Artists Of The Year

Despite her extreme vulnerability, Bess's greatest strength is her faith. Likewise, von Trier responds to the post-Tarantino film culture--and the clever insularity of his own early work (The Element of Crime, Zentropa)--by withholding the slightest trace of ironic distance. There are limits to how closely film can convey raw emotion, but von Trier aims to go over the top anyway--in the end arriving at a transcendent image that is literally from on high. Especially given his reverence for '60s and '70s AOR tunes, I'm sure the filmmaker wouldn't object to the following assertion: Lars Von Trier is God.

Rob Nelson is film editor at City Pages.

SEAN LANDERS

by Julie Caniglia

A friend recently let her SPIN subscription lapse, saying she could no longer relate to anything in it. I'd begun feeling the same way--until June, that is, when Landers began conducting his "Genius Lessons" on the back page of the magazine. Now this rambling column, handwritten (with frequent misspellings) and illustrated by the author, is the first thing I flip to when the issue arrives.

Landers made a name for himself as an artist (this is more accurate than saying he is an artist) with ceiling-to-floor canvases covered in stupifyingly self-absorbed text. Like the best repulsive things, they're curiously alluring and damned funny; hence, he's become a hot property in the art world. As a columnist, Landers has less-than-kind words for rock stars, the rock industry, and therefore by association, SPIN itself. Nor does he ingratiate himself with readers, telling them in his inaugural essay that "if I were your older brother I'd kick your ass so regularly that if you didn't flinch when you walked past me it'd be from brain damage not courage." He judges his target audience to be "probably aged 15-30," but I feel like he's writing for anyone grown disenchanted with rock music and journalism and the state of pop culture in general--or more important, those on the older side of the youngest generation gap.

"Genius Lessons" isn't all jokey antagonism, however. Landers has a famed penchant (or compulsion) for self-disclosure (not to mention self-ridicule), often based around his '70s fixation, which "like so many ironic gestures... soon became all too real." Indeed, signing off each month as "Your Friend Sean," he packs each Lesson with so much irony that they come out as a perverse, rather embittered form of truth--and a much-needed respite from a culture bloated by its own hype.

Julie Caniglia is arts editor at City Pages.

TUPAC SHAKUR

by Britt Robson

As a 43-year-old white male, I won't pretend to fully grasp the social, racial, and economic refractions that culminated in Tupac's thug martyrdom. But to those, particularly my peers, who dismiss his death as just desserts, I can tell you that his romantic bullshit was more credible and charismatic than Jim Morrison's, and that his need to be noticed was as palpably desperate as Janis Joplin's--to cite two others done in by their lifestyles.

As an artist who refused to ever take the middle ground, Tupac embodied a culture addicted to a melodramatic, Cliff's Notes view of life, endlessly hitting the instant replay button for highlights. Some of his output was hateful, especially toward women. But almost all of it burned with visceral insights, delivered with the concentrated intensity of a tightrope walker and set to dynamic music that essentially christened a genre of gangsta-pop. Many songs speak openly and eloquently of death, an endgame whose allure Tupac reveled in. "All these muthafuckahs want to be like us/Want to be the have-nots," he rapped on the appropriately titled "White Man'z World," a song from the posthumously released Makaveli CD, which currently sits at the top of the Billboard charts, fueled by sales to suburban kids looking for a contact hit of danger.

Fortunately, it doesn't end there. While Tupac's nearly-scripted denoument split opinion as to whether he should be deified as the "realest" gangsta rapper ever or dismissed as just another sucker on the wrong end of the gun, all the punditry and eulogizing hasn't come close to really nailing who and what he was, and why. In the end, Tupac forced pretentious white critics and hardcore street players alike to reexamine their responses to a music occasionally referred to as "reality rap." Whatever you ultimately think of the man and his music, that kind of challenge is the essential function of an artist.

Britt Robson is an associate editor at City Pages.

ROBERT HASS

by Josie Rawson

Hass was named U.S. Poet Laureate last year--a title without much substance that gets routinely handed to academics who work hard at offending no one. Hass seems to have survived that station, and in the aftermath has written a collection that would certainly offend anyone who values a quick, disposable read. This year's Sun Under Wood takes place in a terrain first suggested in "Praise" (1979): "All the new thinking is about loss," he wrote then. "In this it resembles all the old thinking." But it's not mere nostalgia for what's been lost that fires these new poems. There's great compassion in them, a reverence for nature and for the body erotic that feels all too absent in the day-to-day rush. Spending time with Hass reminds you to peel off the armor, open the internal flaps, let bitterness go.

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