Artists Of The Year

We list the best of the best of 1997.

M.F.K. FISHER
by Will Hermes

Artists are like lovers: They serve us life's passions on a platter--sometimes silver, sometimes not. This year, the essays collected in The Art of Eating by the late M.F.K. Fisher have been constant companions and a reliable source of nourishment and titillation. The volume collects five books written between 1937 and 1949: the wittily historical Serve It Forth, the bivalve rhapsody Consider the Oyster, the life-during-wartime How To Cook a Wolf, the playful The Alphabet of Gourmets, and the preciously autobiographical The Gastronomical Me. Writing about food and friendship, food and lust, food and love, and food and virtually every brand of human froth and folly, she posits a life best enjoyed in serious bites. Gastronomy is just the lens: As the critic Clifton Fadiman puts it in his introduction, "Her subject is hunger."

Mary Frances Fisher moved about a lot in her day and, like most great writers, cultivated something of a loner's aspect. So she understood how deeply food can create a sense of home when you're displaced--a state which, as late-20th-century Americans, seems to be part of our birthright. As I spent the latter part of this year adapting to (yet) another town and (yet) another life, Fisher's tales and recipes helped me survive without the Modern Cafe's exquisite pot roast and those lunatic double-dose cinnamon buns from Isle's Bun & Coffee on Hennepin and 28th (not to mention those good folks I shared them with).

In a prose style so meticulously elegant that Hemingway might have modified his strategies had he spent enough time in its company, Fisher's writing chides me out of the house and away from the sad old spaghetti pot, toward cramped taquerias serving plantain burritos, macrobiotic dinner parties hosted by Silicon Valley Rastas, and the strange community stirring among those sharing the pleasures of the table. It's a reason to say grace.

Will Hermes is a Bay Area writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

ALIENS
by Simon Peter Groebner

"When the spaceships come down from the sky/Who will stand by your side?" sang John Kimbrough of Walt Mink in 1997; for me, it was the most romantic lyric of the year. I mean, who indeed will be there when the sky finally falls? I don't know, myself, but I did hear of 39 en-Raptured, Nike-sportin' Californians who decided to force an answer. I know, you're thinking: alien-artists? Well, yeah. The Pleiadians, Sirians, or whatever the hell they are chose '97 to force a Roswell-50th-anniversary-gala stranglehold upon the American popcult. They had supporting roles in smash summer epics like Men In Black and Contact and landed the cover of Time. Extraterrestrial bands like Supernova and Man, or Astro-man and alien separatists Mog Stunt Team joined the battle on the punk-rock front. And did you see the year's record-breaking crop circles? Tetrahedrons! Double helixes! Encore! Encore!

Alien censorship scourged through politics this year: A Phoenix City Council member faced a recall election because she dared investigate a UFO laser light show witnessed by thousands in March. (The coup failed.) And, like all great artists, ETs pissed the hell out of fundamentalists. Revelation-spouting televangelist Jack Van Impe released the $19.95 video Extraterrestrials: Global Invasion Approaching, the best anti-culture treatise since 1989's The Dangers of Rock Music. Radio host Bob Larson wrote the definitive UFOs and the Alien Agenda, which railed against "the End Times agenda of these evil aliens!" with a totally straight face. In July, Pat Robertson implied that all UFO believers should be stoned to death. Sometimes you find validation in ironic places.

As for me, I couldn't even tell you if I believe. But in the year when the big-eyed, gray alien head became the smiley-face icon of the '90s, and subsequently hit merchandising pay dirt at Urban Outfitters, it was impossible to deny that something of a foreboding magnitude is happening to us. Aliens are no longer a '50s metaphor for the Reds--they're a religion. And in the midst of this great crisis of faith, it beats me how "Is Mulder Dead?" failed to become the "Who Shot J.R.?" for the millennium.

Simon Peter Groebner is an associate editor atFate magazine and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

THE SPICE GIRLS
by Debbie Stoller

Yeah, yeah, I know: Applying the term "artist" to those five little British tarts is stretching the word about as far as the average Spice Girl's tube top. And sure, by this time next year each of them will be known only as Old Spice. Still, say what you want about their "music" (myself, I prefer to Just Say No), but those platform-tottering trollops were possibly the most influential pop-culture phenomenon of the year.

The Spice Girls danced onto the scene parading a new brand of feminism--one they called Girl Power. And it does seem, on the surface, that the Spice Girls have as much to do with Gloria Steinem as Vanilla Ice does to Malcolm X (although Sexy Spice does sport those fetching, Gloria-like blond streaks in the front). But ask any little girl worth her sparkly blue nail polish what she thinks "girl power" is and she'll give you an answer that'll knock your old-school Birkenstocks right off. "It means girls are as good as boys, and sometimes better" and "It means that no matter what happens, you'll always have your girlfriends to turn to" are a couple of the answers I got from some randomly selected 10- and 11-year-olds, which led me to concede that those hateful little harpies have somehow managed to accomplish what an entire year of Take Your Daughter To Work Days never could have: getting little girls to embrace feminism like it was a well-worn Sleep-N-Snore Ernie.

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