In a vain effort to keep the art of criticism alive, here’s my contribution to the year-in-review wasteland. There are about four people who have the same taste as me – and we’ve had some kick ass conversations! – so this is also an attempt to get more people consuming the things I do in my ultimate cultural takeover. Or, more kindly, a contribution toward the community pile of cool stuff to share.
A lot of these have nothing to do with 2017, only that I discovered them in 2017, making them incredibly relevant to your life.
4. Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou.”
My steel teacher tossed this to me to learn, and though we never returned to it, it’s become a staple in my practicing. Although the steel on early Ronstadt recordings is killer – check out “Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line” or “Silver Threads” – this song tugs at me because I always connect it to Billy Cowsill’s voice and the first few times I listened to the Co-Dependents Live at the Mecca record. And I did see them at the Mecca! I’m one of the few truthful tellers of that tale.
3. Skinny Dyck, 20 One-Nighters
One thing that pulls me back to working on Wide Cut Weekend and writing about Alberta artists is the community of musicians there that I haven’t found the same way in Toronto. Steel guitarist Dyck’s collection of tunes with 20 songwriters is the best example of that this year. Not only are half of them now living in the “new Calgary” (Lethbridge), they also appear in a series of portraits inside the disc that kept me occupied for half an hour trying to label all the faces. Anchoring all the tunes is the Dyck’s steel, making him the best player to come out of the province in ages.
2. My Spotify List
I opened up Spotify to see what I’ve been listening to, and it came up with an offer: “Review your year! Tap here.” Convenient. I’m not worried about big data at all. Why are you?
Top song: “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden. Interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but the song indeed makes me crazy. I really got into them after – ha, sorry – Chris Cornell died, and the NYT Popcast did an episode on him. And then the album was a romantic backdrop, along with a Max Martin playlist, on a drive to the Annapolis Valley. We decided on that drive that the line “Am I sexual?” from the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” (Backstreet’s Back)” (from where??) is one of the stupidest lines ever. And not sexy.
Other top songs on my spotify list:
“Whiteout” by Warpaint (killer)
“Outshined” by Soundgardern
“Want you Back” by Haim
“In the Dark” by Vanduras – oh man, this band was on constant rotation this year; surfy pedal steel, and it totally drowned out the baby that moved in downstairs. Yes, moved in.
“Dwight Yoakam” by Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
“Control” by (sigh) Janet Jackson
“Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” by Squeeze
1. Plastic Machine by Tom Phillips
It feels like Tom got a makeover, and that nothing changed at all. His band got one though. I’ve spoken at length about the quality of his character and music elsewhere, so I won’t repeat myself here. All you need to do is listen to “Swallowed a Bird.”
... And that leads me to BOOKS.
Tom was also the person who convinced me to tackle Infinite Jest in 2018; though others have tried, he was successful. In the meantime, I attempted to read 40 books in 2017. I was close, and am a mere few short Harlequins away from meeting my goal. While those definitely do not top my list, here are a few that do.
4. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
The main story seems too crazy to be true, and also crafted for one of those Discovery channel melodramas – snakes, horrific weather, corruption, etc., but it’s also a sharp commentary on the tolls climate change and its facilitation of the spread of disease will take on marginalized island nations. Too real, and too scary.
3. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My partner and I formed a “rogue” book club wherein we actually talk about the book. (At my book club we’ve become such good friends, we sometimes forget, and get on to other topics like babies and feminism.) With his three best friends and their partners, we agreed to read Underground Railroad. And read it. And ... never met. Still, in passing we noted its powerful, sparse writing, terse storytelling, and mounting tension: will she make it? You’re never sure, but also what can making it possibly mean?
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Fuck, I mean holy fuck, wtf was that book? I was glued to it from start to finish. It should have been five times longer. I suppose this makes me a bandwagon jumper, something all my hip radars tell me to avoid, but this time it’s for good reason. I’ve never read such a structurally messed up book. It could have been disaster. It was brilliant.
1. Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrere
I am suggestible, especially if those suggesting are every single one of the NYT Book Review hosts. One by one they read Lives this year, and one by one came in gushing about it. So I fell for it, then fell into it. No other book has treated illness and death so kindly and beautifully. I had a library copy, but I’m going to buy it now as a reference guide to getting sick and handling it with grace. Lincoln in the Bardo was a close second, but this won out.
See them before you die.
These cookies I made last week.
Also, haloumi cheese, first grilled by the great Helen Johnston, now a permanent resident in the dinner repertoire.
Now that I’ve entered the realm of the silly,
Apostrophe. b. beginning of language. d. 2017.
I thought I was going to murder the next person who incorrectly (or didn’t, didn’t, DIDN’T) deploy an apostrophe, but then I realized: someone already murdered the apostrophe. Shame, since its rules were actually not that bloody hard to learn, but whatever. I guess it’s now only for iphones and people born before 1985 to know.
Happy holidays! Im dreaming of a white Christmas I hope you are too.