Welcome! Time to ring in the old and ring
out the new. Or whatever. Here’s the best of 2017 picks, from our editors and contributors. Remember, it didn’t necessarily come out in 2017—it’s just something we enjoyed in 2017. Because 2017 was so awesome. You thought 2016 sucked? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! And please, remember the rules—there are no rules.
Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sure, this season (the first in 6 years) was full of callbacks and recycled jokes, but I still laughed out loud, hard, at least once per episode. And man did I need to.
Nathan For You – the “Finding Francis” episode. Not familiar with Nathan Fielder? He’s a prankster. And his pranks swiftly become very elaborate. This feature-length (series finale?) episode is his chef d’oeuvre.
30 Rock – now 10 years old, it’s still hilarious. See Alec Baldwin portray Jack Donaghy, NBC’s head of Television Programming and Microwave Ovens. His warm-up for taking on the Trump role. Plus Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Rip Torn and many, many others.
Wormwood. A documentary by the great Errol Morris, about the CIA and LSD. Need I say anything more?
Mr. Robot Season 3. This show lost a lot of folks in its sophomore season (the first half of which, I’ll admit, was a bit of a slog) but it lived up to its promise this year. Best show on TV. Except maybe for the two (TWO!) shows created (and frequently written and directed) by Noah Hawley this year:
Fargo Season 3, and Legion Season 1. Like Mr. Robot, Fargo is essentially a critique of capitalism—when the big fish (David Thewlis) rolls into town to perform a hostile takeover of the little fish (Ewan McGregor)—he promises him riches and all he has to give up is—everything. We notice that Thewlis is not only bulimic but also literally rotting from the inside out. Legion was trippy as hell (ok, a bit on the nose having a character named Syd Barret). If Aubrey Plaza doesn’t get an Emmy for her incredible work in this, there’s no justice. So no, I don’t expect her to get an Emmy.
Dunkirk. I haven’t really enjoyed anything Christopher Nolan has done since Memento, primarily I suppose because he has a way of creating amazing worlds and then ruining them with hackneyed and contrived third acts. But since Dunkirk is based on a true story, he couldn’t fuck it up. Mesmerizing. And Harry is, of course, dreamy (parents of tweens will understand…)
Baby Driver is ultimately just another car chase movie, but it’s worth seeing for its soundtrack alone (and maybe only for that reason). Any film that starts out by playing the entire, original “Harlem Shuffle” can’t be all bad.
Personal Shopper. Such a strange film, about loss and alienation. I was engrossed, even by the 20-minute sequence on the train that’s essentially watching Kirsten Stewart text with-who? It also features Ms. Stewart in a bondage dress, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Blade Runner 2049. In many ways, superior to the original (which was also a box-office failure and unloved by critics), not just thematically but even visually, and it speaks to what my be THE issue of our time—the rise of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. And it quotes Nabakov’s Pale Fire, which is kind of unusual for a Hollywood blockbuster, but makes perfect sense here as the film is about (among other things) the fallability of memory—of humans and computers. The movie was full of Borgesian hrönir. The whole goddamn movie was a frickin’ hrönir! Mark my words—just like the original, this film will grown on people and be seen as a classic in another 5 or 10 years.
Jim & Andy. I’m not a Jim Carrey fan (or even a big Andy Kaufmann fan for that matter—though I loved the wrestling stuff), but this behind-the-scenes look at a mega-rich, world-famous actor essentially having a nervous breakdown on camera (or was he?) and then finding spiritual rebirth was fascinating.
Ladybird. How many times did you cry (without feeling manipulated) while watching this? If you have teenage daughters, take them to see this. If you don’t have teenage daughters, go anyway.
Get Out. Best horror film in years. Or was it the best comedy in years?
The Lost City of Z. A throwback of sorts to the grand old days of exploration. Apparently seen by about as many people who saw the lost city.
Art: Louise Bourgeois, “Spiders,” SF MoMA.
Sapiens / Homo Deus. If you’ve ever studied anthropology, or ancient history, or know much about economics, much here won’t be new to you. But Yuval Noah Harari’s interpretations are, dare I say it, new. I have not yet met a single person who has read either one of these books who did not describe them as “mind-blowing,” “incredible” and even “life-changing.” Essentially about the biomechanization of humankind. What is it that makes humans special? Stories.
Neuromancer. After watching Blade Runner 2049, I was somehow compelled to go back and give this a re-re-re-read. Despite the inadvertantly hilarious miscues (eg, everybody still smokes – indoors; people are using landline phones; the computers still require TV-sized monitors ) it is prescient in its depiction of AI as the biggest threat facing humanity.
The White Album / Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Seemed like a good time to re-read these, what with it being the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, and Chuck Manson finally biting the dust. I don’t always (ok, frequently) agree with her point of view – she’s a bit of a square, a bit of a scold – but is there anybody around today who can craft essays like this?
Up and Down with the Rolling Stones. True comfort reading. And this year demanded comfort reading. “Author” Tony Sanchez is clearly a fabulist, and why would anybody trust his druggy memories? Tony is constantly scoring and smuggling drugs for the Stones, and taking drugs with them, yet he periodically reminds us of his rectitude by repeating the refrain: “I am not a drug dealer.” The book’s original title, when it came out in 1979, was I Was Keith Richard’s Drug Dealer. Still, it has the ring of truth to it. Right up there with Hammer of the Gods in the pantheon of rock debauchery tell-alls.
Music: Last year it was all about the release of the Velvet Underground’s Matrix Tapes. This year I’ve been digging deep and enjoying the work of la Monte Young, Terry Riley. John Cale and Tony Conrad. Which ones, you ask? Doesn’t matter.
Studio One Rockers. If this doesn’t make you happy and feel like jumping, I can’t help you. Chock full of massive classic reggae hits.
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price. I love classic country (George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, etc.) and generally can’t stand the modern stuff, but I love this throwback record (the title obviously a callout to Loretta Lynn) by Margo Price. Best country record I’ve heard since Levon’s last.
In a year that saw many of us wake every morning wondering what new terror the day would bring, this by far (for me anyway) takes the cake: The Boston Dynamics super robot:
10 Favorite Books of 2017, and one that got away
(in no order and I’m not sure they all came out this year)
1) Sheila Maldonado, One Bedroom Solo (Fly by Night)
2) Steve Dalachinsky, Dream Book (no date or publisher inside)
3) Elaine Equi, Sentences and Rain (Coffee House Press)
4) Jerome Sala, Corporations are People, Too ( New York Quarterly Press)
5) Ron Kolm, A Change in the Weather (Sensitive Skin)
6) Thad Rutkowski, Guess and Check (Gival Press)
7) Tom Goyens, ed., Radical Gotham: Anarchism in New York City from Schwab’s Saloon to Occupy Wall Street (University of Illinois Press)
Note: this book has a piece on ABC No Rio by Alan Moore
8) Peter Fleming, The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation (University of Chicago Press)
9) The Invisible Committee, Now (Semiotexte)
10) George Caffentzis, No Blood for Oil: Essays on Energy, Class Struggle and War, 1988-2016 (Autonomedia)
The one that got away. This is the film I wanted to see, based on previews, but missed:
The Villainess (director: Jung Byung-gil)
Hunter of Stories, Eduardo Galeano. A collection of short poetic meditations on history, nature, politics, selfhood and anecdotal stories about people whose paths he crossed.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
Once I got used to the form of this moving novel I couldn’t put it down.
Reread Last Exit to Brooklyn, which survives as a deep cut in the heart of Brooklyn’s romanticized nostalgia.
Shape of Water
Call Me By Your Name
Theater of the Absurd:
“My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2017
Frances McDormand’s “Difficult Women,” NYT Magazine, Oct. 8,2017
2017, in our year of the Trump, I survived, but just barely. Every day I woke up to a dark depression that was in fact a reality. I don’t know about the rest of the nation but in L.A. there’s this external stress in the streets, a palatable tension, that translates into people acting badly as the anxiety level gets tweaked up another notch on a daily basis with every absurd tweet and slashing of human rights. How the hell we all made it through this last year without blowing our brains out amazes me. Seriously I just wanted to avoid EVERYTHING. It took me four months after the inauguration to even look at the news and even then it was only in short glances. Thank the universe for Netflix binge watching. Thank you socialist institutions like the public library. And a big huge THANK YOU to every artist, musician, writer, and filmmaker for continuing to express our own visions of creativity and inspiration. Our determination not to be repressed, controlled and exploited is what keeps hope alive.
My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean by Amy Dresner
I just finished Amy Dresner’s My Fair Junkie and I’m truly impressed. Not only that Dresner wrote such a strong compelling memoir, but that she’s actually still alive. Alcoholic, meth-head, sex addict, pill popper, suicidal, and serial rehabist—damn! Whether you’re in recovery or not My Fair Junkie is an all-encompassing equal-opportunity addiction extravaganza—there’s something here for everyone to identify with—a solid read for the entire family.
Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg
This may sound odd, given the subject matter, but Tod Goldberg achieves a certain sophistication in his language while writing about all that murder and mayhem in Gangster Nation. Obviously he could have gone the total full-frontal shoot ‘em up. But instead Goldberg got inside his protagonist’s mind and explored his ongoing (and readily relatable) issues of identity and desire. Throw in a subplot of the effects of organized crime on American society and the ever evolving debate on religious freedom and you have much more to digest than your usual run-of-the-mill crime novel. Plus, let’s face it. Sequels are hard. Most times the second book is judged not by its quality, but by its quality compared to the quality of the first book. Like as if it couldn’t be considered as a stand-alone piece of work. Fortunately Gangster Nation is just as strong and compelling as Gangsterland (maybe even better). If you haven’t already gotten into this series, you should do so now.
Razorcake Magazine “America’s only fanzine dedicated to punk to with a nonprofit status,” still consistently churns out good stuff. Out of the ashes of Flipside magazine Todd Taylor (with Daryl Gussin and a ton of other folks) put in the long hours that are needed to keep a magazine like this alive. Where are the punks these days? Here (and see my following reviews).
I’m Not Your Negro – Raul Peck Director
Beautifully intense documentary on the writer James Baldwin at a time when racism has risen its ugly head once again (not that it ever went fully away, but at least for a minute politician weren’t presumptuous enough to admit they hankered for the good ol’ days of slavery and the KKK). Baldwin was an articulate intellectual who wasn’t afraid to say what he was thinking. Halfway into the movie Baldwin is being interviewed by Dick Cavett and it suddenly hits me: a writer is being interviewed on a mainstream talk show! This was like 1968 and intellectualism wasn’t shunned via the dumbing of America. Fuck. I do not usually yearn of the past. But this, beautiful…
Three Films I’m planning on seeing (if I ever leave the house again) maybe they’ll make the best of 2018 List.
Ozark – all I can say is fuck yeah! I was in mourning after Breaking Bad ran its final season and then Ozark arrived. And while Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are no Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, they do a damn good job of bringing the cringe factor back to a dark as hell crime drama television series. Drug cartels, crazy crime boss(es), money laundering, scary hit men, the FBI, white trash local criminals, and even a body dropping from a skyscraper in the first 10 minutes. Yes, wholesome family entertainment.
Mindhunter – Two FBI agents hell bent on creating the new concept of “criminal science” begin profiling and interviewing incarcerated serial killers. It’s the ’70s. Bundy, Gacy, Berkowitz, Dahmer, and Rameriz are not household words, yet. Meanwhile the viewer is being fed visual bites of an up and coming killer in the American Heartland and the affect in dark, foreboding, and ominous. I got hooked after the 2nd episode.
Taboo – I usually hate period pieces, or more to the point anything ENGLISH TV. Shit like Up The Down Staircase and Downton Abbey immediately make me yawn and I’m through after 30 seconds of forced cockney accents. But Taboo is goddamn Tom Hardy, and its DARK as fuck (seems to be a theme here with my binge TV viewing) and while most of the dialogue is indecipherable – the visuals are, well, very visual.
Sleep Well Beast by The National – perhaps the most un-National record The National has ever put out. And while I yearn for them to just keep putting out albums as good as Boxer, I have to admit that this one is a great album too. Although when Rolling Stone heralded it as their BEST EVER I was not only skeptical by put off listening to it for months in fear of getting sucked into the over-hype and hating it just because. But yeah, I give it an 89, you can dance to it, I mean somebody can dance to it, because I don’t dance…
Damn by Kendrick Lamar – okay, I’m strictly old school rap. Public Enemy, N.W.A., Eric B. and Rakim, maybe even a little Ghetto Boys and Naughty by Nature. So when folks talk about rap nowadays I’m like that old man shaking his fist at the kids. “You don’t know what real music is!” BUT, I gotta say, Lamar kills it with Humble. In fact the whole damn album (see what I did there? uh huh, lyrical and shit) screams, “hell yeah.”
The Trigger Complex by T.S.O.L. No punk that came out after ’85 is even worth mentioning (sorry, but Green Day sucks!). And even though a lot of bands have come up, they’re usually just playing a rehashed version of the Clash or Pistols. Which isn’t new or even interesting and it basically makes everyone nostalgic for the old shit. Which suddenly made it financially viable for a bunch of old geezers to dust off their leather jackets and get back on stage. Now all our old faves are out touring in their 60s and it’s sort of depressing to go see a band that is still playing the same shit they were in 1984 and haven’t written anything new since. There’s a definite argument for the vitality of angry youth making good punk music. Thankfully T.S.O.L. didn’t try to write the same old sound and went the other direction and put out a new album that completely changes the focus and once again evolves themselves as a band.
Pedal Strike – So where have all the punkers gone? Mostly we’ve gotten married, some had kids, some got sucked into a job and/or a mortgage, a lot of us went to rehab, and most of us watch television (seriously, I’m not the only one, right!!??). In other words we got old. Oddly a lot of kids in L.A.—think marginal, think Latinx youth, think skateboarding pocs and think outside the mainstream punk idiom—still want to be hella punk. Pedal Strike represents what’s happening on the streets of this city, in between the lanes. The work you have to put in just to create some space for yourself, with detractors and cops on every corner. Defeat isn’t an option. And then there’s the sound: ripping, garage-y, surf-punk guitar, tailed by a rhythm section that predates high school, with The Beast From The Northeast leading the charge. This is Los Angeles. Pedal Strike! Ride your bike! Keep an eye out for Pedal Strike, I’m hoping for greatness from this band.
Shepard Fairey “DAMAGED” in Los Angeles at the Library Street Collective Nov. 15 – Dec. 17, 2017: The official statement, “’Damaged’ is the forthcoming solo art exhibition from artist and provocateur Shepard Fairey. A nimble and prolific street artist, a skilled graphic artist, and a multifacfted fine artist, ‘Damaged’ is the artist’s largest-ever solo show in Los Angeles.” The free tickets via Facebook for the opening night made this a disaster for anyone that was fool enough to try and attend. Of course being L.A. the celebs got in the back door while thousands stood in line for hours (not too counter-culture Mr. Fairey). However, when the dust settled and one could actually get into the Chinatown gallery Fairey’s genius was literally on display in a multimedia presentation that did not disappoint. Once again there was art as a political revolutionary weapon – OBEY!
Shepard Fairey's "Damaged" exhibition
A massive gallery show from designer Shepard Fairey has taken over a warehouse in Chinatown.
Posted by Time Out Los Angeles on Saturday, November 11, 2017
Based on my limitations – rising in my face…by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive…
BEST FILM: Song to Song
BEST NOVEL: Lincoln in the Bardo
BEST CONCERT: Poptone
BEST ART SHOW: Bruce Conner (SF MOMA)
BEST TV: Twin Peaks; American Horror Story: Cult; Feud: Bette & Joan
BEST POLITICAL EVENT: Women’s March
BEST NEW POETS (to me): Josh Lubin (Portland, Oregon), Izzy Casey (Iowa City, Iowa)
MOST INSPIRING BUDDHIST TEACHER (for me): Anam Thubten Ripoche
In Prince’s lifetime, the man was very protective of his music and image, but after his untimely death on April 21, 2016 things changed. Within days the internet was bubbling with “new” old music, bootleg concerts, gritty MTV interviews and other audio/visual memorabilia that would’ve had the little man ranting and threatening to sue. Torn between being respectful to my idol’s wishes or devouring the found materials, I chose the latter as I dived deep into those archives as though it was 1985.
Still mourning the man one year later, 2017 brought many other Princely treats including a Paisley Park museum and the reissue of Purple Rain with bonus material. While that was cool, the juicy cherry on top was Warner Brother’s summertime decision to start a Prince channel on YouTube that highlighted golden years visual delights that dated back to his rocking jeans and a tiger print top in the low-budget “I Want to be Your Lover” in 1979. Personal favorites include the blackadelic psychedelia of “Raspberry Beret” and the futuristic funk gangster swaggering through “Sexy M.F.”
Although these clips were like visual velveteen time machines for us old schoolers, I envision a generation of curious kids, who might’ve read Prince’s name in a Frank Ocean or St. Vincent interview, searching YouTube and being influenced by his wondrous sound and vision. Who knows, in the end, they might emerge from their bedrooms with the brilliant pop of tomorrow.
Day of the Oprichnik, by Russia’s best living writer, Vladimir Sorokin. In 2028 a new Ivan the Terrible is in power, and Komyaga, a high ranking member of the technologically-enhanced elite guard, upholds the honor of Holy Russia by murdering the enemies of the state, raping their wives, blowing up their houses, suppressing artists and intellectuals, taking bribes, ingesting exotic drugs, consulting fortune tellers, outsmarting Chinese customs agents, and joining his brothers in the baths for orgies. The subject matter is gruesome and distressing, the writing snaps and sparkles.
The Reactionary Mind, by Corey Robin. Conservatism is motivated by a soul-deadening fear of any change and a desire to appease those that have power, unless by some odd chance those in power happen to desire to remedy injustice. The ideal is always the most unjust society from the past.
The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon. A wonderfully creative look at a changing world and a secret reactionary plot to stem the change, as well as a fun tour of the charming and scary weirdness of California.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. A fascinating glimpse into Scots-Irish culture. I identified with the willful and mystifying hijinks of Vance’s relatives. Alas, the latter portion of the book can safely be skipped, as Vance goes on to inject a self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, and essentially clueless conservative message on top of a genuine understanding and unvarnished appraisal of a group of people who constitute a large part of the “American” people.
Burr, by Gore Vidal. Kicks off Vidal’s 7-novel critique of the “American experiment,” powered by his unique combination of left-leaning politics, populism, and reaction, all delivered from a privileged position in what used to be called the “Eastern Establishment.” Vidal’s anti-hero is the perfect anti-hero: Burr is a scoundrel, who schemed, defrauded people, perhaps molested his daughter, and always felt sorry for himself. And shot Alexander Hamilton. (I’m old enough to remember when Hamilton was the bad guy, and Jefferson was a great genius who unfortunately had owned slaves.) We feel sympathy for Burr in spite of all of this. Vidal always has the perfect cutting observation.
Modernism, by Peter Gay. A text book, but it’s worth the effort. Modernism is not dead; it’s the world. And despite the critique of capitalism, it could not exist without capitalism. In fact, it’s the perfect foil.
Vietnam, by Stanley Karnow. A more perfect description of human folly and its terrible consequences cannot be conceived. As history this is brilliant; Karnow is a fantastic observer, incredibly well-connected, and with the requisite intelligence, experience, and elegance to interview characters as disparate as Henry Kissinger and Võ Nguyên Giáp. There is a vast amount of published work in the United States on the Vietnam War, and, as near as I can tell, most of it is very self-absorbed and US-focused, and shows little understanding of the two-thousand plus year history of Vietnam. (Vietnam is the place, where, after all, the bombs were dropped, the Agent Orange was sprayed, and people were fried with napalm.) The seemingly endless analyses of “where we went wrong,” and “how we could have won,” are just ridiculous. Karnow’s history starts with Vietnam’s history, which, as noted above, predates that of the United States by about 16 centuries. Karnow’s account of Ho Chi Minh’s upbringing and life, and his conversion to Communism (Lenin’s writings on imperialism were a major influence), encapsulates what we were up against. And Karnow’s devastating account of the petty intrigues and infighting of South Vietnamese officials explains why our “allies” were so ineffective. As one South Vietnamese official told Karnow, “You want to win more than we do.” (Tell me that doesn’t sound like Afghanistan today.) If that’s not enough, the brutal accounts of South Vietnamese corruption are simply mind-blowing, down to the millions of dollars in gold that South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu carried with him when he fled Saigon in April 1975. Even worse is the horrifying destruction that our intervention inflicted on Vietnam, in every way imaginable. But most heartbreaking of all is the way American government officials, especially LBJ, blundered willfully and ignorantly into the war, suppressing their doubts and hiding the truth every step of the way.
Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, by Mel Gordon. An encyclopedic compendium of the wildest place and time ever, surpassing even Downtown New York in the Seventies.
The Castle, by Franz Kafka. Kafkaesque, in the most literal sense. Would someone please tell K why he was asked to come?
Dex Romweber Duo: The title song of The Ruins of Berlin will blow your mind. Never has ruin sounded so good.
Amon Düül II: This band defined “Krautrock,” a term which, not surprisingly, its practitioners never used. They called it kosmische Musik, i.e., cosmic music. Which it is.
Salome, by Richard Strauss, libretto by Oscar Wilde. The story of Salome and her father King Herod’s lust for her. Sounds like history keeps repeating itself.
Gustav Klimt. Okay, yeah, we’ve all seen his work a thousand times. In dorm rooms through a cloud of indeterminate smoke. I never quite got it. Gold leaf, languid expressions, a stray breast. After I visited Vienna and saw Klimt in context I understood.
Block Island. What a fantastic little island, with everything from great beaches to 200 to 300 foot cliffs to the best lobster roll I’ve ever had to the Sacred Labyrinth.
Berlin. A multicultural, inexpensive, livable, and functional city with the freedom that New York used to have.
Vienna. What can you say about a city where Mozart action figures are on sale? Plus fantastic museums and great classical music, with subways that provide reading material.
The Wild Children of William Blake, by John Yau, Autonomedia, 2017. An interesting collection of essays on poets throughout history.
The Cupcake Chronicles, by Patricia Carragon, Poets Wear Prada Press, 2017. Wonderful new collection of poems by the Brownstone Poet herself!
Long Day, Counting Tomorrow, by Jim Feast, Unbearable Books/Autonomedia, 2017. This book was written with Carol Wierzbicki, and is the precursor to Neo Phobe. There will eventually be a trilogy, and all of these books are novels that deal obliquely with the Unbearables and, of course, philosophy.
Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country: and Other Stories by Chavisa Woods, Seven Stories Press, 2017. A terrific collection of shorter pieces.
Pierced by Night-Colored Threads by Dean Kostos, published by MadHat Press, 2017. With Dean Kostos you get the whole deal; brilliant, thought-provoking poems that are also well wrought.
Frozen Heatwave by Yuko Otomo and Steve Dalachinsky, Luna Bisonte, 2017. The most recent production, I think, by this prolific pair of wordsmiths, just back from their well-received tour of France.
Medusa’s Country by Larissa Shmailo, MadHat Press, 2017. Larissa Shmailo gives us a map of her life, with all the blasted, post-apocalyptic cities she’s journeyed through etched in blood on it. She is a truth-teller, and that is one of her strengths. But she is also smart; she knows the artifacts of this culture and she uses them to great effect. We go from Natalie Wood, through Plato’s Retreat to Cythera, and that’s just scratching the surface. This is the guidebook you need to pack in your suitcase for your own journey through Hell.
I was also lucky enough to catch the Max Ernst show at MOMA in 2017. I don’t suppose you can go back in time, but treat yourself to his images in a book. He is one of my favorite artists.
And I would like to mention my sons’ band, Arklight – they are getting really good!
Movie: My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Novel: A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith
Rock CD: The Jam at the BBC The Jam
Classical CD: Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, French National Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
Jazz CD: Written in the Stars by The Bill Charlap Trio
Nothing new, but it was all new once upon a time!
Corey Lewandowski’s description of a typical Trump meal in Let Trump Be Trump: Two Big Macs, two Filet of Fish, one small (sic) chocolate shake, diet Coke. My favorite fantasy: a pain in the presidential arm, a tightening in the chest, the last thing he sees is Obama’s face . . . .
The frank discussion of Nazism in the Trump camp in Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain.
Jeff Flake’s campaign contribution to Doug Jones (now, if Flake hadn’t voted with Trump 92 percent of the time, we may have gotten somewhere).
The very meanest: The elimination of the tax deduction for teachers who buy supplies out of their own pockets for their students
BEST of What I Can Remember of 2017
• Illuminade: Annual Amsterdam light sculpture festival lights up Amsterdam in fantastically curious ways.
• Holy Motors: Leo Carax. Astonishing European magical-realist film about an actor chauffered around in a limo from one appointment to another to act out various bizarre roles he’s been hired to play as he drifts through other worlds in nocturnal Paris in a single night.
• Bohren & Der Club of Gore: German langourous-downbeat-crossover-moody-ambient-dark-jazz band producing “autopsy sounds.”
• The Road: John Hillcoat. American post-apocalytic road movie featuring a man and his son struggling to survive after a global disaster, based on Cormac McCarthy novel.
• Play as Protest: Enrico Baj, Cobra Museum, spring. Featuring Italian surreal-dada-Cobra artist’s playful-anarcho inclinations. Baj: “only fun can validly oppose the system”. In a review of Wiggling Wishbone he referred to me as an “erotic pataphysicist.” He also made a special artwork for the birth of daughter, Paloma.
• Ed van der Elsken: Stedelijk Museum, spring 2017. Great Amsterdam street photographer who captured Amsterdam hippie days, Paris and Indonesia. >
• Walkabout: Nicolas Roeg. 40 years later, still a gripping film about two kids trekking across the Outback to escape a father whose gone berserko. I’m very much into escape/journey/road movies.
• The Warp: October 100 years: Celebrating the Russian Revolution, in the Kunstkapel, Amsterdam, October. iImmersive AudioVisualSpatial event involving sound, shadow puppets, diary recitations, and dance in a perfectly round hall.
• The Haunt Road: Karen Garthe, pre-publication, Spuyten Duyvil. Imagine distilled haikus that lead us away from ourselves. Imagine a head-on collision between Captain Beefheart and Emily Dickinson.
• Dale Cooper Quartet and the Dictaphones: French dark-jazz collective combines slowed-down 50s cool Miles Davis, Nick Cave-ish vocals, mega-noise, dark ambiences, ghostly voices, dingy-dreamy melodies, allusions to Twin Peaks…
• Museum Tinguely: Basel, spring. Jean Tinguely’s engaging art combines play, confrontation, humor, melancholy and the senseless progress of humankind with moving contraptions to create “something bright and cheerful for children to clamber and jump about.”
• Freaks & Geeks: Yes, watched the entire “failed” series again with daughter and lodger. Just as amusing 2nd time around, actually blows away all other 1970s films or series.
• Master Musicians of JouJouka, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam, spring. Moroccan hypnotic trance introduced to Brian Jones by Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin and then to the rest of us.
• Eugene Chadbourne / The Ex, OCCII, Amsterdam, summer. Headed an all-star line-up inc. Crass alumni. Chadbourne’s illuminating lo-fi pop troubadour reconfigurations are genius and the Ex remain the greatest post-punk-improv-noise-jazz-world-music band ever concocted.
• The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Carré, Amsterdam. Truth is Nina and Paloma went for the play, while I went mostly for the interior of this legendary theatre, but ended up enjoying the production anyway.
• Assault on the Impossible: Dutch Collective Imagination in the Sixties & Seventies, Marjolijn van Riemsdijk, Autonomedia. Hippie-anarchist, autonomous, illuminated, purposeful, transformative fun.
• TinTin in the New World, Frederic Tuten. TinTin becomes an adult with scary urges and consciousness in a metafictional world.
• No War on My Skin Gjoll + 2kilos&More + Black Sifichi, spoken word + grinding downbeat electronica + Sifichi’s Ken-Nordine-after-the-apocalypse vocals.
• Peace Piece, Bill Evans: how frigging beautiful can a piano sound? Listen to Evans.
• Mirror Wars: Mark Stewart vs Lee Scratch Perry, lyrical, dub-noise, kick-ass resistance.
Paris Scratch and NY Sin Phoney – bart plantenga
john godfery – selected poems
wadada leo smith solo cd for monk
kris davis duopoly
bill frisell / thomas morgan duo on ecm
relative pitch for overall record label
ditto clean feed and rogueart
hamid drake and sylvain kassap duo on rogueart
all mathew shipp cds of 2017
all satoko fuji cds
jadurowsky film – endless poetry
carol rama at the new museum
robert rauschenberg at MOMA
Maine Marsden Hartley at Met Brauer
Lygia Pape at Met Brauer
Picasso 1932 erotic work at Picasso Museum Paris
Rubens portraits – musée de gargen d’luxembourg
Giacometti, Balthus and Derain at the musee art moderne paris
I tried to put a list together that reflects what has pleased me most in the last year and a half. I relocated to New York (Chinatown) in 2017 and am very narrowly focused at the moment, but sometimes a certain focus can work wonders. It did for me.
The revival of the East Village Eye, Editor Leonard Abrams. Also best event/show at Howl Happening. When Abrams decided to bring out a new issue it was really exciting and it energized and revitalized things in a great, old-school way. I love an underground, alternative, kick-ass newspaper that also showcases vital artistic work. I asked Abrams to share a link to his favorite past issue as well, linked to below. Bonny Finberg’s Interview “A Landscape From His Own Desire. A Conversation With Edgar Oliver” was my favorite thing in the new issue.
Howl Happening, at 61 East 1st Street. Their events and readings are almost always packed, with people spilling out onto the street much the same way we used to do openings back in the day and really do qualify as “happenings.” Events are fresh and served up regularly, they serve white wine, and you can get really good fried chicken a block away.
KGB Bar is still so much fun. The drinks are too short and expensive, they don’t serve draft beer, and it is hard to maneuver around the room, but it is also hard not to have a good time there. They give over to writers in a way that no other place else really does. And you don’t have to compete with the front of the house. Best reading there was Jeffrey Cyphers Wright’s, at the release party for the Cafe Review on November 1st. He is simply hilarious.
The Parkside is always fun, servers are great, and there are huge half moon booths in the back where you can feel a bit glamorous in that Rat Pack sort of way. Best reading there was the Great Weather For Media event, especially poets Hillary Keel, Sergio G. Satélite, and Mas Walker. Tsaurah Litzky read some great poems there as well, at the 100,000 Poets For Change event in September.
Swift Hibernian Lounge Just a damn lovely room to hear a reading or give a reading in. Best location, best drafts. Best reading there was Susan Sherman’s in November.
Local Knowledge, the magazine, and reading series. Editor Sanjay Agnihotri has put together a great magazine of fiction, poetry, art/photography, and interviews.
“Love and Strangulation” by Carl Watson, Sensitive Skin #13
#MeToo, Tessa Lena
My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Written and drawn by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. She is Chicago-based and just a fantastic artist. I believe all of the art was created with pencils and pen.
Roar Feminist, an online magazine Edited by Anna March. Anna March is our treasure. https://roarfeminist.org/
Essay in Dead Housekeeping:
The most annoying fucking article about writing of the year (but the most fun backlash):
Jia Tolentino is good at what she does, but she was completely off base here.
Conflict Is Not Abuse, Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair, by Sarah Schulman Arsenal Pulp Press. And most anything she has to say on social media. She is always thinking, and never just about one thing.
I have very little time or cash to go to the movie theater, but seeing Call Me By Your Name at the Paris this December was simply the best. Based on Andre Aciman’s novel by the same name and directed by Luca Gaudagnino, it is the best thing I’ve seen in years and years. And aside from the actual sex/romance in it you can get all the passionate feels about beautiful characters who switch languages mid-conversation.
The fact that my idol Arundhati Roy put out her first novel in 20 years, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Knopf).
Maxine Water’s “Reclaiming My Time”
Matt Shipp’s musicality and activism rolled up into one profane year of posts about #FuckingTrump while also touring the world.
Ron Kolm, Jim Feast and Shalom Neuman put out a massive, important, and timely new anthology through Autonomedia: From Somewere to Nowhere: The End of the American Dream, and for that we are grateful. Pleased to be in the same issue with Elaine Equi!
Books: Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane, Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil
Favorite CD: Sounds of the rainforest by “the rainforest collective.”
Movies: Arrival (sci-fi alien thing) it came out in 2016, but I didn’t watch it until it was on DVD. There were probably other movies but I don’t remember them. The Imitation Game, Hacksaw Ridge. I remember those.
TV shows: Black Mirror, The Borgias, Ozark
Live Performances: Nurses at Sloan Kettering and Calvary Hospitals; Woman playing mandolin on L platform at 6th ave.
Gallery Shows: Didn’t go to any.
Concerts: Didn’t go to any.
Robert C. Hardin
Living through 2017 meant eulogizing my annoyance in previous years, when I’d basked in the luxury of discomfort. Without my having to sidestep mutual friends’ bodies, without indigenous genocide and mass deportation, anti-intellectual violence had felt almost bearable to me because it seemed to happen elsewhere. Environmental disasters hadn’t wrecked every mecca I planned to visit or snuffed each new species of spider I’d barely gotten to know.
In 2017, transparent cookie jars filled with chocolates bedizened nearby desks, mollifying passersby in the midst of exhausting trauma. Wincing, I opened a few of those jars myself. The year before, I might have kept the same kind of container on my own desk, only it would have contained bile-colored sand and a playful live scorpion. I’d have showcased my recalcitrance instead of craving consolation, like everyone else.
The books I cracked in 2017 dated from decades past. I kept thinking about MK-Ultra.
Here’s the book I meant to read:
A Border Passage, by Leila Ahmed
The books I actually enjoyed in 2017 were these:
Stories and Essays of Mina Loy, edited by Sara Crangle
Cold Hand in Mine, by Robert Aickman
Corregiadora, by Gayl Jones
Books I reread out of desperation:
Stigmata, by Hélène Cixous
Lies, Secrets and Silence, by Adrienne Rich
The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald
I loved Fumito Ueda’s “The Last Guardian,” which featured a bird-feline colossus named Trico. This chimera wasn’t the most advanced example of AI I’d ever seen, but it did prove the least pandering and most empathetic.
I dislike most vocals and mistrust predictable melodies, which is why I preferred minimalist instrumentals in 2017.
Holly Herndon didn’t release anything new, but I was especially interested in her work. She’d been an academic studying composition at Mills who found herself drawn to electronic dance music and ended up using Ableton Live on her laptop. I found her lectures fascinating and useful, especially the ones she gave at the Ableton Live Summit and the Red Bull Music Academy.
Emptyset – Borders (LP), Skin (EP): Music that repeats endlessly should be vicious. It also should shift over time. On Borders and Skin, the sounds of processed homemade instruments mutate gradually. Low strings twang, then slip back into phase, toothed with noise from DSP and various objects that segment and alter the strings’ vibrations. Loop-edited, the sounds change over the course of several minutes. Each time, the fundamental lands like the lash of a room-sized quirt.
Perk – Bitter Music: Alistair Wells’ project reached heights of bilious resonance on this album. Chains of edited syllables in the prologue “Exit” sound so guttural they seem to rise from grimy skulls. “Unelected” lures listeners back to the State’s factory of misery with the grim drive that Berlin ravers love. “Wax Apple” is floating musique concrète over atonal piano chords, with an emphasis on dry sounds against distorted echoes. “The Thought That Counts” puns its watch-clicking way through ecclesiastical choruses and mildly dissonant voicings with old-school samples that trim consonants and eschew true vibrato for wave-based vowels. On my favorite track, “Spit,” Aja Ireland’s DSP-primed shriek rides a sixteenth-note pattern of alternating kick and click through a din of held clusters, distilling the insect urge that ruled everything in 2017.
I also liked The Ends of Weather by producer Rrose (Sélavy), a/k/a Force Inc. veteran Sutekh. The standout track was “Nest of Queens”: a satisfying drone-din suffused with a shimmering hiss.
Post-autocracy ambient music should involve grief or entertain it at the very least. Shuffle Drones by Eluvium did that for me.
I also liked Benedict Drew’s Crawling through Tory Slime.
Mindhunter looked like a typical procedural series in its character dynamics and depiction of investigations. One difference was its focus on the origins of serial-killer profiling, since it chronicled the collaboration of John Douglas and Robert Ressler, the detectives who created that method. Also, the series was co-produced and mostly directed by David Fincher, who continued his winning retro-streak with Zodiac here in an episodic format. If you liked that film, you’d probably love Mindhunter, which delivered the post-mortem groceries in ways that other shows rarely do.
Unfortunately, series creator and writer Joe Penhall tried to make John Douglas’s neurotic but intimidating character more sympathetic by resorting to the idiot savant formula from Doogie Howser, M.D. The result, a goggle-eyed tabula rasa, was not only clichéd but misleading. Robert Ressler had been trained in behavioral science long before Douglas, but that didn’t stop Penhall, a British-acclaimed playwright, from reducing Ressler to an anti-intellectual lug modeled after a blue-collar pugilist from an early Mike Leigh flick.
However, Penhall did manage to create unusually good women characters, which is rare enough to be important. Anna Torv was especially good as a psychology professor who sustained funding for and participated in Ressler and Douglass’s work. The portrayals of infamous murderers were also refreshingly vivid. Instead of positioning the usual wax figures in prison cells, Penhall and the actors created revitalized versions of killers like Ed Kemper and Jerry Brudos, suggesting close attention to the voices and demeanors of the real killers in interviews. Most actors would have resorted to aping mannerisms and looking demonic. That doesn’t work with a killer like Kemper, who can be disarmingly ingratiating at his worst.
I was never a fan of Twin Peaks or David Lynch in general, but the eighth episode of the third season is one of the best things he has ever done. How was he able to convince any network to let him air that oneiromantic Märchen, with its relentless montage of Manhattan Project detonations over Penderecki’s Threnody? It was cinematic, experimental and entirely self-contained. The episode’s central poem, which was repeated endlessly by a woodsman-murderer, seemed awkwardly handmade in a way that characterization couldn’t justify. That was true of the episode itself, but that didn’t matter. Lynch was going to honor lines he’d probably copied down in a séance and I got the sense yet again that his output was spotty because certain kinds of revisions made him self-conscious and ultimately could destroy what he did best. Episode 8 showed why even astute critics and potential mentors should never be in the position to influence him.
As I write this, a DVD of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room plays on the curved 55″ TV that looms over its altar, a faux-antiqued media center. Wiseau’s lavish budget and epicurean ineptitude made the film into a model of bad taste that still inspires audience participation in theaters. Younger friends worship this flick, but I can’t be arsed. Such is the context of timeliness.
The last great film I saw in 2017 was the one I first saw in 2016: The Witch.
Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th was also exceptional.
Best New Species
The Typophyllum spurioculis was the most interesting species of 2017, but it had fewer competitors than it would have in 2016. This necrotic-leaf-colored bush cricket was a one-trick insect, the living subject of some undiscovered painting by Rene Magritte. Its camouflage made it a Belgian visual pun.
2017 is a year that will be remembered more for the national trauma that the Republican Party and their psycho leader inflicted on the USA, with lasting effects including dismantling Net Neutrality and #TaxScam enriching the oligarchy at the expense of the rest of us, unless there’s a massive electoral correction in both 2018 and 2020 that flips America blue followed by repeal and replace – of all GOP policies enacted during Drumpf rule.
So how do the arts compete against our national drama/trauma? Does Pod Save America count? Jon Favreau and team are the Drumpf-era replacements for Jon Stewart, the voice of sanity in a time of terrifying governance. Are the arts a form of escape, wish-fulfillment, a coping mechanism or all of the above?
Looking back on my year in entertainment consumption, what stands out is how much more the TV series/serial experience seemed to matter more than the traditional movie buzz. Some high-quality movie experiences included Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Ladybird, Dunkirk and the unexpectedly most joyous comedy ride of the year, Thor: Ragnarok.
But the three movies that are sticking hardest are:
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, dir.) This assemblage tells the story of the 1900’s gold rush town in Alaska through archival footage, photos and gorgeously weather-mottled fragments of over 500 films discovered buried from that era — when there were two or three movie theaters in town and, as the last stop for film prints that had already been around the US and world, the studios didn’t want to pay for the prints to be shipped back. It opens up a window on a lost time both in the real world and the reel world, an aching sense of history and, as an historical footnote, how the grandfather of our current President made his initial fortune owning and running a whorehouse for gold miners.
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, dir.) A character story, quasi-ghost story and, most resonantly, depiction of unmoored contemporary cosmopolitan youth, it’s a slippery, suspenseful tale open to interpretation, featuring a career-highlight performance by the oft-maligned Kristen Stewart as a personal shopper for a Parisian celebrity whom she never actually meets, while she awaits a signal from beyond the grave from her dead twin brother. Some found it pretentious. I found it uniquely haunting.
The Post (Steven Spielberg, dir.) It’s always easy to dismiss Spielberg, perhaps the most financially successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, but I welcome his recent focus on American history and how he may be the last director who knows how to successfully deploy 1940’s Hollywood storytelling values in the service of meaningful stories. A perfect lead-in to a double feature with All the President’s Men, it elicited several mid-movie ovations from our Los Angeles audience in moments that are pure antidote to the Administration’s current attacks on both the press and female empowerment, and a reminder of what we’ve both overcome and need to preserve.
But the big action was on TV, and here’s the list of my top faves this past year – the ones I looked forward to returning to episode after episode:
The Vietnam War: Riveting, revealing, exhaustive and stacked with multi-episode human stories that often resolve in unexpected, even uplifting ways, a Ken Burns highpoint.
Twin Peaks: The Return: As individual as TV has ever gotten, with extraordinary highs including the awe-inspiring Episode 8, a gift from David Lynch.
The Deuce: The rare series that feels too short, with a standout courageous performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal and a great double performance by James Franco.
Mr Robot: If season two sprawled a little too much, season 3 pulled it all together, with a bravura unbroken-take Episode 5.
The Leftovers: A story build on storytelling, with a final episode that lays the cards on the table and asks what you believe. And it made Carrie Coons a star.
Broad City: Week-after-week, the funniest show on TV, a modern feminist Seinfeld, built on two friends who always support each other. Best ep: the mushroom trip!
Game of Thrones: Denigrated this year, but fans can’t give it up, because it’s blockbuster storytelling with characters we love delivered every single episode.
The Man in the High Castle: Almost a documentary for 2017, season two took everything to the next level, increased the pace, increased the urgency.
Feud: Bette & Joan: Glorious revisiting of the end of the Hollywood era with two powerhouse performances at the top, with the Oscars episode standout.
Mindhunter: After a bummer pilot every episode worked, a creepy period piece delving into the minds of the most terrifying psychopaths, to the point of questioning the behavior of the protagonist himself.
Narcos: Goodfellas in Central America continued to engross, in season three with a character worth rooting for – and fearing for.
Ozark: Yuppie/redneck noir; this year’s pretender to the Breaking Bad throne, with Laura Linney cast against type to great effect.
The craziest book I read in 2017 is Ice by Anna Kavan, first published in 1967. As hallucinogenic as a William Burroughs novel, predictive of climate disaster, fueled by the unreliable narrator’s obsessive pursuit of a blonde waif, it may not make narrative sense but somehow makes perfect sense returning to our world 50 years later for 2017.
Here’s hoping for a better 2018.
–bart plantenga, Bernard Meisler, Bonny Finberg, Carl Watson, Deborah Pintonelli, Franklin Mount, Jenny Wade, Jim Feast, Larissa Shmaillo, Marc Olmsted, Mark Netter, Patrick O’Neil, Robert C. Hardin, steve dalachinsky, Ron Kolm, JD King
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