Artists of the Year

 

Jon Dolan is music editor of City Pages.

 

NICK HORNBY

by Hans Eisenbeis

By now a book that uses the suicide of Kurt Cobain as a touchstone might seem hopelessly banal. But in his second novel, published last summer, Nick Hornby managed to do it without seeming either ingratiating or necrophilic. The result was About a Boy, a subtle work that manages to be hilarious despite the Nirvana subtext.

A British writer, Hornby first came to notice in this country for his debut novel, High Fidelity, a more-or-less autobiographical account of a thirtysomething London slacker who sees the world through the filter of his record collection. In a previous nonfiction title, Fever Pitch, Hornby trained the same kind of adolescent-male obsessiveness on the culture of British football. (That book has been turned into a film and released in Britain.)

In About a Boy, Hornby makes some refinements to another comically introspective male character, introducing him to the vagaries of adulthood deferred. Will, whose ability to thwart himself is impressive, decides his best bet in romance is to date single mothers. He puts that theory into practice by constructing a series of comic ruses--including the invention of an imaginary wife and son that credential him for membership in a parent support group loaded with hot young mothers. Instead of finding romance, though, Will finds Marcus, a freakish teenager, and the two form an unusual and unpredictable bond. Best of all, Hornby uses the common currency of one-dimensional icons like Cobain as a foil for the messy but genuine interaction of a mannish boy and a boyish man.

 

Hans Eisenbeis is the editor and producer ofRequest Magazine Online.

 

MICHAEL BAY

by Wendell Andersson

In a year when not one but two mega-event asteroid movies were released (what are the odds?!), Michael Bay, helming the $100-million-plus epic Armageddon, has arrived as the pre-eminent filmmaker of the short-attention-span generation. While I don't contend that Michael Bay is the sole offender in Hollywood's never-ending obsession to erase the lines between art and commerce, no filmmaker embodies the underbelly of Hollywood marketing more, uh, confidently than Bay.

Swinging his cinematic cock like a Louisville slugger, Bay took a softball pitch and knocked it into the cheap seats. Employing an arsenal of dewy, slo-mo hair flips and surround-sound detonations, Bay's film captured the imagination of America--for about a minute. Hollywood marketeers, momentarily puzzled by Godzilla's failure to perform despite all-but-ordering audiences into theaters at gunpoint, were relieved when Bay's film pulled in a healthy $200 mil domestic. All over L.A., relieved hucksters were heard to sigh, "and we didn't learn a thing."

It's no surprise, then, that Bay, the thinking man's Renny Harlin, got his start directing TV commercials. Indeed, this modern maestro of the 30-second spot is the first megastar in a coming tidal wave of '90s ad-men-turned-auteurs. Call him a pioneer of sorts: At a time when studio films are often nothing more than cross-marketing vehicles for toy manufacturers or record companies, Bay offers a glimpse into the apocalyptic cinema of the future. Now--let's kick some ass!

 

Wendell Andersson is the writer-director ofWith or Without You.

 

HOLE

by Jane Dark

It's not a sellout if nobody buys it. Celebrity Skin went pffft for a bunch of reasons, most obviously because folks needed to enshrine the importance of the old shit by barring the temple doors. And every new ear was stuffed with spectacle; Courtney herself is so coercive about being a culture star that of course the sanest response is resistance. What a tragedy.

Moreover, media stars are now required to do the work of folk heroes: The mythopoetic American unconscious needed Courtney to go down Orpheus-style with all the roses weeping, and bring beautiful Eurydice back to us. But she failed to play the resurrector. Instead she just made a record: the only one I spun more each month than the last and felt obsessive about and wanted to play for my friends over the phone when I was lost in the rain in Juarez and negativity wouldn't pull me through--a Django's handful of clinkers leaving a majestic, lovelorn, redemptive half hour. Listen, I'm sooo glad Lucinda's back, but I played Skin, like, 10 times more often. Beyond the big sound, I loved the way it banged its head against the Big Topics as if that were still possible, in an era when emotional minimalism is the only tender of sincerity we recognize.

The record is louder than Love: Whoever promised "in your endless summer night, I'll be on the other side" convinced me utterly--not the "me" who's Jane Dark writing this and feeling defensive, but the one who listened over and over. I was holding my head, I was pressing the 'phones into my ears to get it louder....

 

Jane Dark is a San Francisco-based writer.

 

MONICA LEWINSKY

by Leslie Dunlap

After all the ink that's been spilled on the First Intern's dress, hair, voice, motives, character, job performance, weight gain, sexual history, and future prospects, what's left to say?

According to assorted pundits, the "employee of the year" is: a pushy "dehumanized receptacle"; a needy material girl; a hearts-and-smiley-faces gift-bearing stalker; a shy thong-flasher; a twentysomething JonBenet Ramsey; a "retro would-be sexpot"; a fat "slattern"; a "classy Brentwood version of Paula Jones"; and a "professional virgin." And so forth, ad nauseam. Some commentators, acknowledging that one woman can't possibly embody all of the above, joke about Monica the media creation: "You can have her any way you want her and she's always a willing accomplice"; she "has become little more than a walking, talking blow-up doll" or "a post-Diana all-purpose feminine message board."

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