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

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

More than most, Tucci understands the power of restraint—but he can cut loose as needed, too. This summer he was a gas as the adoring, much shorter husband of Meryl Streep's gigantic Julia Child in Julie and Julia, the kind of male helpmeet so rare in Hollywood movies, who takes genuine pleasure in her successes, sticks around through the failures, and is willing to follow her to the ends of the earth if that would keep her happy. Enjoying themselves without reserve, Tucci and Streep come off as the improbable, utterly adorable couple of the year.

Ella Taylor is a Los Angeles-based critic who writes for NPR.org, Village Voice Media, Elle magazine, and other publications. She is a frequent contributor to City Pages.

Stephen King

By Kerri Miller

Aby Wolf
Sharolyn B. Hagen
Aby Wolf
Tony Kushner
Joan Marcus
Tony Kushner

Yeah, yeah, I know: Stephen King needs more gushy praise like Tom Petters needs more whistleblowers. The guy's a bazillionaire with enough clout to frighten off even the best editor. His latest novel, Under the Dome, is 1,072 pages! Need I say more?

But King surprised me when he came to the Fitzgerald Theater to be interviewed for the Talking Volumes author series in November.

First, I thought he'd be creepy. Not hair-on-the-palms-of-his-hands creepy, just off somehow—too accustomed to living in the half-gloom of his aberrant imagination. He wasn't. In the green room before the show he munched on a big slab of berry tart while we talked about dogs and books and where he'd go for a late supper. Compare that with James Ellroy, who confessed to me before the show that he does little else in his life but write and make love.

I had also expected King to exhibit a certain kind of been there, done that ennui. After all, he's one of the few authors in the world who can tell the publishers to stuff it when they start making noises about a book tour. Yet he told me backstage that he was grateful that we had "gone to all this trouble." Did he really not know that we could have sold out the Fitz three times over? People flew in from Kansas and Toronto for that show.

But most of all, I didn't think he'd be so much fun. Offstage, he dished some pretty interesting dirt on the publishing biz and certain authors (enough said about that). Onstage, he let me gently mock him when he told the story of running out to buy his wife the romantic gift of a hair dryer to celebrate the sale of his first novel. And when the conversation turned to music, he lit up, revealing that when he retreats to his writing shack in the woods each day, he gets in the mood by blasting the daylights out of Judas Priest and Metallica.

Sinister clowns and nightmarish ghosts aside, that's a guy you gotta love.

Kerri Miller is the host of Mid-Morning on MPR from 9 to 11 a.m. and of Talking Volumes. The next Talking Volumes show is in May with Monica Ali.

Nico Muhly

By Rod Smith

Unlike a slew of other countries, the U.S. rarely celebrates classical composers hard or long enough to turn them into full-blown celebrities. Our last was Leonard Bernstein. Sure, Phillip Glass's film work is making his music ubiquitous. But how many of the people who know the 72-year-old, minimalist role model from, say, the Watchmen soundtrack could pick him out in a lineup? And how much does Glass care?

His assistant is another matter. Already prime media fodder in New York, Nico Muhly has all the requisite attributes for nationwide household-name status: charm, good looks, an easy way with audiences, killer conducting style, willingness to travel (and to work his perineum off). Whether or not the 28-year-old wunderkind becomes our next Bernstein remains to be seen, but he is already the face of Classical 2.0—no small feat given the field's crowdedness.

Speaking of 2.0, Muhly enjoys a ton of advantages Bernstein never dreamed of. He blogs with perceptiveness and style, tweets like a demon, boasts a massive YouTube presence, and even owns the means of production. His Bedroom Community label, co-founded with frequent collaborator Valgeir Sigurðsson, serves as a vector for much of Muhly's work and for releases by like-minded souls from all over the musical spectrum.

Plus, he's a compelling instrumentalist and utterly fearless composer, willing to try anything from writing a short opera around William Strunk's Elements of Style to working with the likes of Björk, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), and Grizzly Bear—who he played with at All Tomorrow's Parties weekend in England days before his Minneapolis debut last April. The crowd at that packed Southern Theater show—featuring Muhly alongside his equally youthful muse and interpreter of choice: viola monster Nadia Sirota—encountered the composer at his energetically laid-back best, using his laptop and MIDI controller as much as the piano, and spontaneously cracking a multitude of jokes. As for our feelings about a classical dude who wears makeup and says "fuck" onstage? In the 21st century? Uh, how could we fucking resist?

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