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.

Benjamin Gibbard sings in the duo Postal Service (whose debut is Give Up) and the band Death Cab for Cutie (whose most recent album is Transatlanticism). He lives in Seattle.

 

Jayson Blair
BY JON DOLAN

I lie all the time. Often I do it to ingratiate myself to those in power. In a world of little Hitlers, we have to play the little Paul de Man now and again. The New York Times' bio-terror maven Judith Miller gets kissy with Ahmad Chalabi during the Iraq jump-off, peppers her WMD stories with John le Carré extras, and drops her Pulitzer-propped patookis on panels officiated by the Israeli government. The defenders of objectivism sniff, file their Slate columns, and it's good night, Gracie. Discourse as disco nap. Such an act of enervation was a smidge messier for the hammy hordes of J-School Platonists who wanted to panfry Jayson Blair, the Times cub who took advantage of seven circles of clock-watching editors and filed his D.C. sniper stories from a bar stool in Brooklyn.

Politics attempts to slip through history's hammerlock by turning fantasy into power. Journalism reads tomorrow's tea leaves as soft science. Blair wasn't much on fantasy, refusing to fun up his assignment with even the dimmest intimation of, say, Maoist terror cells or roller-skating polar bears. More evil, less banality please; when the copycats come, pray they're James Ellroy fans. He did, however, have the power thing locked. The Paper of Record may have lowered the moral limbo stick pretty far by scapegoating a black reporter's transgressions on its own affirmative action policies, but Blair took home the Steve Prefontaine Award for Transcended Expectations when he appropriated the grapes to title his tell-all book Burning Down My Master's House. I would have preferred Situationist Dialectics for Gray Ladies--Recognize My Gangsta, but I can in no way front on the opening line: "Far from a Harvard student. Just had the balls to do it. And no, I'm not through with it. In fact I'm just previewin' it." Ninety-nine problems and a bitch ain't one.

Jon Dolan is senior associate editor at Spin.

 

Dan Hawkins
BY CHUCK KLOSTERMAN

It is my assumption that, upon seeing the name Dan Hawkins above, your initial reaction was one of mild befuddlement. I assume this because, upon my decision to write Dan Hawkins in the space above, I was unsure what his name actually was. I could not remember his first name or his last name. Now, this admission might prompt some critics to question the validity of my selection; however, these critics would be missing the point. And "missing the point" is one thing Dan Hawkins absolutely does not do. Ever.

Hawkins is best known as "the other guy" in the Darkness. His older brother Justin is the frontman, the star, and (as far as I can tell) the driving force behind the band's aesthetic, which is a combination of Queen, Sweet, and possibly the unreleased material from Mötley Crüe's Girls, Girls, Girls (specifically the power ballad "Rodeo"). This being the case, one might think I would want to honor Justin Hawkins. But here is why I will not: Justin wants to be funny. Everything he does is to be understood as artistic detachment; though we can appreciate the Darkness as a band that produces arena rock, J-Hawk always demands that we also see his work as commentary on arena rock. Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins is merely playing guitar. But he is playing for real. When I saw the Darkness perform live, the woman I was with turned to me and said, "This band is going to have a problem. The singer wants to be a caricature of David Lee Roth, but that guitar dude actually wants to be Eddie Van Halen."

I love the Darkness's album, Permission to Land, but I don't love it sardonically. I just love it. And I don't need artists to tell me what is (and isn't) clever. I can make that distinction on my own. What I need are guys like Dan Hawkins: people who provide relentless sincerity within somebody else's irony.

Chuck Klosterman's most recent book is Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. He lives in Manhattan.

 

Sigmund Freud
BY ALISON BECHDEL

I know, I know: Freud doesn't need any publicity. But he's the creative person who affected me most this year. I neglected him in my lesbian-feminist youth, given his ur-sexist reputation. But in middle age, reluctant to throw out any potentially progressive babies with the patriarchal bathwater, I have taken another look. Who knew the guy was a frickin' genius?

I'd include the perfect illustrative quote here, perhaps something from The Interpretation of Dreams, but I've only got A.A. Brill's 1938 Modern Library translation, a pedantic, jargonized obfuscation of the supposedly lucid and accessible German--even its pithiest passage would put you into a dreamless coma right now. Fortunately for us all, Penguin Classics began issuing a series of new translations this year, edited by the provocatively weird British writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.

Phillips defends his decision to use introductory essays by non-shrinks and to drop the scholarly footnotes and consistent terminology of earlier translations. In an interview with Daphne Merkin in the New York Times Magazine, he said, "Freud is not a sacred text. I never thought psychoanalysis had anything to do with science. It has been servile in its wish to meet scientific criteria to legitimize him. I want people to read Freud as you would any great novelist."

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