Artists Of The Year

Keith Moerer is a Minneapolis writer.

DON DELILLO

by Andrew Essex

While a good chunk of the literary world spent most of last year frothing over Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's putatively brilliant tome (at 981 pages, the book is indeed brilliant; it's also indulgent and profoundly tedious), the most astounding development in American letters took place behind the scenes in the pages of the trade rags. Don DeLillo, it was whispered in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, had apparently signed a contract for his new book, Underworld, rumored to be worth $1.7 million. DeLillo's is the author of 10 darkly comic novels, most notably White Noise, which won the National Book Award in 1985, but his books are anything but money-spinners. So why give him such an extraordinary sum of money?

Simple. Because DeLillo is the definitive writer of our time. As we brace ourselves for the fin de siècle, real life has finally caught up with his post-apocalyptic vision. The collective originality of his oeuvre has become eerily prescient; it's what makes his work so frightening and so laugh-out-loud funny. Like the Airborne Toxic Event that blackens the sky in the second act of White Noise, DeLillo's distinctive imagination has leeched its way into contemporary culture: In DeLillo you can find an antecedent for everything from designer drugs to the perfectly clipped dialogue of Tarantino.

There's another reason the publishing world wants him as a trophy even though their investment will never earn a profit: six years in the writing, Underworld is said to be nearly 2,000 pages long. Gordon Lish claims it's more important than Joyce or Faulkner we'll see. Who ever though talent would outweigh commerce as we creep gently into the 21st century?

Andrew Essex is music editor of Details.

JIM JARMUSCH
AND JOHN SAYLES

by Terri Sutton

I understand that straight, middle-class white guys get tired of people calling them straight, middle-class white guys. I mean, give it a rest, right? Still, in a year when the rock press mechanically coughed up yet another straight white "generational spokesman" (okay, Beck's Jewish, but he's also blond), I think it's worth saying again: Women are not the only gendered people; minorities are not the only people of "race"; "queers" are not the only ones with a chosen sexuality. Every day, you guys negotiate with a social construct: white, hetero, middle-class masculinity. The extent to which you've absorbed that construct affects the way you walk, talk, listen, think, work, love, fuck, dream, dance. You might not see it yourself, but, believe me, the rest of us do. And we're waiting for you to step back and start looking at yourself like you look at the rest of us: as something peculiar and abnormal, something unnaturally made.

Which is why I'm tipping my hat this year to two white guys. Both Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man and John Sayles's Lone Star observe their wandering male protagonists from an amused distance. Both films encourage minor(ity) characters to mock the "hero"--most delightfully in Dead Man, when Gary Farmer's native Nobody (ha ha) scolds the Johnny Depp character with a disgusted "Stupid white man!" But these films are not all fun and games: As anti-Westerns that make Unforgiven look like Promise Keepers propaganda, their very stories deconstruct American hero tales. Sayles subverts the Western's usual white mano-y-mano showdown by uncovering the central roles played by traditional background figures--Mexicans, women, blacks; the pale sheriff is literally screwed by his incomplete knowledge of that history. Jarmusch makes a gunfighter of a wounded accountant; yet that gunfighter may actually be dead, a poetic (justice) ghost hanging on only to rid the world of his kind. The "weaker" and more consciously dependent he gets, the better he gets at killing cluelessly dominating, greedy, inbred white men. It's not a bad metaphor. For a guy.

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

DJ SPOOKY

by Will Hermes

Talk to DJ Spooky, read the liner notes to his CD projects, or peep his science on the Asphodel Records website (www.wilder.net/stc/asphodel/spooky), and amidst the not-just-knee-deep academic/sci-fi fertilizer you'll find shovelfuls of provocative and (appropriately, for a DJ) sound-biteable quotes. "DJ mixing is the folk music of the 21st century" he told an interviewer earlier this year. "Gimme two records and I'll make you a universe," he boasts in the liner notes to Songs of a Dead Dreamer; later, in the same pages: "It is through the mix and all that it entails--the re-configuration of ethnic, national, and sexual identity--that humanity will, hopefully, move into another era of social evolution."

Right, said the pundits, and don't bogart that joint. But Spooky's musical output in '96--Dreamer, his mix set Necropolis: The Dialogic Project, his contributions to the Incursions in Illbient and A Storm of Drones compilations--spoke eloquently on its own. His sensual sound collages shaped virtual landscapes that held or released your interest, depending on your preference. And when his whirlpool grooves kicked in, they magically mimicked the drift and return of attention typical of any listening situation. These were meta-records so shapeshifting they've yet to become predictable, though I've heard them dozens of times.

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