Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

The trifecta was complete when Boy George hit First Avenue on the last day of November. Uniting a crowd that spanned the spectrum of sexual preferences--from drag queens to frat jocks, with an ecstatically queer vibe presiding--George and his pompadoured band delivered a joyous concert of kick-ass music and socio-political hedonism. From the bawdy double-entendre of a throbbing "Bang A Gong" to the nuance of an acoustic "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the covers were shrewdly contextualized. But the highlights for me revolved around two song pairings. The first was preceded by a bitchy, dead-on critique of Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, which led into the hilarious spoof "G.I. Josephine," followed by "Unfinished Business," an unflinching account of the psychological costs of living in the closet. With the second pair, George finally appeased the Culture Clubbers in the crowd by inducing a swooning singalong to "Karma Chameleon," then followed up with the tune's gorgeous, updated companion, "Same Thing In Reverse," climaxing with the lyric, "Do I love him/Yes I love him/So don't question my affection/This is not some damn affliction/It's just love in contradiction." (Britt Robson)

Britt Robson is Associate Editor of City Pages.

HOWARD CRUSE

by Dave Marsh

Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby was one of the most satisfying books of any kind written in 1995, and the only graphic novel I've ever read (and I've read a lot) that succeeds in finding and keeping the pace and tone of good fiction. Cruse's protagonist, a closeted (to all including himself) Southern gay white man coming of age amidst the tumult of the civil rights movement, certainly draws on the artist's personal history. But he doesn't wallow in it, which immediately separates what he's doing from the likes
of Spiegelman's Maus and Pekar's Our Cancer Year. More important, Cruse uses the facts to create an entirely viable world, in which petty decisions and happenstance can have consequences as far-reaching as Robertson Davies's Deptford snowball or a mismatched marriage in Dickens. The art is excellent, the sexual politics more complicated
than predictable, the role of music profound. It's
also funny as hell when it wants to be, especially about the vagaries of Southern culture, and the subtleties of family psychology in the deployment of racism and sexism (and the fight against them) are brilliantly illumined.

Dave Marsh is editor of Rock & Rap Confidential

THE UNABOMBER

by Michael Tortorello

January 6, 1995, Wall Street, 3:00 a.m. El Gato and I began outlining our fantasy campaign of political assassinations in a rusted-out Chevy. My list of public enemies marked for death was heavy on socially deviant public officials and fundamentalist cross-burners; El Gato, shrewdly, favored a reign of terror on CEOs. We both maintained that not voting for the RepubliCrats would constitute its own vote, that our elected representatives would piss their pants at the deafening roar of people doing nothing. The donkey and the elephant would consume each other, the lion would sleep with the lamb, etc. We were just a couple of chickenshit boys, born under the Sign of the Nixon, who believed that the system could not be salvaged before it went straight to hell, and that the faster it went there, the better.

The Unabomber--and his deadlier paramilitary colleagues--took our campaign out of the realm of the imaginary, revealing to El Gato and me just how ass-backwards we had been all along. He sits in some basement in Northern California playing Mr. Science, forging his own screws and bolts for maximum anonymity, composing his loopy, Luddite manifesto. He ropes the fourth estate into publishing it, then takes early retirement. While in the foreground, disgruntled veterans roam from gun show to gun show like the new Deadheads, reading Mein Kampf over the shortwave, buying fertilizer by the ton.

There was more suffering in our country this year than last, and there will be still more next. The bombs won't avert that; the waiting game hurts. The Unabomber's performance--words and deeds--changed the way I understand the political future and my place in it. If that's not art, I don't know what is.

Michael Tortorello is theater critic at City Pages.

JANE AUSTEN

by Terri Sutton

The quiet romancing, borne in slivered glances, in speaking silence and understatement, conjured a welcome subtlety from the screen. Still, I don't believe the audience welcomed a 200-year-old ghost for that spell alone. The lush period costuming (including the '90s Beverly Hills High excess of Clueless) captivated the eye, though it too was not essential. The astuteness with which Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility described a woman's precarious economic position must also be held a factor in their author's sudden popularity; again, I think that timely perspicacity only a secondary consideration. It seems to me that the key to this year's deceptively anachronistic Jane Austen revival is manners.

By that, I do not mean manners good or bad. There may be newspaper columnists and clergy who would see in Austen's elegant sallies and ripostes the possibility of a more "civilized" public discourse. But in Austen's books, and their 1995 film adaptations, nice language does not necessarily excite respectful attention or understanding. What a rigid code of manners does there is create a society where the gesture means everything, and actions--be they disguised well enough--need have no consequence. This world is remade new and victimless each day, according to the pronouncements of those with real, and thus concealed, power.

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