Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Top Ten of Two Thousand Three

Boy. What a sobering thought it is that when once I published a list of the top 100 albums of the year, I have a hard time now getting a top one album. This, I think, is where the "things aren't as good as they used to be" feeling comes to every generation. They can't think of good stuff they've experienced, because they've become far less acquisitive of aesthetics. In my case, you can tell the year I started up my start-up company by the marked decrease in CDs released in a given year in my collection. (Yes, it's true, I recently re-organized my pop music CD collection by date of earliest release of song on album. Still working on the LPs. What you get is a History of Rock from 1977-1995.)

Here's the album count by year - bear in mind that this is by release date of the music, not either the release of the CD or the year I actually acquired it.

  • dawn of time to 1959: 16
  • 1960-1963: 25
  • 1964-1969: 36
  • 1970-1976: 25
  • 1977-1979: 25
  • 1980-1983: 26
  • 1984-1986: 12
  • 1987: 9
  • 1988: 9
  • 1989: 30
  • 1990: 29
  • 1991: 35
  • 1992: 25
  • 1993: 45
  • 1994: 50
  • 1995: 35
  • 1996: 16
  • 1997: 6
  • 1998-2003: 14 (all years combined)
Now, I'm skipping my monthly CMJ CD, because that's evenly distributed and my only real connection to the world of hipitude musika (I am not a downloader, by ethical choice, confirmed by lack of time and interest.) And to be sure, this is also a reasonable chart from 1989 on of my disposable income, which seems to have accompanied by disposable time as well.

The first CD I bought was Spike by Elvis Costello; we bought a Sony Walkman CD because we were starting to find classical records we couldn't get on vinyl and in the particular case of EC, whom I was collecting religiously at the time, Spike had cuts on the CD not available on vinyl.

Of course, I continued as a college DJ for something close to 15 years, finally giving it up at the end of 1996 because of the demands of the start-up.

But, economic and time considerations aside -- everybody gets them -- it's an arc of my attention to hipsterism and the world of paying attention to my own aesthetic, at least as far as pop culture goes.

I haven't done a similar thing for movies, but I suspect the bell curve would be similar.

If you counted in albums, there'd be considerable backfill for titles, of course, going back to mid-century, but my vinyl-purchasing period lasted from 1975 to 1990 (with the addition of about one a year these days, backfill I find at stores, usually replacing something I had on tape, which is another story altogether, speaking of downloading and ripping.)

So, in any event, this is all an elaborate explanation for why this year's Top Ten list is just in fact ten top one lists. I don't get out that much anymore.

  1. Best movie of the year: Master and Commander. Narrowly beat out Pirates of the Carribean. Do we detect a theme?

  2. Best non-fiction book of the year: Salt, by Mark Kurlansky (published in 2002). A sort of cultural and economic history of salt, very episodic but with all sorts of neat bits.

  3. Best TV show: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bravo. OK, OK, it's really hip and trendy. And honestly, we don't get that much TV in. But the show is positive, it's funny, and even if I'm still wearing a plaid shirt with holes in it, inspiring in its way. After all, the foundation of modern psychology is the tenet that one can change, and if you can't change yourself in the most superficial way, how could other, more serious matters be accommodated?

  4. Best LP: Dub Side of the Moon, by the Easy Dub All-Stars. A track for track cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, an album I never owned nor particularly enjoyed before it was made into an all-star reggae cover album. OK, so the only competion was another concept album, Tusk, a cover of the Fleetwood Mac album by Camper van Beethoven recorded in the 1980s and finally released this year. Frankly, when my non-classical purchases top out at 4 for the year, the competition is going to be stiff. Speaking of which...

  5. Best Rock/Pop Concert of the Year: Camper van Beethoven at the Catalyst, Santa Cruz. Man, I missed their act when they were together, despite my best efforts. But this was more than a reunion concert: they've never been better musicians, and they played pretty much their entire back catalog plus a few neat items. I especially liked the tribute to Mr. Rogers (the band wore red cardigans, then threw them to the audience), and the Joe Strummer tribute ("White Riot" embedded in the middle of their jam-monster version of "Tusk"), and of course Victor's T-Shirt, so relevant just before we hit the ground in Iraq: a picture of two gentlemen engaging in the unspeakable vice of the Greeks, the pitcher turning out to be a caricature of our President and the catcher the real Sadaamite, with the admonishment written, "Bush: Pull Out!" Or the fact that I was the only maniac in the over-35 crowd who actually pogoed the whole time. It was fun, invigorating, and gave some wind to the onset of middle age.

  6. Best Classical Concert of the Year: Kronos Quartet, Cal State-Monterey Bay. This was really revelatory. We'd seen the KQ back in the 80s in Cambridge, and this was a different group. Still progressive with an impressively wide repertoire of interesting new music, but adding in a multi-media element, bizarre invented instruments, and a head-tripping visual show. This seemed both new and reminiscent of something, and I finally put my finger on it: this was the real Exploding Plastic Inevitable, what Warhol would've pulled off had the 1960s had the same advanced aesthetics and the Velvet Underground had the same musicianship as the Kronos Quartet. Really one of the best theatrical and/or "advanced" musical experiences of my life.

  7. Best Visual Artwork: DB Smith, Sloop at Anchor, 1883. I found it in a local shop for $15. It's a pencil drawing on paper that was probably originally in a sketchbook.

  8. Best Fiction Book: my unpublished novel. It's really quite good. Looking for a publisher right now.

  9. Best Critical/Cultural web site: The Bellona Times, a blog by my old bud Ray. I'm frequently confused but always challenged and frequently amused and occasionaly my poor dull bulb is lit up a bit.

  10. Best Technical web site: The Chesapeake Light Craft Builder's Forum. Great advice and my boat's almost done.

That, dear readers, with a few notable exceptions, was my pink-tickle list of the year.

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