Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

David Ng is a New York-based writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Eddie Guerrero
By Nate Patrin
If professional wrestling is a vulgar art, it's also one of the most difficult professions in entertainment. It requires that rare combination of iron-man athleticism and rock-star charisma, plus a Buddhistic tolerance for pain. You have to be willing to get tossed around like a rag doll and wake up with seriously aching joints every morning. You have to pull off a nonstop in-ring performance in one take, usually with a fair deal of improvisation. Oh, and sometimes you have to bleed copiously out of your forehead.

Eddie Guerrero, who died in a Minneapolis hotel room in November of 2005, mastered all those things. He was especially strong during the last four years of his life, after kicking the addiction to the painkillers, drugs, and alcohol that would eventually enact their toll on his heart. Guerrero was one of the WWE's biggest stars, a charismatic veteran who emphasized his Latino background and his wrestling family history. His spectacular high-flying techniques followed the model of his father, Gory Guerrero, who worked alongside Mexican icon El Santo in the '50s and '60s and brought the agile, acrobatic lucha libre style to an international audience.

And nobody worked both sides of wrestling's hero/villain divide better. As a fan favorite, Guerrero could get thousands of kids in Little Rock to cheer the phrase "Viva la Raza," boo his Latino-mocking enemies (like John Bradshaw Layfield, a caricature of a Texas neocon millionaire) and applaud his clever underhandedness. Often he would get his opponents disqualified by slamming a steel chair against the mat while the ref wasn't looking, ditch the chair, drop to the canvas, and make it look like he'd been clocked one.

And when he was a detestable asshole, it transcended the gonna-kick-your-ass platitudes of pro wrestling cliché and skewed closer to Robert Mitchum: During his feud with longtime friend and rival Rey Mysterio, he'd send manic, furious threats to Rey's children to "take away your daddy" one week; the next week he'd simply stand in the ring, staring with pure hatred at Mysterio's purloined mask--silent, seething, for minutes on end--before simply dropping it to the ground and grinding it under his foot like a spent cigarette.

You could say that Guerrero was wrestling's Bruce Lee: a man who mastered and revolutionized his art, spread its cultural heritage, and then left us too soon. And there wasn't a damn thing fake about him.

 

Nate Patrin is a St. Paul writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

David Letterman
By Jim Walsh
Much was made about how the media took "the gloves off" in the wake of Katrina, but this emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery survivor and first-time father never had 'em on. As early as 2000, he was calling George W. Bush "a colossal boob" and doing Daily Show-like send-ups of news clips accompanied by cracks like "If they don't hook this guy up to a polygraph soon, something is wrong." To boot, he laughs at his own bad jokes, and goes out into the audience and gets a kick out of "real" folks as much as whoever's sitting next to him.

This was the year that Warhol's "cult of celebrity" reached a new zenith, wherein everyone and their blogging/recording/publishing cousin created a See What I Did miasma in which we all beg for time, attention, links, ratings, and feedback, but Letterman doesn't give a fuck if you change the channel or go to bed--a refreshing combination of Mark E. Smith with his back to the audience and Studs Terkel with his mic at the ready. Witness Thanksgiving night, and the Top Ten List of "Things I, Dave, Am Thankful for This Year": "1. CBS keeps paying me, even though I gave up trying in 1997." That, ladies and gentlemen, is called freedom, the kind of don't-give-a-shititude that's irresistible to watch, and the kind that can bring down presidential poll numbers, if not presidents.

Jim Walsh is a staff writer at City Pages and author of the Walsh Files blog at www.walshfiles.com.

 

Craig Finn
By Chuck Terhark
Craig Finn has a way of singing about life the way you want to remember living it. "When we hit the Twin Cities, I didn't know that much about it/I knew Mary Tyler Moore and I knew Profane Existence/I was keyed up," shouts the onetime Twin Cities indie rocker on Separation Sunday, the Hold Steady's 2005-defining sophomore album. I'm not sure how keyed up I was when I came to the Twin Cities from Fargo in 1998, but I was certainly as unfamiliar with it as Finn's protagonist was in that song. I knew Dillinger Four. I'd read Profane Existence. And I knew Lifter Puller, Finn's old band.

I also knew I hated them.

It was Finn's voice. That geek-chic bark. It hit my ears the way hard liquor hit my throat, and at 18 I had no tolerance for it. I was too busy holding my nose against Finn's nasal bravado to give his words a chance. The release of Separation Sunday in 2005 marked the first time I--and the rest of the world--gave in to the voice, loved it even, and finally started hearing Finn. Once I did, I swam in his addictive narratives until my foggy head was full of false memories of a Minneapolis teenhood I never had: riding packed downtown buses, hanging out at City Center, getting high by the Mississippi, tracking the rocky path from adolescent sex to adult salvation. The pseudo-sermons on Separation Sunday are complicated, compelling, and utterly convincing.

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