Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

It's amusing to see Austen's resurrection foretold in the recent rise of a school of fantasy called "mannerism." These novels, as writer Michael Swanwick notes of Ellen Kurshner's Swordpoint, are driven by "the vision of a life without regrets... [where] all that matters is making a figure of oneself and winning the admiration of a scorned universe." The characters are doomed, like Austen's, to either rarified lives of empty greed or ungraceful tumbles into the messy reality of--if they're lucky--love, loss, and compassion. Those less blessed by fortune discover poverty, disease, virtual disappearance. And still the remaining players play on, accountable for nothing, spinning a bright web of words. Where, I ask you, is the fiction: in Austen's tales? Or in the world she has described far too well?

Terri Sutton is a Minneapolis writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

SUBCOMANDANTE MARCOS

by Josh Feit

Land redistribution? Interventionist economics? In 1995, anyone who could turn such concepts into sexy sound bites would have to be as witty as Mae West, as electrifying as John Lennon, and as handsome as Antonio Banderas. Enter Subcomandante Marcos--charismatic Mexican ski-masked avenger, international media star, and front man for the Zapatista rebels of Chiapas. Marcos disseminates sarcastic online memos, holds fabulously goofy press conferences, and has a 326-page treatise for sale in American record stores (Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiqués of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation). He's got bourgeois women swooning in Mexico City, intellectuals forming solidarity clubs in coffeeshops worldwide, and the Mexican army playing the part of the Keystone Kops (they botched a mission to capture him last February).

Marcos's knack for pop-culture timing led him to grant an exclusive interview to Vanity Fair (which dubbed him "Mexico's Poet Rebel") and has extended the Zapatistas' allotted 15 minutes into a truly revolutionary two-year performance art piece. Hosting mock political conventions, acting out scenes of military victory, and sending out "top-secret" communiqués on the World Wide Web, Marcos and his elusive band of 2,500 troops are staging a postmodern revolution in elegant defiance of Global Economy '95.

The dingbats in power are playing along, too. In March, the Chase-Manhattan Bank sent out a memo saying a U.S. bailout of Mexico's economy was dependent on Mexico's ability to eliminate the communist threat of the Zapatistas. A Mexican government spokesman made an inane, Cold War-style pronouncement that President Zedillo "sees Chiapas like a cancer. Either you treat it, or it will eat you." Meanwhile, Marcos was entertaining the masses. "We wear the ski masks for our own protection and because we are all so good-looking," he told a fawning press conference. Somebody give this guy a slot on Thursday nights.

Josh Feit is a Washington D.C. writer.

FLOUR

by Jim Walsh

Over the years, I've tried unsuccessfully to interview Pete Conway, the one-man band also known as Flour. Most recently, I called to talk to him about the three-night stand in early December at the 7th St. Entry that featured Flour and reunions of 2i, Man-Sized Action, and Rifle Sport, for whom Conway plays bass. But as has become our custom, he politely refused. "Could we not?" he said. "Because if you put it in the paper, then there might be a bunch of people there, and it'll just make it hard for the rest of us to get to the bar."

A little insight to this modesty can be found on the short liner note to Flour's 1994 record Fourth and Final: "Gold has been found in the sanctuary and the halls have become overrun with prospectors. It's time to go." In other words, the grassroots indie scenes of the '70s and '80s may have corrupted into "alternative rock," but Conway, as organizer of this intentionally intimate weekend, was intent on keeping it fun (first and foremost), and preserving such antiquated notions as "punk" and "community." In a recent interview Neil Young said, "Back in the '50s and '60s, rock & roll was 'big' but it was only 'big' to people who cared about it. Now it's big to people who don't care about it."

Well, what made this weekend special was that everyone who was there cared about it. There were no luxury boxes, celebrity murder trials, or mosh pits. It was small. Old friends came out of the woodwork and rubbed elbows with new fans. Flour, the band, was fantastic. And Rifle Sport capped the whole thing with a set that was as memorable as any ever turned in by any of their equally memorable cast of characters: Bill from Arcwelder, swinging his hair rock-deliriously over the monitor; bass goddess Amy Larson grinning from ear to ear; Conrad pounding a beer bottle on a speaker cabinet, demanding an encore. And a small pond of faces, beaming. Like they'd been starved for the shit.

When the band returned to the stage, it was still Rifle Sport, with their unassuming spiritual leader on bass, but all I could hear was Ben Folds crooning, "We can be happy underground."

Jim Walsh is the pop music critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and former City Pages Music Editor.

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