These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: 2009
Here it is, my long-awaited brief look back at 2009, the last year of the first decade of the first century of the current millennium, summarized in a few key events, film and music.
It’s written entirely from my own, solipsistic perspective, and as such is entirely the self-absorbed exercise it appears to be, because hey, it’s my blog! I didn’t plan to write one this year, but when fellow Twitterer @onkelivel asked if one was forthcoming, I felt compelled to accept the challenge. You should head on over to his blog (after reading this, of course) to check out some gnarly rock photography: My Scene Sucks. Anyway, let’s all get sentimental about just a little while ago.
Politics, International • Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Barack Obama survived his first year as president, despite being a Kenyan commie muslin atheist fascist who wants death panels and gay abortions for everyone. Not only that, Godless European Surrender Monkey awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize for “bringing hope to the world”, exceptin’ the parts that voted for the McPalin ticket and the parts of the world where he sent more troops. The award ceremony ground Oslo to a halt, as both supporters and the odd protester (Westboro Batshit Church, or approximation thereof, step on up) showed up to shiver and gawk outside his hotel. Dogged by controversy, rumor has it Obama didn’t really want the Prize in the first place, and while we can never un-see the squirm-inducing spectacle of the Nobel committee attempting to groove to Wyclef Jean, it was quite the thing to hear the Peace Prize winner give a speech about the necessity of war. Would you like some freedom fries with that, sir?
Politics, International • Kenyan Women Go on Sex Strike
In late April/early May, Kenyan Women were admonished to withhold sex from men in the hope of ending corruption in the country. I’ve been unable to find any further updates as of today, but should there be a sudden drop in Kenyan birth rates this spring, it would appear corruption won out.
Politics, Domestic • Prostitution Outlawed Forever & Ever in Norway
Norway finally outlawed prostitution and politicians patted themselves on the back for a job well done. A spokesperson for the prostitutes said it was a bad idea, pointing out that it would only make it harder and less safe for the streetwalkers, but the politicians referred to committees and sub-committees whereas the prostitutes could only refer to personal experience and other irrelevant stuff. A few months after the passing of the law, triumphant feminists took a stroll through the streets where the ladies of the night once plied their trade and were promptly propositioned by a man in a passing car.
Honorable Mention • The Congolese Adventures of Moland and French
A clusterfuck of epic proportions, the case really can’t be summed up in a paragraph. Two Norwegian adventure tourists/used car salesmen/mercenaries were arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo, accused of both espionage and the murder of their driver. They refused to cooperate and declined to speak beyond claiming they were set up, after which the court behaved exactly as one would expect the court of a poor, war-torn and corrupt country to behave; demanding money, and lots of it. (Roughly 3 times the Norwegian oil fund, a demand met with snickering by most, and intense anger by a certain contingent of oppressed white men who would preface every raving, genocidal blogging manifesto with “Look, I’m not a racist, but…”) The photos of Moland grinning inanely while cleaning a veritable ocean of blood out of their car didn’t help them any, nor did the fact that they changed stories about their background, but nobody seemed to be able to find any kind of murder motive either. The dynamic duo was given 5 consecutive death sentences – each! Norway was also sentenced to pay Congo $500.000.000. (Espionage, remember?) The sentence was upheld after an appeal in December, though a recent report suggested they will probably be released, as new evidence suggests a botched robbery attempt by Congolese soldiers. Or maybe that evidence was faked too, as was claimed right after. Moland briefly went insane when malaria bugs ate his brain, then he got better and made amends by being creepy, photo-op jail Santa for Christmas. It ain’t over by a long shot, so in the immortal words of the late Warren Zevon: Send lawyers, guns and money!
Sports • Tiger Woods Sleeps With Every Goddamn Woman He Can
Tiger Woods, the handsome, incredibly wealthy and respected athlete (for those who consider golf a real sport), was found to have cheated on his wife numerous times. This became one of the biggest news stories of the year, because this sort of thing has never, ever happened before.
Sports • He said / She said
Caster Semenya, the South African female runner, was accused of not being 100% female, and had to undergo gender testing. Part of the trouble started when Norwegian sports commentator Steinar Hoen remarked that she was “mannish,” because duh. South African officials quickly accused Hoen of racism, but he retorted that he’d only said “she looked mannish,” and had never claimed she actually was a man. He then tried ameliorating the situation, pointing out that he’d said the same of Maria Mutola of Mosambique earlier: “She looked very mannish, too.” Dude, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. (Tests indicated that Semenya may be a hermaphrodite)
Events, International • The Crotchbomber
A Somali Islamic radical (our favorite kind) en route to Detroit lit his underwear on fire in an attempt to detonate some sort of (non-methane based) bomb, but succeeded only in roasting his chestnuts, so to speak. To add insult to self-inflicted injury, he was then tackled by a Dutch passenger who probably boarded the plane stoned on legal marijuana. No 72 virgins for YOU!
Events, International • Swine Flu
The scourge of wine flu was worse than the Black Death, Avian Flu and boy bands put together, and everybody died everywhere, except the 6 billion or so who didn’t. Israel suggested it be renamed “Mexican flu”, what with pigs being neither kosher nor halal, a thoughtful gesture from a considerate neighbor awaiting the next friendly excursion to the West Bank.
Events, International • Roman Polanski Unfairly Arrested For Raping Underage Girl In 1977
Film director Roman Polanski has been a fugitive from the law since 1977. His arrest at the Zürich Film Festival in 2009 caused a massive outpouring of support from the cultural elites, who requested he be set free since he had already “suffered enough.” Among the grave injustices visited upon poor, hapless Polanski, the most egregious was surely having to accept his 2003 Academy Award from one of his Swiss chalets, instead of collecting it in person. His arrest also led to an extremely ill-advised petition signed by many movers and shakers in the film industry, among them Wes Anderson and Emma Thompson, who really ought to know better. Magnanimously, Polanski’s defenders forgave Samantha Geiner for being drugged and anally raped at 13, even though she totally looked 15.
Music • Albums
The Duckworth Lewis Method, The Duckworth Lewis Method
I know nothing about cricket, except that a game typically lasts for hours and even days, and has lots of tea breaks. The Duckworth Lewis Method takes this most impenetrably English of sports to craft a concept album that not only appeals to non-cricketers, but even makes it – dare I say it? – sexy. (It doesn’t hurt to enjoy a cup of tea while listening, though.) Effortlessly tuneful with a playful retro vibe, it brims over with humor (too often in short supply in pop these days) and the sort of keen observation that make the arcane game (almost) palatable to the ignorant & unwashed. It’s safe to say that The Duckworth Lewis Method wins the ashes. The band’s bona fides are nothing to laugh at, being a collaboration between Neil Hannon, aka The Divine Comedy, and Thomas Walsh from Pugwash, who you probably haven’t heard of. Speaking of Pugwash…
Pugwash, Giddy (The Best of)
…Andy Partridge, formerly (sob) of XTC released Pugwash’s compilation-so-far Giddy on his very own APE records, because Andy is a goddamn bonafide pop music genius who – this can’t be stressed enough – knows his shit. But wait, I hear you say, this is a compilation album, so how can it figure in the best of 2009? Because there are two new tracks here, people. TWO NEW TRACKS!!! What more could you possibly want?!!!
Regina Spektor, Far
Just as good as Begin to Hope, Far is Regina Spektor’s most accessible album to date, showing off her strength as singer-performer-songwriter. It may lack some of the intense closeness of Begin to Hope, but despite a smooth production, it still feels intimate and loose. She also keeps her more idiosyncratic approaches in check (ie, less odd vocal flights just for the sake of it), and drapes the songs in arrangements more mainstream than previously. Despite this, Far is never less than fun and playful, and the songcraft is consistently brilliant.
Mark Eitzel, Klamath
The first track on Klamath is called Buried Treasure which sums up Mark Eitzel nicely. Eitzel is one of the finest American songwriters out there, though also criminally overlooked. Klamath is his most recent lush, melodic masterpiece. It feels like a companion piece to American Music Club’s The Golden Age, which was one of my favorites of 2008. Though it’s a solo effort, it could easily be the second disc of The Golden Age. Like most of his work, Klamath is steeped in melancholy, yet never feels like a downer. Engaging melodies belie the usually downbeat lyrics (though a man who writes a song called Why I’m Bullshit surely has a sense of humor about himself), with Eitzel’s dry, hushed delivery somehow emerging modestly triumphant from the emotional wreckage.
Jagged, dry guitars chugging over a tight rhythm section, a sprinkling of synthesizers, the icily distant and terribly cool (no pun intended) vocalist Emily Haines … I have nothing profound to offer here: Sometimes, sexy and cool is enough. One of the tracks was on Grey’s Anatomy, but don’t hold that against them.
The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love
I’m torn. This made a lot of best-of lists, but I keep thinking it sounds like other bands I’d heard. On the other hand, those other bands are usually quite good, and The Big Pink do a very good job of sounding like them, so…
Mastadon, Crack in the Skye
Roughly one metric fuckton of sludgy guitars slathered over a tuneful groove. In summary: Fuck yeah!
Gallows, Grey Britain
Gallows is an angry band, and that’s cool. Everybody has a right to be angry. It’s good to vent and besides, fuck The Man, etc. Beyond being loud and shouty, Grey Britain is a pretty monotonous affair, except for the power ballad, which is overwrought shit. The vocalist screams a lot and the music goes dun-dun-crunk REALLY FUCKING LOUD and also FAST. Black Flag did this 30 years ago on Rise Above, with more humor. On the other hand, it’s all very energetic, and they’re young, so they have time to grow. I think I’d see Gallows live, even though I’d probably get my ass kicked at the show for being a bourgie bastard, which I am.
I like this album, though I’m wasn’t totally sure why at first. They mostly sounded like a bunch of other bands* (the cover itself looks like the latest by The Killers), but I admit Touchdown quickly grew on me. It’s jangly and scratchy punk-pop that moves along with gusto and enthusiasm, if not innovation. It’s a grower, what can I say?*Look, after you turn 30 everything you hear sounds like something else. It’s just pop music. Deal with it.
Landon Pigg, The Boy Who Never
If Duncan Sheik and Ed Harcourt had a child together, it would violate every law of nature, but perhaps their ungodly and freakish offspring would sound like Landon Pigg when not convulsing in the agony of its wholly unnatural birth. The Boy Who Never is like a blanket of well-produced tracks and mannered vocals wrapped around you. It’s not innovative or provocative or anything, but since I don’t need my music to be particularly confrontational anymore, what with getting older n’ shit, I’m OK with that. The Boy Who Never will be a luscious dream to some, and an anodyne nightmare to others; It all depends on how you feel about well-crafted adultish pop songs, cravats and velvet blazers.
Music • Singles
Weezer, (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
They could do this sort of thing in their sleep, and have (Raditude), but they’re so damn good at it.
Hafdis Huld, Kongulo
Three minutes of breezy and wonderful Icelandic pop. I fell in love with Huld when I heard Dirty Paper Cup a while back. Kongulo is a taste of her upcoming album.
Jay-Z & Alicia Keys
Empire State of Mind
See? I’m down with the kids, y’all.
Rage Against The Machine, Killing in the name of…
The UK made this the Christmas #1 single. Bless their black hearts.
There was also U2’s, I’ll Go Crazy If I have to Pay Income Tax Tonight, but come the fuck on.
Music • Pleasant surprise
Since Metallica’s Death Magnetic was last year’s pleasant surprise, it’s both amusing and fitting that Megadeth claims the prize this year. Dave Mustaine somehow let Jesus into his heart without letting the shred out. Rocket surgery it ain’t, but if you like old-school thrash metal, you’re in for a treat.
Music • Boomer rapaciousness
The Beatles, In Mono/Stereo
These two monolithic releases are perhaps the last really huge releases we’ll see on CD, so of course they’re gonna milk it. It pains me to say it, Beatle junkie that I am, but sometimes it’d be nice if not everything related to the Beatles needed to be A. Significant. Cultural. Event. Faithfully remastered for the audiophiles, you can buy both mono and stereo versions of the back catalogue. Everyone says that mono is how the band wanted you to hear the songs, so of course those versions can only be bought as a full box set, which naturally comes in a “limited” edition of 2 million or something. You know what? That’s some straight-up bullshit right there, Apple/EMI. The music is still wonderful, of course, because The Beatles is the greatest band ever, and their sublime music now sounds better than than before, as long as you swallow the bile when you look at the receipt. Paul McCartney also released another pointless live album, Live in NYC, should you feel there’s a shortage of live versions of Band on the Run in the world.
Obits • Michael Jackson
For comedians everywhere, Michael Jackson’s passing was as cataclysmic an event as George W. Bush leaving the office. Once a brilliant, black performer, the by-the-end weirdest white dude in pop music is as irretrievably gone as his original nose and color. From now on, kids everywhere will have to settle for only being touched by his songs.
Obits • Patrick Swayze
Who’ll keep baby from being put in the corner now?
Obits • David Carradine
Caine from Kung-Fu died in the throes of kinky sex at the tender age of 72, which is both disturbing and sort of awesome. He’s probably spending the afterlife comparing belts with Michael Hutchence.
Obits • Ted Kennedy
A real Chappaquiddick (rimshot!), Kennedy was nevertheless beloved by his constituency of Massholes. After being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, he held on as long as he could in the hope that he would see his fight for universal healthcare come to fruition. His successor immediately thrash-talked the Red Sox, losing the seat to a former Playgirl model. Kennedy and his legacy deserved better.
Obits • Jim Carroll
Saw the man himself live in Providence, RI in 2001. Worst haircut I’ve ever seen. Stole a good 20 minutes from Portnoy’s Complaint (the bit with the chicken breasts), passing it off as a work in progress. Absolutely hilarious. Carroll wrote druggy poetry about drugs (inspired by doing a lot of drugs), hung out with Lou Reed and Allen Ginsberg (with whom drugs were done), and wrote that book that became that movie where Leonardo DiCaprio gets it in the butt in prison (off-screen, you perverts).
Obits • Arne Bendiksen
Ville Vesten blir aldri som før.
Movies • The Good
Can Quentin Tarantino do no wrong*? Behind the camera, that is? Inglorious Basterds is both a suspenseful and irreverent homage to flicks like The Dirty Dozen. Jewish GIs roam the European countryside during WW2, beating nazis to death with baseball bats, assasinating Hitler in Paris in 1944 and so on. It sounds like a terrible idea, but miraculously, it works, leaving Tarantino with his best movie since Jackie Brown. Like Jackie Brown before it, Inglorious Basterds is an actor’s movie, anchored by a stellar performance by Christoper Waltz, who steals every scene he’s in. Eli Roth sucks, of course, but we already knew that.
*Yes. (See: Four Rooms, Death Proof, every acting appearance)
500 Days of Summer
A male-centric romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer is funny, often truthful and not a little moving. It’s refreshing to see a movie tackling falling both in and out of love with this much irreverent insight. I wish the female protagonist was more developed, but Zooey Deschanel acquits herself well, imbuing her character with more personality than the script affords her. OK, it’s sort of Annie Hall for the iPod generation, but how is that bad, exactly?
Yeah, yeah. Look, Pixar gets one every year. That’s just how it works.
While it’s basically Dances With Wolves on the Moon of Endor, Avatar is an impressive visual achievement. Already the highest-grossing movie of all time, the superlative CGI and tasteful use of 3D-effects make a (very) simplistic new-agey story into a spectacular, immersive cinematic experience. Grumpy old Lucius Shepard likened it to being “hit in the face with a bucket of shit, which is also an immersive experience,” but in this case I beg to differ. Strangely, Avatar has become a debating point in American conservative circles, as they argue whether or for or against conservatism. This probably says more about American conservatives than Avatar.
trench warfare, in the clashroom of civilizations. (I can’t follow a pun like that with an actual write-up.)
Lars von Trier’s latest demented headtrip heads into horror territory, and as always, I’m not sure if it’s good or not. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, with Trier’s head games going full tilt and moving into the physical realm. Purportedly a horror movie, it’s a more unsettling and perverse character study (as usual) than scary movie. And spooky as the fox may have been, the real horror, for any parent, occurs at the very start. (Though I had to close my eyes for scissors scene) I often suspect Trier is just fucking with us, thinking “Are they gonna call bullshit on this one?”. Nevertheless he’s a one-off, and even his misses are worth watching. As I stated, I’m undecided, but Anti-Christ nevertheless made a deep impression, so Trier wins again, I suppose.
This slice of speculative science fiction, commenting on apartheid and racism in South Africa, turns into a more basic chase thriller in the second half, though with really gnarly guns n’ shit. Many pages has been written on its perceived politics already, so I’ll focus on the visceral and keep it succinct: District 9 kicks ass.
Movies • The Bad
Roland Emmerich destroys the world – again. 2012 is the quintessential modern blockbuster, both in terms of execution and of philosophy. It adheres to no observable reality, paying only lip service to the laws of nature, physics and probability; the characters are cut from the thinnest of cardboard and it’s philosophically dubious at best: The world is destroyed in loving, pornographic slow motion while a few thousand people survive by virtue of their being incredibly rich. 2012 is either a hypercapitalistic wet dream or a call for worker’s revolt, but after the first hour of non-stop destruction, you’ll be too weary to care.
Transformers 2: Revenge of Megan Fox’ Tits
Two and a half hours of watching scrap metal either fighting or fucking (you really can’t tell), minstrel robots, epilepsy-inducing editing and giant truck nutz. Yep, it’s a Michael Bay flick! Megan Fox does her pouty sexyface thing throughout, which is fine, but it doesn’t make for much of a movie.
Movies • The Ugly
G.I. Joe: Let Us Shit On Your Eyeballs Now
As a former G.I. Joe fan, I’m obviously biased, but really: With over a decade of material from which to craft a decent techno-thriller, why jettison it all in favor of whatever the hell this was? Stephen Sommers proved conclusively that the enjoyable first installment of The Mummy was a fluke. The pathetic script, no doubt written in crayon, reconfigures all the relationships and origin stories, serving up an impossibly convoluted universe where the uttery moronic storyline can play out. I can’t believe somebody read the script and said “Alright, let’s do this!” G.I. Joe cost a staggering 170(!) million(!!) dollars(!!!) to make, but looks like a TV movie compared to the far more modestly budgeted District 9.
Trends • Social media
As everyone and their grandmother join services like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Plaxo, Streamy, Tumblr, Plurk, Friendfeed, Shutterbug, Blogspot, Flickr, Soup.io, Friendfeed, Posterous, Feed.ly, Wankr, Identi.ca and Etcete.ra, and overshares every minute detail of their non-eventful lives, questions about legally questionable wiretaps and gub’mint surveillance are rendered somewhat moot. Unfortunately, Osama Bin Laden’s cave doesn’t have broadband, so the CIA is currently unaware of his LOLcat preferences.
Trends • Islamophobiafascism
In one corner: “Look, I’m not a racist, but muslims are dirty, thieving savages leeching on social security while planning a sharia takeover of our country, just like that neighbourhood where there’s a bunch of those people and do you know what it says in the Koran – I totally read it on this blog – yes, I know it says the exact same thing in the Bible but you can hardly compare the two, now can you?” and in the other corner: “Peace is the way, but I will threaten your infidel ass with a new 9/11 because the Almighty, bless his bushy beard, is incapable of coping with a pencil drawing”. In the middle: “For fuck’s sake. Can we get on with our fucking lives, you hysterical twats?”
Trends • Open culture
“If you love Linux so much, why don’t you marry it?” Well, you can buy sex dolls with programmable personalities now, so I predict that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Single Greatest Achievment by Anyone, Anywhere, Ever • Alexander Rybak Wins The Eurovision Song Contest
Dep’t of Criswell • Predictions for 2010
A natural disaster will occur. A famous person will die. Norway will fail to qualify. Tim Burton will work with Johnny Depp. Bill Kristol will be wrong about everything. George Lucas will enrage rabid Star Wars fans. Dan Savage will give advice on what you regard as deviant sexual acts, and you will read it anyway.
So in conclusion…
…keep casting the lovely Paula Marshall and we’re good.