Thursday, December 07, 2006

I Am Gonna Make it Through This Year If It Kills Me

Some Thoughts on Lists

I get the feeling that this time of year we are all supposed to make lists. You know. Christmas lists. New Years resolutions. List our accomplishments over the past year. Lists of best albums. Best new writers. Best movies. Person of the Year. It seems like an ever-growing enterprise, this lists business. I've only had this blog for half the year. I think it started right around my wedding. But the original spawn of this whole thing started, I believe, about a year ago, now. So what better way to celebrate the year that was, then with some lists. We'll use it as an opportunity to recall what, in my book, was a pretty damn great year (a few stumbling blocks, aside.) I think we'll cover all the bases here: social events, arts, film, sports moments, books read, etc...The blog is the 21st-Century-Man's journal, in theory. I guess, if, in some alterworld my grandkids were to look back at this (and let's hope they skip the sections about my embarassing permanent body art) I would like them to see just how radical their Gramps was. Totally living on the edge, and all that. Today, I'm liking the arbitrary number six. Without further ado, some Top Sixes:

Six Best Sports Moments:
6- Jets beat Patriots in Foxboro. I know. This should really be higher. But as I have said before, it was just a terribly boring game (outcome notwithstanding.) Given that it now is a crucial W, in terms of making them a viable contender for the playoffs down the stretch, I am man enough to admit it was a good win. Even if Pennington played like Neil O'Donnel. I can't wait for the rematch in round 1 of the playoffs.

5- Tigers Trounce Yankees in Playoffs. Any time the Yankees get knocked out of the playoffs it is a top ten moment in my sports year. The fact that they did it so convincingly was a little vindication for just how poorly the Sox played down the stretch while the Bombers were playing their best ball.

Tied 3- Jets Almost Beat Pats in Great Comeback, Giants Stadium. When can a loss to your rivals be even better than a victory against them? When you are at the game, it is a gorgeous day, and your uncle and pops, whom you've brought along are beaming ear-to-ear, beacause all three of you know you're watching a team that has heart. And said team hasn't exhibited said heart, in, oh, about three years.

Tied 3- Sox get pounded by Yanks in 5-gamer, Tickets to Game 3. Again, an aesthetically odd choice. Nobody likes to have front row (not literally) seats to watch their favorite team get paddled by their rivals. But if you can tell me what's better than sitting with one of your best buddies, draining cold brews, and watching your respective favorite teams play a day game rivalry in Fenway park, I'd love to hear it.

2- Rutgers upsets Louisville. Watched the game at a sports bar, surrounded by NJ citizens who were actually rooting for RU football with passion. The first time I can EVER claim that has happened. Let's hope it isn't the last.

1- Red Sox Lose a Toughie to A's, Roof Box Seats. See 3B. Multiply "1 of your best buds" by 12. Add in a 2 hour bus-ride, 4 cases of beer, and a group of old guys, including one who is 24 hours away from becoming my father-in-law. Watch fireworks ignite.

Top Six CD's Acquired:

6- Grizzly Bear, Yellow House. Just an all-around excellent album. Brian burned this for me over our "stuck in the middle of crazy-ass duck-huntin' Maryland/Delware territory. In the best way, this was the perfect music to evolve out of that weekend: eerie, haunting, yet infused with tons of punk-rock qualities. Shades of Liars and Animal Collective but way more subtle. Perfect evening driving tunes.

5- Thelonius Monk, Monk's Dream. I am pretty sure my dad told me about this little gem. Jazz is mood music for certain. But if you can't listen to this one while sipping some wine, and reading a good book, then there is something wrong with you. Monk's control of rhythm and timing is insane. He is working on a completely different rhythm pattern than most musicians can even comprehend, let alone some idiot like me. I heard an interview on FUV that Monk was known for spending up to 24 hours sitting in one place contemplating arangements. When you hear this album, such assertions really don't sound that ludicrous.

4- The Many Sides of Fred Neil. Hands down the best old-school folk album I have purchased since John Wesley. I can't listen to Dolphins without wanting to dance around like some bra-less hippie chick at a be-in. Dylan, Buckley, Prine, and Springsteen all consider him a prime influnence. There is no other album which predicates these guys best stuff the way this album does. The guitar is fantastic. So fantastic, that it got a spot on this list over John Fahey.

3- Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome (The Seeger Sessions) Don't care what you think about Bruce. Don't care if you've never heard of Pete Seeger. A good, honest cover/tribute album is rare. One that is THIS good/honest comes around once, maybe twice, every decade.

2- Belle & Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister. For some reason, this is one of the Belle and Sebastian CD's I hadn't bothered to pick up for quite some time. In the early spring I went and scooped it up, in preperation to go see them with my Pop, who, in all his hipster glory, actually introduced me to them way back in the day, with this album. Upon first listen, I basically was transported back to my parents living room, where my dad made a habit of spinning this on spring and summer Sundays. On second listen and beyond, I realized, indubitably, that from start to finish, it is the most nearly perfect album in the pop-folk genre.

1- Destroyer's Rubies. Why did it take me almost 5 months to get this CD again? This is the best Indie CD I have bought since NMH, and that is no exxageration. Amazing lyrics, affected but pleasant vocals, and fantastic layers of intruments. All around FUGGIN great. It really isn't an album that words can do justice. Go get it. Now.

Top Six Arts/Music/Lit. Events:

6- A Night With Camille Paglia. I hope my memory suits me correctly, because I believe this happened in February. Anyway, Paglia is a controversial figure. And while I didn't agree with about half of what she said (and a good 75% of the poems she chose for her definitive Poetry collection.) Nonetheless, it was a great lesson in where poetry has become stagnated in the minds and discussions of most scholars (both those Columbia-types whom Paglia directly called to task, and the supposedly progressive camp in which Paglia would like to claim a stake.) Suffice to say, I don't believe Wanda Coleman is taking poetry (particularly American poetry) to fronteirs it has never been, or was never destined to go, should it follow its predictable path. I can continue to mention the same names (have I mentioned Maurice Manning before) but history says, it won't be for another 30 years or so until due recognition is received.

5- Belle & Sebastian at Nokia Theatre. Music-wise, you really couldnt ask for a better performance (well maybe if The New Pornographers had been better...) The Venue was nice, but way the fuck overpriced. And the audience was what was to be expected. 50% there to enjoy really good music, 50% there to be seen in their vintage sweaters and coke-bottle glasses. Plus the night gets bonus points, because my brother, who had to fill-in for my pops last minute, decided to wear an almost identical jacket to mine, leading us to our fifteen minutes of indie-fame, as stars of a concert review.

4- Hopper Exhibit and Picasso/America at the Whitney. I just mentioned this one last week. If one has to spend a Friday night, sober, and hungry, there are far worse things one could do with said time, then study some of the most amazing paintings by one of America's finest artists, in one of NYC's historic charms. Negative points for the DBs who managed to sidle next to me at every single exhibit and proclaim such insightful nuggets as: "Doesn't that look exactly like our vacation house?" and "Pollack was waaaayyyy better at the end of his career."

3- Wooden Wand @ Knitting Factory. Apparently if I had been patient enough to stay for the entire Akron/Family show this would have been an easy choice for number one. Instead I got a little too carried away sipping on PBR as James Toth did his crickets-on-a-summer evening thing. A fantastic 2 hours, that should have been a mind-blowing 5 hours.

2- The Undertow Orchestra and General Museum-hopping, DC Blizzard. This was one of the most excellent weekends all year. It was filled with not-really educational, but justifiably cultural activities like wandering through the Museum of the American Indian, dodging the cult-liberals at the Momuments, and finally seeing one of the best musical concerts I have seen all year, all in the middle of a huge snowstorm, trumped by a massive snowfight with strangers in the streets of Arlington, VA. Amazing.

1- Silver Jews @ Webster Hall. Awful venue. But whatever. This was likely a once in a lifetime experience, what with the fact that David Berman is probably never touring again. The music was good, the atmosphere was fine. But what made it fucking fantastic was the mere fact that I was watching a genius at work, in the one rare circumstance that any human being would ever get to do so in such a venue. My immediate reaction was ambivalence. Looking back on it now, it was one of the highlights of the year.

Six Best Headlines

6- Mel Gibson Goes Hitler On Us. Totally unexpected, yet totally unsurprising.

5- Drinking Coffee Cures Your Liver After Drinking. Fucking fantastic.

4- Marf54. Members of the Legislative branch, having cybersex with 14 year old boys. Time-defining.

3- Michael Richards Goes Hitler On Us. Wow. If the cellphone video footage of his rant didnt shock and awe you, the apology on Letterman, in all its akward glory, had to do the trick.

2- T.O. Does or Does Not Try to Commit Suicide. What an odd, odd, day to work in Sports News. Fascinating.

1- Macacca. If you look at it now, it sure seems that George Allen's big moment of folly cost him the Senatorial Race in Virginia, which in turn meant the Democrats taking both the House and Senate...which in turn means, perhaps, George Bush will be held accountable for his decisions for the next two years. And to think, if certain Republicans had either kept their mouths shut, or avoided sexy-talk with 14 year old boys, this whole situation could be completely different.

Six Best Movies/DVDs/TV Shows Seen:

6- Borat. Oh my god was this movie funny. Was it the world-altering comedy some people made it out to be? No. Was it hilarious from start to finish? Yes. Did it usher back in an irreverent style of comedy we havent seen since Mel Brooks in his prime? Let's hope.

5- Season One, Rescue Me. This show is just plain good. It isn't political, it isn't moralizing. It isn't terribly thought provoking. It is just the perfect combination of humor, emotion, excitement, and drama. Season One was the show at its rawest, and sometimes most absurd. But in a way, this makes it even more appealing. Anyone who doesn't like Dennis Leary should watch just one episode, and then read an article about the background of the show. Perceptions alter.

4- The Last Waltz. I don't know why the hell it took me so long to see this. Scorsese, and The Band?! Together?!?! Why woudln't this be a fantastic music DVD?

3- Thank You For Smoking. I wrote about this a-way-back-when. Perhaps on myspace? Anyway, as far as Satires go, this film is totally fantastic. Great acting, hilarious writing, poignant direction. All Around, the Bee's Knees.

2- This Season of The Office. The best sitcom on TV. By a mile.

1- Old Joy. Brokeback was a good movie. It would have been a great movie, had it been subtler. Had nature played an even more prominent role, and less of a signifier, I think it had a chance to be the best movie made in a long, long, time. And as good as Ang Lee is as a director, he missed some serious opportunities to make that film a work of sheer beauty. Each opportunity he missed, is capatilized in Old Joy by the young Director, Kelly Reichardt. I have never read the short story by Raymond, upon which this is based, but all interviews indicate that the film couldn't have done more justice to the story. It takes serious study of a text to create such a faithful interpretation, and that alone is cause to be impressed. The fact that the acting is nearly flawless, the characters hyper-realistic, and the cinematography awe-inspiring is an added bonus.

Best Six Books Read:

6- Shape of Things to Come by Greil Marcus. Sadly it had been almost two years since I had read, and finished, an entire lit. theory book when I picked this one up. However, I have to say it was for pretty good reason: Lit. Theory is generally, sleep-inducing in its boredom. HOW-evah, Marcus is onto something. He draws in musical theory, popculture analysis, and even a little bit of intriguing historical context to create the story of America, in textual form. I wouldn't suggest jumping into this book without some serious familiarity with some of the central subjects: namely, Dylan, Phillip Roth, HG Wells, and Dos Passos' 42nd Parallel (more on that later) but even if your knowlege of these is vague, one can take away from this a great lesson on the American predicament: the significance of national identity in a nation of individuals.

5- To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever by Will Blythe. Sports books are a tough read. It's hard to combine the thrill, and the minute-to-minute play-by-play involvement of watching a great sporting event, with the nuances of good writing. Perhaps that is why sports books are best when they are biographical. In many ways this is the biography of the irrational fan, fueled by one of the best rivalries in sports. Blythe, a diehard UNC fan, writes about the UNC/Duke rivalry with as much level-headed analysis as one can expect from a guy who watches certain games in the fetal position, hoping his feng-shue will alter the outcome of the match. If you are a die-hard fan of a team, and appreciate solid, unpretentious writing you will enjoy this immensely. If you can relate to the madness of being a fan of a team embroiled in a rivalry such as this, you will simply love Blythe's tale.

4-Molloy by Beckett. As far as really confusing, hard to read post-modernism goes, this is probably the most accesible by way of its universality. A friend of my dad's in Easton is a pretty big Beckett Scholar, and argues that the essential thesis of Beckett's writings, the trilogy, in particular, is that modern man's greatest fear is his own insignificance. Why else would we have invented blogs?

3- Imre Kertesz' Liquidation. At 120 pages, novellas like this tend to be forgettable. But part of what makes Kertesz such a great writer is his ability to give us just enough information, and allow us to mold the story for ourselves. Like Calvino, he plays with the form of literature to make us think more broadly about literature itself. In undertaking this book, ones is reading less of a novel than the ways in which one actually reads. With which characters can we identify, when the characters exist solely as a function of their own being. Narcissism, Self-indulgence, and nihilism are all central themes, and yet Kertesz is questioning the very need of such themes in the human experience, and more particularly in modern literature. What makes a tale a tale worth telling? A novel a novel? And if a tale told is not explicitly told at all, but rather is an experience, does this cheapen, or contrarily inflate its value to the reader?

2- Memoir of the Hawk by James Tate. I don't know what's most surprising about this book of poetry: that I am so astounded by it, or that the literati agress with me. The same people who proclaim to love Ashberry and Kenneth Koch, are suddenly finding worth in an author whose goal seems to be to deride the very lyrical poetry which sprung from that New York crowd. Having said that, there are times when Tate (particularly in his early poems) seemed to be writing almost for effect. While I can see why others enjoy this, it isn't until I read the Hawk, that I could feel Tate as a personal influence on my writing. Colloquial style, aside, there is something fantastic about the commonality, and the simplicity of his impossibly wild imagery that makes a writer like Tate endearing among writers who seem to be obsessed with craft over content.

1- Dos Pasos 42nd Parallel. Wow. Dos Passos work was the only major work discussed in Shape of Things to Come that I wasn't already familiar with. And now that I have read it is is pretty clear why. The choppy, incohesive style, along with the scathing analysis of American life throughout the course of the 20th Century are an immediate harbinger of why the book would never be a popular critical darling. And yet, it is perhaps, one of the most ultimately American books written post-Twain. Greif, Despair, Isolation, hope, chaos, and the desire to compartmentalize our lives into controllable pieces, make it a true American tale. It is all there. There are bizarre and inexplicable moments, but if you happened to catch just one of my top six headlines, then you know. "Bizarre" and "Inexplicable" are often the best descriptive when adressing the stories that make up this great nation.

Six Mostest Amazingest Weekends

6- DC Blizzard. See events #2.

5- Fourth of July, Out and About. Just an all around fun long-weekend in which I got to see family, friends, and eat BBQ food all weekend. What more can we ask for during the summer?

4- Memorial Day BBQ, Darien. Perfect way to start the summer. Passed out on your buddies lawn.

3- Bachelor Party. Pizzas, sodas, some go-fish. That kinda thing.

2- Honeymoon, KBP/Bahamas. Everybody should be required to take 2 weeks off for their honeymoon. Best vacation I have ever had. Maine was the ideal amount of activities (beach, shopping, great meals, canoeing) and interspersed with the sheer laziness of 5 days in the Bahamas, it was the perect celebration.

1- Wedding Weekend. Best weekend of my entire life. If you were there, thanks so much for being a part. If not, you can always live the night vicariously, here.


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