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.

Let's get the facts out of the way first. On November 2 of next year, George Walker Bush is going to win reelection in a mudslide. By the end of his second term in 2008, mortgage interest rates will be above 8.5 percent and inflation will be above 5 percent--or growth will be below 2 percent and deflation will be barking at the door. (If you've got a problem with a little wiggle room in your macroeconomic forecasts, stop picking up the free paper and subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.)

Four years from now, abortion will be legally prohibited in every state that fought on the losing side of the Civil War, plus all the states where livestock and poultry outnumber humans. The pension system will be speeding toward a $50 or $100 billion government bailout and social security will be headed in the direction of private retirement accounts. There will be no recourse to sue doctors and corporations for major punitive damages in American courts. The elimination of bankruptcy protection will leave many Americans as lifelong debtors. Everyone is going to be really, really fat. Sea levels will start to submerge the islands of the South Pacific and new mercury emissions will send songbirds plummeting from the skies and shit is going to seem pretty apocalyptic for anyone who doesn't look at the apocalypse as a positive religious development.

Then Jeb Bush will move into the White House.

It feels good to say all that, doesn't it? Yeah, in a political sense, 2003 was about as much fun as tongue-kissing a car battery. But how much worse can it get? Well, you've seen my prediction. And I challenge anyone who doesn't believe that Jesus controls the weather or that Ayn Rand is a talented novelist to offer up something more hopeful.

So if the sky really is falling, what should we make of the gentleman I saw shuffling through the aisles of a movie theater a few months back, handing out folded-up flyers for a production of The Madwoman of Chaillot? Who would bother forming a new community troupe, the Northeast Actors' Theatre, while Minnesota's civic culture is turning into an arctic Indiana? And who would decide to donate all proceeds from those amateur performances to the cash-starved city library system?

Inexplicable, right? But not an isolated incident. A week or two later, I was attending a lecture at the Jewish Community Center titled "The Great Museum Cafeterias of the Western World" when I noticed a gaggle of adults streaming into a bare auditorium, lugging instrument cases behind them. Yes, on a Wednesday night, a roomful of these folks was gathering to rehearse in an orchestra of unknown patronage and obvious unprofitability. What were they doing there? Who was going to listen to them? Why were they bothering?

I'm not going to tell you that life is worth living or that the world's not going to hell. Lying will get us nowhere. But apparently some people have looked at the available evidence and reached a different conclusion. And I've got to confess that it's strangely stirring to witness people coming together to create something for no material gain and scant public notice.

On the subject of publicity: Not all the folks celebrated in our annual artists of the year issue are toiling in total obscurity. As long as talk-show hosts have couches, Bill Murray will be invited to sit on them. If Liz Phair just moves that guitar strategically placed between her legs on her, um, intimate, album cover, she's bound to be noticed by the nation's Maxim subscribers. And Kevin Garnett has been said to bring home a respectable paycheck. We're happy nonetheless that our contributors have singled out these folks--and a couple of dozen others--for some laudatory words in our pages. Closer to home, it's not hard to imagine the tributes to local artists that lead off this issue ending up on some proud mother's refrigerator. It's the least we can do.

Oh, and by the way: The St. Paul Jewish Community Center Orchestra performs works by Bach, Brahms, Rossini, and orchestra member Michael Shulock on March 3. Go ahead and give them your support: We'll need someone to stick around and fiddle while Rome burns. --Michael Tortorello

 

James Austin Williams
BY DYLAN HICKS

Let's say a tourist comes to Minnesota to visit Como Zoo, Cuzzy's, Knollwood Mall, the childhood home of Nick Coleman, or another of our major attractions. And let's further imagine that this tourist doesn't speak English--knows only German or some other obscure foreign language. But being a fan of the theater, she wants to check out a play anyway. Well, if such a person were to stumble upon something starring James A. Williams, I'd say there's a good chance that she'd understand everything she really needed to understand.

Because Williams has what a critic is sometimes forced to call "presence," that mix of intelligence, physiognomy, elocution, charisma, and 11 other things the best actors marshal to hold our attention. For starters, his is a sonorous, built-for-tragedy voice--loud and clear but with a slight rasp that contributes to his air of hard-won wisdom. It's the kind of voice that could quiet a junior high pep rally, the kind that comes partly from training and partly from genetic fortune. One might expect an imposing set of pipes from Williams, because he's a big, big man--and threatening when he needs to be. As an imprisoned, oddly statesmanlike serial killer in Pillsbury House Theatre's staging of Stephen Adly Guirgis's Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, he towered over the sinister corrections officer played by Emil Herrera. Every time Williams showed his character resisting the urge to clobber the taunting jailer, his repression was as powerful as a blow to the solar plexus.

Williams was similarly striking in Penumbra Theatre's Two Trains Running, where he played Memphis Lee, an often slighted, mad-at-the-world diner owner with a business on its last legs. Toward the play's end, Memphis enjoys a rare victory, and Williams let fly with his marvelous laugh--a drawn-out guffaw that tends to follow him from stage to stage. Memphis's victory became a shared one, a little universal moment, and a bit more evidence that James Williams is the Esperanto of Twin Cities actors.

Dylan Hicks is theater critic for City Pages.

 

Alison McGhee
BY PETER RITTER

If you knew then what you know now, would you still choose to have lived your life? That's the question that hangs over Was It Beautiful?, the third novel from Minneapolis writer Alison McGhee. In terms of hard lessons, the book's protagonist William T. makes Job look like a whiny piker. His son is dead. His wife, who blames him for it, has moved out. He has lost his job, and is drifting through late middle age in a fog of regret. Even his ancient, diabetic cat has gone missing. Who wouldn't contemplate life's injustice?

Like McGhee's previous two novels, Rainlight and Shadow Baby, Was It Beautiful? is set in the snow-bound Adirondacks hamlet of Sterns, a richly imagined fictional translation of the author's childhood home. The three books, in fact, constitute a loosely connected trilogy, each a variation on a single theme--loss. Yet sad as the stories are--and Was It Beautiful? is a terribly sad novel--there's nothing maudlin or faked in McGhee's writing. Funny and elegiac by turns, she evokes Sterns as a place of both stifling smallness and communal compassion.

And despite the miasma of grief that hangs over Sterns in Was It Beautiful?, McGhee chooses to end her triptych with an image of renewal, a snowstorm, and an embrace that promise William T. at least temporary respite from the slings and arrows of fortune. In McGhee's bighearted fiction, even this latter-day Job eventually realizes that the answer to that first question is, emphatically and always, yes.

Peter Ritter is a staff writer at City Pages.

 

Brother Ali
BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL

The charts say that this year's rap game was dominated by one MC who considers Kevlar haute couture and another who has an advanced Prince complex. But search from St. Paul to Stankonia and you won't find anyone as fresh and compelling as Brother Ali.

Known to the IRS by his given surname, Newman, this Madison-born, Michigan-bred Twin Towns transplant had a banner campaign. He dropped his first CD, Shadows on the Sun, on Rhymesayers. He clocked his first full year of hard touring. And he notched his first splashy cameo on Atmosphere's single "Cats Van Bags." But more than anything else, Ali spent '03 smashing preconceptions.

See, in a world obsessed with its reflection, Brother Ali is built like a major household appliance. And in a society fixated on phenotype, his outsider status transcends race: Yeah, he's an albino--sun-shy, squinty-eyed, and pink as a carnation. He's also a devout Muslim. As a friend noted recently, "Elijah Muhammad never imagined this."

Then there's his position in the indie-rap underground. This roost is ruled by diarists and sci-fi freaks, but Ali staked his claim with old-school skills: as a KRS-like exponent of faith as a force for empowerment, and as a swaggering battle champ whose verbal body count includes some amusingly unconventional targets (like poetry-spouting groupies) among the standard-issue shady promoters and shoddy peers. (As Ali puts it on "When the Beat Comes In": "There's eight million ways to stretch words around beats/And six million rappers are sharing the same three.")

Spitfire wit aside, though, it's in his guise as the self-styled "modern urban Norman Rockwell" that Ali truly shines. On standout tracks like "Picket Fence," "Forest Whitiker," "Dorian," and the new "God's Rainwater," he grapples with growing up, getting by, and raising a family. All while working a job that takes him on the road for six weeks at a time and braving a neighborhood where "we don't have bar mitzvahs/we become men the first time our father hits us." Drawn from life, Ali's portrayals are penetrating, unsentimental--and often, as you might expect, unexpected.

Anders Smith Lindall is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Uri Sands & Toni Pierce-Sands
BY CAROLINE PALMER

Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands share the sort of communication familiar to life partners who are also creative co-conspirators. In a room filled with dancers, Uri will demonstrate a movement. And then his muse, Toni, will act as his interpreter, translating his intent with a kinetic language culled from years of, well, just knowing what he means.

Considered separately, the athletic Uri and lithe Toni are formidable and accomplished dance artists. Their careers, after all, were forged with the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Together they complement each other's drive to succeed, but also--one expects, for the sake of a healthy relationship--they laugh quite readily at their intensity, rolling eyes and making jokes.

In June Sands and Pierce-Sands staged a short but impressive run of SPACE-T.U.-EMBRACE at the University of Minnesota's Barbara Barker Center for Dance (the show will be remounted in June 2004). Uri choreographed the program while Toni served as rehearsal director and performer. The show skillfully combined elements of modern dance, classical ballet, jazz, and hip hop--plus West African and Indian forms--with a mixture of potent solos, duets, and group works. Several top local dancers formed the pickup company while Uri (who splits his time between the Twin Cities and North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte) prowled the stage to a Radiohead tune. Toni found a kindred spirit in Aparna Ramaswamy during an elegant duet showcasing the unexpected connections between modern and Bharatanatyam dance forms.

The evening was at its most energetic, however, in the large-scale efforts, including "Spirit: Lady," an ode to South Africa set to the uplifting vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. More than a dozen dancers swept through the space in a celebration that threatened to explode out of the modest black box theater onto Riverside Avenue. The piece represented that most elusive of experiences for this sometimes jaded dancegoer: a rare moment of shared transcendence when the movement was all that really mattered.

Caroline Palmer is an attorney with the Minnesota AIDS Project and dance critic for City Pages.

 

Alec Soth
BY MICHAEL FALLON

Two pictures give a good idea of what Minneapolis photographer Alec Soth is all about. The first, called "Cemetery, Fountain City, WI", is a frigid, blue-and-white winter landscape. A steep and hairy hill rises in the background behind a convenience store gas-pump awning. The awning's eerie lights glow crystalline white and draw our attention away from the beast-like hill. The cemetery appears almost as an afterthought, three-quarters of the way down the hill beneath dark scraggly trees. With his large 8" x 10" camera, Soth is a patient vulture, coaxing the perfect light and carefully composing the elements of the image to bring strange and hesitant life to this otherwise unremarkable scene.

The second photo, "Kym, Polish Palace, Minneapolis, MN," is nearly the opposite of that outdoor scene. It is a quiet bar portrait of a solitary woman in a red and pink setting. She sits in a red vinyl bar booth. The walls glow red from the reflection off the vinyl. Cutout red and pink Valentine's Day hearts are pasted on the wall over her shoulder. Even the two drinks in front of the woman fit the theme--one is red, one pink. You just know nothing is here by accident.

In images like these, the 33-year-old Soth tells a story in the manner of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who is known for manipulating every aspect of his films. Soth works a similar magic with the incidental by taking care to control it--either through his mastery of light and composition, or by physical means. His latest series of works, called Sleeping by the Mississippi, has been heralded far and wide this past year for the visual poetry it finds at spots along the titular river from Minnesota to Louisiana. So successful has been Soth that last year alone he won the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography, mounted a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, received a book contract from Steidl, won acceptance to the Whitney Biennial, and scored a New York solo show at the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. At least there's one thing to look forward to in 2004: more happy accidents from Soth.

Michael Fallon is a St. Paul-based visual arts writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Mark Wojahn
BY LYDIA HOWELL

Traveling by bus and car and train from New York to Los Angeles, filmmaker Mark Wojahn discovered the eclectic heart beating steadily against the din of Dittoheads. His film What America Needs: From Sea to Shining Sea is a road movie and a reality check, a documentary that boldly contradicts the pervasive depiction of Americans as wealthy celebrities, dysfunctional welfare recipients, and jingoistic warmongers.

What we have in America is what we have in America: cabbies, cooks, students, artists, immigrants, punks, mall-shoppers, gay Halloween celebrants, tourists in D.C. and at Ground Zero, and homeless people all around. There are plenty of women here, and people of color--a welcome antidote to nightly news coverage of middle-aged white men magically anointed to speak for everyone. Wojahn asked these folks, "What does America need?" and found some surprising answers, from the silly to the sublime. Of the 500 people he interviewed in rural towns, suburbs, and cities, only four claimed to be in favor of war in Iraq. There's truth in those numbers, though we won't be seeing it on CNN anytime soon.

With What America Needs, Wojahn seizes America from the corporate culture, with its hucksters and pundits, and reveals us to ourselves. Propelled by an exhilarating sense of forward momentum, but anchored by a provocative thoughtfulness, his filmmaking is infused with the same democratic spirit exemplified by resolutely American artists from Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg to Marge Piercy and Jimi Hendrix. Like them, Wojahn reconnects us to the transcendent possibilities of this nation's great experiment. His film left me feeling more damn hopeful than I've felt in a long time.

Lydia Howell is a Twin Cities-based poet and journalist whose radio show Catalyst airs weekly on KFAI.

 

Jeffrey Wright
BY AMY TAUBIN

He enters in a shower of stardust, an orange feather boa tossed around his bull-like neck. In the HBO production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols, Jeffrey Wright plays Belize, the butch-queen earth-angel who works as an AIDS nurse, employing caustic wit and empathy to inspire his patients to rise to the occasion of their death. He has a similarly inspirational effect on his fellow actors. The three stars of the piece--Al Pacino, Justin Kirk, and Ben Shenkman--are strong throughout, but they do their finest work in their scenes with Wright. Indeed, anyone wanting to understand what great acting is has only to look at the scene in the diner between Wright and Shenkman toward the end of Part One.

Wright was raised by his mother and his aunt in what he describes as a working-middle-class black family in D.C. He majored in political science at Amherst, where his classmates, he says, were being trained as future masters of the universe. His experience of class and racial difference proved crucial to his development as an actor. Where most actors define their characters though the psychology of the individual, Wright's building blocks are socioeconomic and political. He conceives his characters in terms of power--the ways they accrue and deploy their own power and defend themselves against the power of others.

Among the characters to whom he has given body and soul: the young Martin Luther King Jr. in the HBO movie Boycott (probably his most brilliant performance); the fragile, self-destructive painter in the biopic Basquiat; the predatory Dominican drug dealer in Shaft; and the former card sharp in Suzan-Lori Parks's play Topdog/Underdog. Like Belize, these characters are visionaries, all with a tragic sense of how we live in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor at Film Comment.

 

Liz Phair
BY KEITH HARRIS

In 2003 "older women" became genuine fetish objects. For frisky frat-packers like Ashton Kutcher, a more mature lady was as essential (and as media-mocked) an accessory as a trucker hat--why, most of the women Justin Timberlake dated were old enough to have been his camp counselors. Fountains of Wayne's video for "Stacy's Mom" cast Rachel Hunter as the imposing tower of flesh that haunts every straight boy's wet nightmares. And before P4ris Hi1t0n cornered the spam market, there were more MILFs propositioning my webmail than Asian schoolgirls and widows of deposed Congolese warlords put together. (Now there's an idea for a porn site.)

Note please that "older women" here refers to just about anyone old enough to rent a car or check the spelling on her IMs. And that as with most furtive fetishes, lust and disgust often comingle. Those dinks who looked up from their latest jerk-off session on Suicidegirls.com just long enough to whine about how foolish Liz Phair looked on her latest album cover, tarting it up like an understudy for Freaky Friday, proved the 36-year-old provocateur's point--the insistence on aging gracefully is the patriarchy's last best trick. The reaction it stirred isn't what made Liz Phair so very necessary--that'd be the hooks, some indeed bent into shape by that Avrilutionary production hivemind the Matrix, all catchier than any Broken Social Scene fan has any business denying. But Phair suggested that an intelligent adult woman has the right to act dumb when she wants, to fuck pretty little boys who ain't too bright, and to shift gears when her career feels like a rut.

In short, she demanded a woman's right to have a midlife crisis in public, and in doing so made today's guyvillains as defensive as their punk-puritan forebears had been a decade back. They'll never know what they're missing.

Keith Harris is editor-in-chief of Red Flag Media music publications in Philadelphia.

 

Deborah Keenan
BY KATHERINE LANPHER

True story: I was walking with poet Deborah Keenan one day on a well traveled avenue in St. Paul when a van pulled up beside us and a young man clambered out with a bouquet and handed the flowers to Deborah. She thanked him graciously and kept walking. He was a student of hers. That's the kind of devotion she attracts as a teacher.

This March, I went to the reading for her fifth collection of poetry, Good Heart, published by Milkweed Press. The auditorium held 500 people, but it wasn't big enough for everyone who came and there was a slight delay while they set up extra chairs on the stage. That's the kind of devotion she attracts as a poet and reader.

Deborah Keenan is generous in word and deed, pulling images from the everyday life around us. Two little girls form an imaginary country under a lilac bush, and the poem "Emerald" asks:

Why do girls with powerful
Tender hearts know to leave
Their homes, their parkways
and avenues and streets and
Swear allegiance to this new,
Green and growing government?

The poem "Garlic/Trees/Incest" tells us about the commonality of three nouns across all cultures:

Two nouns for protection, and one noun
That tree and garlic cannot guard, cannot cure
One noun not strong enough to stop
The meaning of itself from happening
In every culture of our world.

And there's humor. "When Men Poets You Admire and Respect Can Only Answer Sappho When Asked in Public Are There Any Women Poets You Admire" so delighted writer Erica Jong--who was touring for her novel based on the life of Sappho--that she snapped up my copy on the spot when I showed it to her. The rest of you, go out and buy your own copy. It'll do your heart good.

Katherine Lanpher is the host of Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio.

 

Bill Murray
BY EMILY CONDON

In a year when Hollywood contrivance became indistinguishable from "real" life (Arnold kicks Kristanna Loken's ass in T3, molests women, is elected governor of California), one sought any shred of evidence to suggest that movie stars can still tell us something important. While prominent "actors" rapidly devolve into synthetic freaks (one need only look at Mike Myers on the poster for The Cat in the Hat to shudder at the very idea of going to the movies), Bill Murray turned in a performance that reminded us, simply and intensely, what it means to be human.

Murray aired the secret of his astonishing ability in 1998's Rushmore and has since made bold, intelligent choices. In Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, due this spring, he fervently gulps a cup of joe while members of the Wu-Tang Clan discuss clean living. But it is as aging star Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation that the depth of Murray's talent emerges.

When Humphrey Bogart slumped over a cocktail and muttered, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world..." we knew that, even in our loneliest hour, Bogie understood. His sentimental cynicism made us realize that everyone feels brash and scared, indifferent and lonely.

And so it is with Murray. While posing for a group photo, Bob watches the elevator close in front of his departing companion Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson). Lost in her fleeting form, he forgets to look at the camera. After each snap, he turns to offer a halfhearted yet poignant smile. He's in pain, but he still tries to fulfill this silly obligation. His drooping eyes and weary jowls reveal that Murray, too, understands the crushing, profound power of connection within a sea of banality.

One night, after stumbling around Tokyo, tired, drunk, and exhilarated, Bob, Charlotte, and a loose group of friends sing karaoke. Wearing a ridiculous getup, absurdly out of place, yet comfortable in his own pockmarked skin, Bob reveals his sadness and love of life. Defeated and triumphant, he croons, "More than this/There is nothing..." And that is more than enough.

Emily Condon is program director at Minnesota Film Arts.

 

Kevin Garnett
BY BRITT ROBSON

Watching Kevin Garnett play basketball is like hearing Sonny Rollins blow a calypso on his tenor sax. His agility is uncanny, his gusto profound, his passions palpable and contagious. The most complete performance artists keep the yin and yang of their creative process in balance, honing their God-given talent with both unwavering discipline and unfettered imagination, coiling themselves for the moments when they can ignite in a blaze of improvisation. KG is the most complete athletic artist in team sports today. Fred Hoiberg, a conscientious veteran new to the Timberwolves this season, was stunned at the intensity Garnett brings to practice, and at his mastery of the game's nuances. His unselfish style elevates the play of his teammates, who risk embarrassment if they don't try to conform to his high standards.

The National Basketball Association has what is known as an efficiency rating, which essentially subtracts all the bad things a player does (turnovers, missed shots, etc.) from all the productive things to arrive at an aggregate total. A week before Christmas, KG's 32.57 efficiency was 25 percent better than anyone else's (Tim Duncan was second at 26.68). Even that measure doesn't do him justice, because efficiency doesn't rate a player's defensive prowess and Garnett is one of the two or three best defenders in the game. Last year, the Wolves were breaking in a new point guard, so Garnett stepped up and averaged six assists per game, better than every non-point guard (and the majority of point guards) in the league. This year, injuries have cost Minnesota their top two centers, so Garnett has responded by leading the league in rebounding and ranking fourth in blocked shots.

But real artistry can't be calibrated on paper. Watch Garnett in action and decide for yourself whether he has earned his reputation as one of the four or five most exciting players in the game today. Consider that he is one of the league's most durable superstars, and that no player of his caliber in the modern era has remained so loyal to his team under such trying circumstances. Watch him make eye contact with his teammates and point to his chest when he bears responsibility for the slightest mishap on the court. And note that less than 24 hours after scoring 27 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking six shots in a win over Houston in mid-December, he was out in the community, helping to paint the walls of the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery.

Britt Robson is a senior editor at City Pages.

 

Sam Farha
BY PAUL DEMKO

Ihsan "Houston Sam" Farha is bored. Seated at the final table of the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in May, with $2.5 million in prize money splayed on the table in front of him, Farha can hardly disguise his disdain for the proceedings. Occasionally he closes his eyes and sleeps.

Across the table from him is a beefy frat boy from Tennessee wearing a baseball cap and wraparound shades named Chris Moneymaker. He has never played in a live poker tournament before in his life. Moneymaker's chosen manner to celebrate the winning of a hand is to pump his fists in the air and grunt at the audience.

Farha does not engage in such buffoonery. He's about as emotive as a poker chip. Even the unlit cigarette that's permanently perched between his lips never quavers. Hunched over the green felt table, pristine white cuffs peeking out from his black blazer, the Lebanese-born card sharp looks like a refugee from Reservoir Dogs.

"Be careful," he chides Moneymaker as the novice pushes forward a bet. "Be careful."

Farha's poker play is anything but calm. He tosses chips around like the halfwits on Celebrity Poker Showdown. At one point, Farha informs his opponent that winning the top prize will still leave him in the red for the trip.

Whether that statement is true or not--when during this poker marathon has he found the time to gamble?--Farha's profligacy with his chips should not be mistaken for incompetence. Throughout the five days of the tournament he has repeatedly stared down opponents and--based on some flip of the chip or quiver of the nose--decided to bet or fold with remarkable success. Earlier in the evening, Farha humiliated and busted Amir Vahedi, one of the best poker players in the world, over a failed bluff.

I choose to believe that when Farha recklessly pushed all his chips in just after 3:30 a.m. with a measly pair of jacks, he knew exactly what he was doing. The thought of spending any more time watching Moneymaker grunt and flex was too much to stomach for a measly $2.5 million. It was time to play for some real money.

Paul Demko is a staff writer at City Pages.

 

Nick Olney
BY MATTHEW WILDER

His shows run in 20-seat rattraps in San Diego--not garages and pool halls, where they used to run, but weird little "showcase spaces" in mini-malls. ("I'm next to the abortionist!" my artist of the year once trumpeted; his show played next to a Planned Parenthood site.) He gathers a motley crew of kids in their early 20s: cute girls, goggle-eyed geeks, and maybe even a few sparkplug-sized, sideburns-sporting ringers for the artist himself. In the course of a brief show--40 minutes is generally the max--these cheery youths are dressed as unsexy species of forest wildlife; they speak in long chunks of untranslated foreign dialogue, they crash around the stage to large, thunderstormlike pieces of music ("Magic Moments," say, or Prokofiev's dance of death from Romeo and Juliet), and they foam at the mouth like Italian movie zombies. (This spew is the artist's signature--as much a trademark as Scorsese's red-lit bars or Tarantino's foot-fetish shots.) The work is unstintingly idealess and juvenile, derivative of heaps of trash culture and altogether suggestive of a developmentally disabled child who has eaten one too many bowls of Count Chocula. It is also, I must hasten to add, the first work I have seen by a theater artist younger than myself that makes me feel stale, old, and useless.

Nick Olney, still in his early 20s, is as original in his way as Stuart Sherman, Richard Foreman, or Charles Ludlam. The writer-director-composer-costumer-sound designer of all his shows (he's also intimately connected to the rituals of the box office), Olney has devised a new, abstract language of theater that creates a goofy kind of aesthetic hostility through extreme infantilism. "No swearwords!" is the one sacred dictum of the Olney oeuvre; HR Puf'n'stuf ripoffs, garbage-can frog people, and sub-South Park synthesizer sing-alongs are the order of the day. Olney's shows are rough-hewn, to be sure, but they can be euphoric in the manner of the Wooster Group: aggregates of puerile energy coalescing and then surging.

Note to Minneapolis theater producers (especially the Children's Theatre's Elissa Adams!): Avoid Nick Olney at your peril! Embrace him now, while he's still a relatively benign cult figure, or watch his influence crash over your heads like a tidal wave.

Matthew Wilder is a Los Angeles-based writer and director and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Lenky Marsden
BY MICHAELANGELO MATOS

Dancehall ragga is made the way wedding cakes would be if each layer was frosted by a different chef. The producer concocts a "rhythm"--a typically unadorned backing track--atop which various singers and toasters add their vocals. Named for an annual Hindu festival of lights, Diwali is a rhythm produced by Lenky Marsden that emerged in mid-2002 and soon became the subject of Greensleeves Rhythm Album #27, the best and most popular of the long-running series of recent Jamaican hits. Rhythms are not, nor should they be, rocket science, and Diwali is simplicity itself: a hollow, boinging, irregular kick drum adorned with sideways-shuffling double-time handclaps, a sweetly keening, Middle Eastern flute motif, and a sampled "woo!" every couple of bars. Usually rhythms run their course and are resuscitated later, like Sleng Teng, which dates from 1985 and undergoes periodic revival. But Diwali just kept going this year--underpinning Sean Paul's "Get Busy" and Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go," respectively peaking at No. 1 and 11 on the Billboard pop charts.

Even in a pop and semi-pop landscape ruled by Timbaland, Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, and Kanye West, that's some achievement. Like Missy Elliott and Timbaland's "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," the roost-ruling beats of 2001 and 2002, Diwali passed into elder status almost as quickly as it appeared, showing its stamp on a number of rhythms that have followed, from Marsden's own Masterpiece and Time Travel to King Jammy and Andre "Suku" Grey's fierce, tabla-heavy Sign. (You can also hear its stamp on R&B hits from Lumidee's "Never Leave You" to Missy's "Pass That Dutch.") In 2003, only 50 Cent's "In Da Club" was as pervasive a rhythmic meme.

The difference is that "In Da Club" was buoyed as much by the patronage of Earth's biggest superstar and its performer's readymade street mythology as by the beat itself. Paul and Wonder might be superstars in Jamaica, and may yet turn out to be in America, but in Marsden's beat, they were vessels for something bigger than themselves. Not bad for a rookie.

Michaelangelo Matos is the music editor of Seattle Weekly. His contribution to Continuum Books' 33 N series, Sign 'O' the Times, will be published in February.

 

Tony Hoagland
BY T.D. MISCHKE

I have long lamented the back seat poetry has taken, in this country, to other well established arts. How did this happen to such an honorable and potent medium? Poetry wasn't always second-class. It was once for everyone. The man on the street could recite a poem at a café or talk of a favorite poet with a drinking buddy.

I know, I know, modern poets began to write too often for their fellow poets, the elite stole the art away and contemporary verse grew increasingly inaccessible to the average citizen. Or so the hackneyed complaint goes. Frankly, I think we all got lazy. Either way, to the rescue comes Tony Hoagland and his new work What Narcissism Means to Me, recently out on St. Paul's Graywolf Press.

Hoagland shows prose fans and music lovers that poetry can compete for their right brain's attention if they just give it a chance. His sharp, sleek, salty poems are there for anyone who relishes that feeling of being momentarily taken, suddenly shaken, or briefly awakened. Something poetry used to be able to do for most everyone. Here's a poem called "Hate Hotel":

Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
I take my room at the Hate Hotel, and sit and flip
through the heavy pages of the photographs,
the rogues' gallery of the faces I loathe

My lamp of resentment sputters twice, then comes on strong,
filling the room with its red light
That's how hate works---it thrills you and kills you

with its deep heat. Sometimes I like to sit and soak
in the Jacuzzi of my hate, hatching my plots
like a general running his hands over a military map
and my bombers have been sent out
over the dwellings of my foes,
and are releasing their cargo of ill will.........

Just 38 poems in this offering, but each one is chiseled and fitted properly in its place. Clear and strong, delivered with a dexterous punch. Poems to sit and talk about, authored by a person you could find at the café. Isn't it time for the poetry shelf to be every bit as crowded as the CD rack? Here's hoping. Regardless, it should at least house Hoagland's latest work. Tuck him in there between Sandburg and Bukowski.

T.D. Mischke hosts The Mischke Broadcast on KSTP-AM (1500).

 

Olivier Assayas
BY LAURA SINAGRA

With his spliced, diced, coolly hip yet live-link lyrical pseudo-thriller Demonlover, French critic and Irma Vep director Olivier Assayas has confidently conjured the best onscreen rendition of the internet slipstream--the instantaneously gratifying, clairvoyantly personalized, sexily unpredictable, mindfuckingly serendipitous, sibilantly empowering experience that now dominates many of our days. Leaving the previous War Games-like world of desktop monitors and CPUs behind, Assayas doesn't waste time filming flashing screens. Instead, he plunges--as we do every time we splash through our browsers into the web's sudden spectacle, heated conversation, or urgent commerce--dismissively past the hardware and software and straight into the fecund flow.

Loosely concerned with sleek corporate sharks trying to monopolize the distribution of internet porn--everything from anime to interactive snuff--Assayas's hypertextual intrigue ping-pongs between Paris and Tokyo, losing lots in translation, divesting itself of the musty trappings of conventional plot, and giving over to the pure vertigo of his characters' bloody power plays. Ensuring that we never know if the violence is real or simply a peek inside the fantasy lives of these edgy personal assistants, Assayas roots for all of his potentially doomed antiheroines (Connie Nielsen, Chloë Sevigny, and Gina Gershon) as they compete with murderous intensity amid high-stakes squeeze-outs and hostile takeovers. But Demonlover's subtext, bubbling up from under the International Style couture of its meta-moguls, is always the messy problem of the organic. The clammy heave of sex, the gushing persistence of blood, the simple ugliness of brute force, and the tragic tenacity of gender inequality when the virtual world intersects with the all too real.

Laura Sinagra is a New York-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Venus
BY EMILY GOLDBERG

Some people make art. And some people live it. Venus, lead singer and guitarist in the glam-rock band All the Pretty Horses, falls into the latter category. I know this well because I just finished making a documentary film about Venus. After three and a half years of working on the project, I still find myself continually surprised and entranced by Venus's fearless creative spirit.

If you've seen this corset-clad love child of David Bowie and Joan Jett onstage, you know that she's a spectacular presence. (And yes, for lack of a more accurate pronoun, Venus--who's transgender--prefers to be called she.) Some have dismissed All the Pretty Horses as "that transgender novelty act." But I've seen the band win over skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic--from working-class English pubs ("The most beautiful women in there were blokes!") to Fridley biker bars ("I heard 'em sing and it didn't matter!"). By forcing people to rethink their narrow definitions of gender, Venus and her bandmates are nothing less than agents of change--true revolutionaries.

Even among radicals, Venus is unique. Living in between genders, married to her hometown sweetheart for 20 years, gifted not only as a musician but as a painter, animator, performance artist, and experimental filmmaker, she utterly defies categorization. What's most striking about Venus is that whether she's performing for an audience of three or 300, making lasagna for her mom in Duluth or entertaining hipsters at CBGB, she's always completely herself. It is this stark, courageous honesty--combined with her undeniable talent--that encourages people to look past their prejudices.

Being in the audience at an All the Pretty Horses gig is one of the most hopeful experiences you can have. Look around and you see transvestites, goths, Rastafarians, heavily pierced punks, and lily-white suburbanites--"Everybody just a-freakin'," as another Uptown gender-bending rocker once put it. Because the music speaks louder than our differences.

Emily Goldberg is a Twin Cities-based filmmaker whose documentary Venus of Mars premiered in November at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.

 

Kitties and Haters
BY JBOT

The question Who has influenced me the most over this past year? puts me in a quandary. How can one really summarize all of one's actions from a given year and then accurately point out the impetus behind each one? Damn, that's a hard nut to crack. After debating the pros and cons, making lists, checking them twice, I realized that it would just not be possible to pick one influence for all of this year's hard work. So I picked two influences:

Kitties and haters.

That's it.

Yes, you read right. The kitties part is based on the feral cat colony who live in my backyard. A few tours back, I came home and found a mama kitty had given birth to a whole lovely feline family. I got all their gonads chopped off (can't take care of too many kitties) and released them to the backyard. This makes me so happy every day when I go outside to feed my little gonadless kitty friends, and they are so happy to see me.

Well, actually they hiss a lot and won't let me pet them, unless I am offering something tasty like sardines. But I do not mind this apparent rudeness, because it teaches me this most valuable lesson...If you cut off my nuts, I probably won't let you pet me.

Did someone mention haters? Oh, the haters tried to bring me down this year. We (Captured! By Robots) had a big article in Slashdot.org (sort of a big deal). They basically ripped us a new one, talking so much crap about how bad the robots in the band suck (which they do not), and how I am a crappy musician (which I am). I let it get me down for a day, but then the epiphany.

Anyone who has enough time to rant and hate online is not doing anything positive with his life. This has influenced me to be a better person, and not to hate as much, and to make this robotic band of mine so freakin' awesome that it will tear the haters' frowns upside down, and maybe stab them in the throat and in their eyes.

JBOT plays superior rock music and tortures and kills humans in between songs with the world's best android band, Captured! By Robots. He lives in San Francisco.

 

Cex
BY BENJAMIN GIBBAR

I spent a lot of time with Rjyan Kidwell this year. I guess, in retrospect, it wasn't really that much time, but living mere feet away from someone in a tour van for five weeks can feel like an eternity, especially when he's an unending geyser of nervous energy and unsolicited conversation. I wanted to stab him in the neck with a fork when he plopped his smelly feet on my shoulders as I was driving through Arizona. I couldn't believe I had to talk him out of eating a handful of pennies at a Taco Bell in Florida ("You guys never let me have any fun!" he responded). These incidents were fairly typical over the course of those five weeks, but to dwell on them would be to give you the wrong impression of my true feelings about Rjyan, the iMac- and mic-wielding juggernaut better known as Cex.

Over the course of the last three years, Rjyan has made six records ranging from violent glitch to hip hop to Marilyn Manson/Nine Inch Nails-influenced industrial. Three of those six records were released in 2003 alone: Being Ridden and its instrumental counterpart LP, and Maryland Mansions. Having toured with Rjyan twice in the last year and a half, I have seen a spectrum of fans confused by his unapologetic genre hopping: People come expecting glitch, they get hip hop. People come expecting hip hop, they get a young man in spiky elevator boots and eye makeup screaming at the top of his lungs. While these transformations may seem like career suicide to most, they are exactly what I admire most about him. He is completely fearless as he invites us to watch his artistic growth in real time.

While I admire all of Rjyan's work to date, I feel that he is just getting started and that the best is yet to come. It is my prediction that by the end of the decade, Cex will have put Beck to shame while making us all wonder why we put so much stock in Eminem.

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."

Freud is a great novelist. But instead of merely telling us a tale, he shows us how our routine human experiences are as laden with meaning as the most laboriously constructed bildungsroman. Our unconscious condenses, extrapolates, juxtaposes, and constructs metaphors just like a writer does, and for the same reason--to get at the truth. "There is nothing arbitrary or undetermined in the psychic life," Freud says. Our lives are character-driven books where everything happens for a reason. And whether or not that's scientifically demonstrable, it makes for a damn good story.

Alison Bechdel creates the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. She lives in Vermont.

 

Ricky Gervais
BY MICHAEL TORTORELLO

The room is small and filled with toys. Floppy dolls with pigtails and beanbag caterpillars and kitten puppets and square blocks with bunnies and geese painted on the sides. My four-year-old niece J. and I are building a Boogietorium for this happy cast of characters, laying down the boogie floor and the stage and the hot-tub VIP after-hours room. We're sparing no expense: It's going to be a velvet-rope, valet-park-the-Maybach, Sean Jean-is-so-2003 joint all the way. And then J.'s three-year-old sister M. totters into the room, carrying a small plastic bowl.

If you have kids, you probably know where this uncute little anecdote is going. Later on, after the caterwauling had ended and the highest judge in the land, Mommy, had heard appeals from each party in the dispute, I would count 129 implements of fun on the floor of that room. It was the bowl, of course--not even a proper toy--that both of them wanted.

A lot has been written about the truths of the modern workplace contained in the brutally funny BBC comedy The Office. Not only are the jobs we do banal and demeaning and fundamentally pointless--but we're terrified to lose them. Yet on some level The Office is no more about an office than Cheers was about a barroom. What co-writer and star Ricky Gervais has actually created is a character study in envy.

And so we see the cloying and abusive David Brent, the world's worst boss, strutting past the receptionist in the same brown leather coat that his newly promoted manager wore the previous day. There David is during a company goof-off session, waiting greedily for a drunken subordinate to finish a kissing line of male coworkers and plant one on him. There he is, not getting kissed. David's competitive craving for attention reaches its excruciating nadir/zenith when he follows his superior's slick disco routine during a company fundraiser with his own convulsive-ostrich funk dance.

We desperately crave notice, affection, respect. Yet the nakedly covetous way we go about getting what we want makes us shabby and unworthy of it. From the playroom to the boardroom, our lives are filled with boundless humiliations. Isn't it hilarious?

Michael Tortorello is a senior editor at City Pages.

 

Richard Linklater
BY ROB NELSON

This year I taught a college class called "The Film Critic." I think I may have been the wrong person for the job. I began by giving each student a two-inch thick packet of reviews--some by the greats (e.g., Andrew Sarris, Manny Farber, Amy Taubin, Georgia Brown), some by the not-so-greats (myself, Harry Knowles, the anonymous reviewer who wondered in 1904 whether the bad guy who falls off his horse in The Great Train Robbery was actually a mannequin). To make a long story short: I couldn't manage to get the students all that excited about reading the reviews. What they did feel excited to do was to talk about movies and write about them--which is what I eventually encouraged, but only after squandering half the semester on telling rather than showing. The lesson wasn't lost on the instructor: If it's true that those who can't do often teach, then it's even more true that those who can't learn aren't often taught to do.

Shame that I hadn't yet seen The School of Rock, in which Jack Black's comparatively prodigious, outrageously motivational substitute teacher Dewey Finn takes no time flat getting his students' fingers on the instruments. Following his hero's instructional model, the movie's director Richard Linklater doesn't hesitate to play the whole thing for broad comedy even while revealing what his ostensibly frivolous farce has on its mind: the value of progressive pedagogy in the era of Bush's backward promise to leave no child behind. Much as The School of Rock resembles The Bad News Bears, Linklater (who's from Texas, just like Dubya) understands that it isn't 1976 anymore. Indeed, where the blitzed Bicentennial grads of his Dazed and Confused didn't need a teacher to know "Dream On" by heart, the kids on day one of Dewey's pop-appreciation class would rather sell their souls to the honor roll than to rock 'n' roll. The predator in this 21st-century blackboard jungle isn't just "the Man," but the kids' unconditional deference to his authority--which we've taught them very well, very possibly at our peril.

Small wonder that the consensus among prepubescent critics (according to my schoolteacher sweetheart) has Linklater's film earning low points on the authenticity scale, in part for his vision of a curriculum that would place Trout Mask Replica alongside James and the Giant Peach. But perhaps those reviews are less a sign of the movie's failure than of its reason for being. Delivering the real-world corollary to his Waking Life, Linklater is posing another philosophical question here: Do the rigid institutions of grade school and Hollywood cinema allow any room to dream? Even the fifth-grade pragmatists among us would take a look at Rock's $80 million gross and agree that the latter half of the question has been answered in the affirmative. As for the former, it's elementary. As one scholarly gent by the name of Steven Tyler already taught us: Dream until your dreams come true.

Rob Nelson is film editor at City Pages.

 

Michael Yonkers
BY PETER S. SCHOLTES

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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