Artists Of The Year

I get greedy reading Robert Hass. Greedy for more poems when his books end, for another round of his good intelligence, for his language that goes up against all the slick passions of the merchandising world. Even more than his Human Wishes (1989), Sun Under Wood insists on slowing the tempo to a speed that makes you almost ashamed of the haste required to just get things done these days. His poems, though quite lyrical, follow a narrative tack--often in long, supple lines that break against the margins and into meditative prose. It may take a few pages to tune your attention to his pitch--which is a difficult pleasure in itself, and a kind of reminder to stay still awhile, in this fixed place. Flush all the noise from your brain. No deadlines. No hurry.

Josie Rawson is a staff writer at City Pages.

LARRY LONG

by Jim Walsh

As is the case with many do-gooders and local musicians, it has been easy to take Larry Long for granted. The veteran folkie has always been around, playing one rally or gig or another, recording, or stumping for the Mississippi River Revival Project. And on the surface, 1996 seemed to be no different, with Long singing out at the Phil Ochs tribute, kicking into the "We Can Do Better" chorus for Paul Wellstone, mourning the death of his friend Meridel Le Sueur, etc. But there was one major difference: in 1996, Larry Long made the record of his life.

During the past three years, Long traveled to rural Alabama to record 50 hours of tape that would become the 28 tracks that make up the spoken word/music project Here I Stand: Elders' Wisdom, Children's Song (Smithsonian/Folkways). Long went into various communities and interviewed old folks, whose untold stories were turned into songs by Long and the children and then recorded. The final product is a rich celebration of work and faith sung by people who are, as Long puts it, "under the gun." It is an extraordinary piece of songcraft, grassroots activism, and the most DIY record I heard all year, since Long set up a curriculum that allows other artists and communities to put his work into practice. Which is why this St. Cloud State philosophy major drop-out is my choice for artist of the year, and if anyone gets around to asking, teacher of the year.

Jim Walsh is the pop music critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

CAROLE MASO

by Carolyn Kuebler

Carole Maso is not just a wickedly brilliant writer, but a daringly feminist one at that. At once challenging and transcendent, her luxurious prose breaks all the rules. With her fifth novel, Aureole, published this year, she once again proves herself to be a fearless chronicler of that space where lust and literature collide.

Maso's style can be excessive and abrasive, but its imperfections are always countered by self-awareness, shimmering beauty, or a deep sense of irony. She can "sing the world ecstatic," raising the level of linguistic eroticism to a fever pitch, but she is also capable of conveying the terror of death and the chaos of life. She openly borrows from the works of Marguerite Duras, the Grimm Brothers, Virginia Woolf, Garcia Lorca, Sappho, and many others, but remains an absolute original. While AVA may still be the most exquisite of her works, all of them contain marvelous arrangements of narrative, allusion, memory, and music. They invoke a new kind of feminism, one that does not insist on conventions and leaves ample room for unorthodox approaches to writing.

In addition to publishing Aureole, her "erotic etudes" that were years in the works, this year Maso lent her voice to the discussions of "Technology and the Muse" in Sven Birkerts's Tolstoy's Dictaphone, and to "The Future of Fiction," a special issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction edited by David Foster Wallace. Both the novel and the anthologized essay offer bold encouragement to anyone who refuses to believe that literature has by now reached its full capacity. Her writing is proof that the millennium need not inspire that popular coupling of nostalgia and fear, but that it holds the promise of a more inclusive, vibrant, and limitless language.

Carolyn Kuebler is co-editor of Rain Taxi Review of Books.

BECK

by Jim DeRogatis

Rarely has it been so tempting to write off a follow-up. "Loser" had one-hit-wonder written all over it; the fake Dylanisms on the rest of Mellow Gold reeked of poetic pretension, and Mr. Hansen's live shows were marred by those bogus 20-minute acoustic blues interludes that made me fantasize about Ray and Glover kicking his blond Boho ass and showing him how it's really done. Then there was the hype behind the new one: Odelay was hailed as album of the year by SPIN, Request, and Rolling Stone, and you can pretty much bet that the big-deal Village Voice "Pazz and Jop" poll will follow suit. Hell, rock critics love Beck so much, The New York Times's Neil Strauss even got up on stage to break dance with him (and if that isn't enough to make you lose your lunch, I don't know what is).

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