Here are a few things which distracted me for an hour or three from the relentless shitshow that was 2017.
MUSIC I listen to music every day. It’s one of the main things which keeps me (my version of) sane. I ripped probably a couple hundred CDs from the library this year. Helps that they let you take ten out at a time. They were mostly jazz, but also disco and soul and blues; stuff I wouldn’t normally buy. It’s a great resource for somebody like me, who doesn’t use streaming services like Spotify, et al. I bought a bunch of records too. That’s how I usually listen at home. But the rest of the time I listen on an iPod. I use it to play music at the bar too. It’s one of the best parts of the job. Here are a few new ones I bought that’ve stuck with me.
Circuit Des Yeux “Reaching for Indigo”—Solemn, haunting, spacy sounds from someone I’ve served beer to many times at the bar. Probably the record I’ve listened to more than any other this year. Hard to describe or compare, which is all to its credit.
Mathew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet “Contra/Fact” —What do you call this music? I ask and he just shrugs. This isn’t because he doesn’t know what he’s doing or lacks the language to explain himself. Opposites attract him. There are horns, drums, and bass and non-bass guitars on this record but it isn’t jazz. There are electronic blips, wheezes, and barely audible echoes filling the imaginary rooms these numbers conjure. There’s even a human voice or two now and then.
Bill MacKay “Esker”—My old pal Bill rarely plays a false note. This is one of his best (which is no small accomplishment.)
Chris Brokaw “The Hand That Wrote This Letter”—Another guy who can do no wrong in my book. Here he plays Bowie and Prince tunes on acoustic guitar and makes them sound like he wrote them.
Makaya McCraven “Highly Rare”—Jazz/soul/funk/ambient/trance/and all but the kitchen sink. It just moves and moves and moves.
Mick Harvey interprets Serge Gainsbourg—Have no idea why I didn’t know about these recordings but now I can’t stop listening to them.
The Florida Project—A buoyant, sunny, pastel nightmare full of feral children and their infantile parents scraping by just beyond the parking lots of Orlando’s vacation theme parks. Somehow Sean Baker manages to make this obit of the American Dream go down so easy.
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992—John Ridley details the decade which culminated in the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed.
mother!—Living with an artist is a goddamn nightmare. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Just watch this if you don’t believe me. I loved every last second.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail—This documentary made me so mad I took all my scant savings out of Chase and put it in a tiny local bank.
Columbus—Brutalist architecture and lovelessness in an Indiana college town. Thought I’d hate it when I read about it but loved it when I saw it.
Ex Libris—Wiseman casts his unsentimental eye on the New York Public Library system. I could’ve watched this one for several more hours even after the three-plus he gives us.
Endless Poetry—Jodorowsky continues the remarkable autobiographic phantasmagoria started in The Dance of Reality. It’s a Rembrandt-like late period run he’s on. No artist could hope for more than something like this.
Halt and Catch Fire—No show ever explained the rise of computers and the internet better to me.
Fargo—I was sick a couple weeks ago and ended up binging all three seasons. Just first-class storytelling.
Lady Dynamite—Maria Bamford continued her loopy, fearless comedy self-portrait. Funny, sad, and scary in equal measures.
I read three or four Emmanuel Carrere books. All were good but Limonov was probably my favorite. Carrere mixes biography, memoir, and novel-like narrative better than almost any writer I’ve ever read. He’s a favorite of Scott McClanahan’s, whose latest book I loved as well. I’m halfway through the late Dennis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke but I keep putting it down because it’s so heavy and echoes each morning’s news a little too closely. But I’ll finish it one of these days. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is a vicious comedic evocation of race relations in America. Listening to this interviewconvinced me he has one of the sharpest minds going. Pamela Bannos’ Vivian Maier biography was a great corrective to the various self-serving fairytales spun about the late Chicago photographer. I wrote a review and then a longer thing about it.
ETC I loved the Saul Steinberg show my old litho prof Mark Pascale put together at the Art Institute. I saw many good plays while reviewing for the Reader. Thornton Wilder’s Ages of Man, Bertholt Brecht’s The Resisitible Rise of Arturo Ui, and Archibald MacLeish’s J.B., to name the first ones which popped into my head. But there were many others.
Podcasts helped too. Though I have to admit there were many past favorites I couldn’t listen to anymore because they were trying to make sense of the bag of piss in human form running the country and I’ve learned that I have to limit exposure on a daily basis if I want to have even a marginally productive day. That said, I continue to look forward to WTF and TALevery week. My friend Gil’s Virtual Memories is consistently interesting. My old pal Aaron has hit upon a unique way to paint a portrait of his city with Out of the Blocks. And, You Must Remember This tells the stories of old Hollywood in an idiosyncratic but compelling way.
All these pieces of art, as well as doing my own, helped me get through the days. But none could entirely erase the ever-present dread which has become everyday life in this country. I can’t help but feel some great reckoning is coming. It can’t continue this way much longer. I have no crystal ball, no idea how it will play out, but now seems as dire as any moment in my lifetime.
I’ll keep doing what I do next year because I don’t know what else to do. I hope you do as well. Maybe we’ll get through it somehow. Thanks for reading and looking.