Artists of the Year

Iraq. SARS. Jay Leno, Still on television practically every night. Yeah, 2003 was about as much fun as a social disease.

Rob Nelson is film editor at City Pages.

 

Michael Yonkers
BY PETER S. SCHOLTES

Aaron Horkey

In my favorite movie of the year, a mild-mannered scientist describes his recent and temporary transformation into a giant green monster as "a dream."

"About what?" his girlfriend asks.

"Rage...power...and freedom," he says, remembering each sensation.

In rock 'n' roll, I like to think of Michael Yonkers as the Hulk that Buddy Holly would have become, an optimistic warble under the bad moon of Vietnam, a pop natural going to work on his instruments with a saw and a razor blade. Yonkers is a sentimental favorite among aficionados, and not only because he contends with the physical pain of a catastrophic back injury to perform even brief sets at Treehouse Records or the Bowery Ballroom. From Yonkers's recent comeback, local sonic tinkerers as disparate as Dosh and Terry Eason can take heart in the idea that if they make a lo-fi masterpiece, it may be discovered in 35 years.

But 1968's Microminiature Love transcends its story, having gone unreleased until De Stijl issued it on vinyl in 2002. (Sub Pop put out a CD version this year.) In its more portable form, it became a walking-around soundtrack for a year when I lost faith in any political response to the war, when my antimilitarism became about as inarticulate as one of those wordless 20-minute Godspeed You! Black Emperor dirges--or the Hulk bending the barrel of a tank back in on itself. The young Yonkers had an equally impressionistic sense of dread about a war I'm much less ambivalent about: Preceding Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" by a year and Creedence Clearwater's "Run Through the Jungle" by two, "Boy in the Sandbox" is even more harrowing. And I could hear the local echo of its minor-key drone-rock in everything from Party of One's "Baghdad Boogie" to Black-Eyed Snakes' "Rise Up!"

In concert, Yonkers's voice is still scared and strangely heroic. He sings, against evidence to the contrary, and because sometimes the evidence is in your gut, "I seem so all alone! I seem so all alone!" He sings for me.

Peter S. Scholtes is a staff writer at City Pages.

 

The Survivors
BY KATE SULLIVAN

Maybe it's because of Elliott Smith, or maybe it's the recently published Kurt Cobain journals, but this year, my artistic hero is every songwriter who wanted to end it in 2003--and didn't. Staying alive is not a passive act, and it is not necessarily default mode for humans: It is a choice. And though artists who commit suicide get lots of attention after the fact, self-destructive people who manage to stay alive don't get commensurate credit for their own terribly difficult choice.

It's impossible, of course, to know who exactly should be getting credit. I mean, any music fan wonders from time to time about the sanity and safety of her songwriting heroes, but fans are rarely aware, in the moment, when an artist is struggling. All they can do is be thankful certain souls are still among us, despite the emotional and physical battles they describe in their songs. Those songs don't just help songwriters stay alive--they also help listeners.

In that sense, I want to thank Evan Dando for staying alive this year. I saw him play at a tiny guitar shop in L.A. about eight months ago, and it was one of the messiest, rawest, most troubling and ultimately moving shows I've ever seen. He forgot lyrics--he even forgot the chord for his guitar--but once he got comfortable, he sang with a voice so full, sweet, and true, he had to step away from the mic and sing at the back wall just to diffuse the sound.

Guided By Voices also gave the concert of a career at First Ave. a couple of months back--and if anyone can make sloppy, drunken survival seem heroic, it's them. As the years go on, their refusal to disappear, or to stop partying like the rock stars they'll never be, has become an artistic statement in itself, and a genuine inspiration to lovers of poetic, Midwestern faux Brit-rock.

Anti-suicide songs almost always suck, because they're patronizing, and removed from the moment of darkness itself. So I don't want to offer any blithe choose life! slogans here--only to say to all those who are still alive (and for me, that would also include songwriting soldiers Jack White, Rivers Cuomo, and some personal friends): Thank you. I thank you as a music lover first--and, presumptuously, on behalf of the people around you. I don't know why any individual chooses to die, but maybe the only real reason people stay alive is for each other. It seems like such a tenuous thread to hold, but to hold it means something inestimable to the loved ones--and fans--hanging onto the other end.

Kate Sullivan is a Los Angeles-based writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Laurent Bouzereau
BY JIM RIDLEY

As harmful as the DVD may prove to old-school cinephilia (i.e., the savoring of projected celluloid in shrine-like revival houses), it's creating a hearty new hybrid of movie geek: between-the-coasts teens who use commentaries, supplements, and Easter eggs as their own underground, afford

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