Aby Wolf, K'naan, and P.O.S. top Artists of the Year '09

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

Whatever happens to it, Intelligent Homosexual as we saw it was a passionate, engaging, challenging work that stacks up against anything in American theater. It validated both Kushner's stature as a writer and the Guthrie's faith in him (as well as its brass balls in filling three simultaneous stages with his work).

Quinton Skinner is City Pages' theater critic.

Padgett Powell

By Melissa Maerz

Padgett Powell
Nick Vlcek
Padgett Powell
Nick Vlcek

Some wise old Chinese guy once said that a man who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but a man who never asks questions is a fool forever. If that's the case, Padgett Powell must be a genius: The guy never stops asking questions. Every single sentence in his latest novel, The Interrogative Mood, is a question, and every last one is hilarious and sad and political and personal and ridiculous and capable of making your imagination explode like a lizard in a microwave. Like: "If you could have feathers instead of hair, would you?" And: "If you could see a large-animal trainer mauled...would you prefer to see the mauling done by a lion, a tiger, or a bear?"

Now, this book might sound like a great parlor game for stoners—and it is—but it's so many other things, too: a refutation of the idea that a novel must be a narrative, a war on ambivalence, a celebration of reckless open-mindedness, a reminder that the simple joy of wonder can still light up your brain like a spaceship. Some questions are great absurdist jokes. (My favorite: "If you were to be executed and, by standard practice in executions, were offered anything you wanted as a last meal, and instead of ordering lobster...you said, 'I want boiled kittens and puppies, and I want them boiled alive, like crabs,' do you think there would be amusement, and do you think they would comply?") Others test your capacity for empathy. ("Will you believe me," asks the nameless narrator, "if I tell you that I am a little fragile, psychologically speaking, and that there is an eagle over the woods outside my window, and every day that I see him gliding around...gives me a small but palpable lift, and not being him a small quickening of depression?") Even the most banal questions ("Are you going to be happier in the future?" "Is there any hope?") feel like precious little hand mirrors, reflecting your deepest hopes and fears back to you.

As for answers, there are none. That's the whole point: The possibilities are endless—in the book, as in the real world. Somewhere in those open-ended questions is a plea: Don't fear uncertainty. Dream bigger, dream weirder. Life has so much more to offer. All you have to do is ask.

Melissa Maerz is a New York-based writer and former music editor of City Pages.


By Andrea Swensson

Much has been written about Stef Alexander's banner year—his success playing before the masses everywhere from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Hamburg, Germany, plus glowing praise from Spin, MTV, Pitchfork, and more. But those accomplishments are only a gilded frame around the real cause for celebration: having a forward-thinking artistic mind capable of crafting albums like this year's accurately named Never Better.

It's hard to say if there is a "Minneapolis sound" anymore, but if there is, it might sound something like Alexander's tracks on Never Better. It's a love letter to the city, with shout-outs to fixed-gear bikers, the Triple Double Tuesday DJ nights at the Triple Rock, his friends who helped him along the way—all sung and recited over a mash of snare drum beats, heavy electric guitars, distortion, twinkling organs, plastic cups, sniffles, and whatever other noises and moments Alexander happened to capture and splice into song. Part indie rap, part punk rock, and part playful, no-holds-barred experimentation, Never Better pushes P.O.S. even further out of the confines of traditional hip hop and toward something groundbreaking and undeniably fresh.

Combine his latest effort with his reputation for contributing to both the local punk scene (with Building Better Bombs) and rap scene (with Doomtree), and it starts to add up: Could we have ever guessed that our newest Rhymesayers breakout artist would show up on MTV this year, singing a note-perfect version of "Why Go" by Pearl Jam over a beat he made up on the spot? Well, yeah. We could.

Andrea Swensson is City Pages' music editor.

Michael Yonkers

By David Hansen

For nearly four decades, Michael Yonkers was quietly renovating the musical landscape, and no one knew it. Outside a cloister of avant-garde enthusiasts, Yonkers's work was the stuff of shadows and kept secrets. Hard to believe, especially after a Sub Pop reissue of his masterpiece Microminiature Love and soaring collaborations with local rockers the Blind Shake turned the Yonkers name into sacred syllables.

But as his cultural currency appreciated, his health faltered. Yonkers has suffered from an excruciating back condition since the 1970s, one that has him bedridden often, and which has turned his increasingly rare live appearances into ghostly overtures of physical agony. This summer, just as his latest release with the Blind Shake was preparing to drop, the announcement was made: Yonkers's condition had worsened. Even standing upright had become an impossibility. Yonkers was bedridden, nearly paralyzed with pain. His time on the stage, after almost half a century, was over.

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