patrick Leahy as my own two. But in addition to restoring my faith in the Republic, this fall brought a crop of tough, no-nonsense, populist progressives to the U.S. Senate. Any one of them alone would be enough to celebrate.

Sure, some may turn out to be disappointments, but for the first time in my adult life, candidates that I love won.

Three More People You Should Try to Meet in Heaven* (2006 ed.)

Ann Richards, Bo Schembechler and Gerald Ford.

*Secular atheist version.

Best Unexpected Side-Effect of Attending the Michigan-Vandy Game

Accompanying a five-month-old baby to her first college football game. Because there's nothing like watching LaMarr Woodley flatten some prissy Southern- awwwwwww...

If you've never experienced it, going to a game with 110,000 of your best friends and enjoying four hours of pageantry and ass-kicking is a pretty visceral experience, and - awwwwwwww...

Best Use of Numbers

Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21.

Worst Unexpected Side-Effect of Whupping Notre Dame

Getting so drunk that you believe you're in Ann Arbor even though you're in a bar on Second Avenue. Hectoring friends about how you want to go hang out in a dorm that nobody liked in the first place, and then licking their faces when they decline.

Waking up the next day surprised that you managed to walk home without getting in a fight or getting arrested.

Best Sports Photo of 2006

Best Way to Work Through the Pain of Losing to Ohio State

Hold a ladies' arm-wrestling tournament in the kitchen.

Best Bar For Getting Mooned by Ass-Chicks


Blog-Related Honors

Best post by Flop that No One but Me Liked: Fun with mascots

High-Concept Posting Series that Failed: Excitable Young New Yorker. I entertained myself, but confused and/or pissed off the rest of you. A pompous, vulgar, needy, self-absorbed, moderately racist, clumsy, overemotional twentysomething? Yeah, I guess she wasn't as far-fetched as I thought. Sorry for the confusion.

Anticipated Fanboy Political Crush of 2007: Al Gore.

Mea Culpa: Duke Lacrosse. Yeah, I was pretty wrong. I guess I should have learned by now always to assume the worst of people in power. Is it possible that I should be even more cynical?

Most Surprisingly Successful Experiment with Live-Blogging: Hoot!

Best Trend in Late-Night Noisemaking

Hooting. Elegant in its simplicity, a little rooftop hooting cleans the soul. With a beer in hand, look up at surrounding towers and unloose a long, steady, "Hoot!"


Best Trend in Late-Night Aggression

Tie: head-butting; face-licking.

Second place: headlock.

Third place: punching in the forearm.

Best Excuse to Hold an Impromptu College Reunion

Turning 30.

For an immature asshole, I get to have a lot of friends.


General Bird said...

Better late than never: I thought Fun with mascots was among the greatest posts ever written. And your Excitable Young New Yorker was pretty entertaining from a distance, high concept confusion notwithstanding.

CrimeNotes said...

I had a whole story arc in mind for her, too, but really, at some point it became a little self-indulgent to have a fictional person inciting fights with you and your friends, yet being the only person in on the joke.

I'm sure that Flop, Bospy and Dardanielle welcome your support.