Happy New Year! 2017 was a tough year, and 2018 should be even rockier.
As the Mueller investigation proceeds and more indictments come, Trump and the GOP, along with the Faux News/right-wing hate-radio noise machine, will become more and more unhinged and desperate. It will not end well.
So let me finish listing some of my favorite things from 2017, in case it was the last good year before the Fall/Impeachment/Unrest/Chaos of 2018:
BEST MAGAZINE: THE NEW YORKER
I’ve been a subscriber to The New Yorker for I-don’t-know-how-long. Forty years? More? Reading The New Yorker is part of what I do every week. I don’t read it all, by any means, but it’s nice to know what’s there. (And we keep stacks of old New Yorkers around, so we can catch up to old issues.)
I read The New Yorker three ways: first, for the cartoons; next, for the happenings in New York City and capsule reviews; and finally, for the articles. Current editor David Remnick is maintaining the high standards set by Harold Ross and Mr. Shawn. In some ways, it’s better than ever. Maybe the fiction is weaker (no Cheever? no Updike? No Salinger?), and there is no critic I look forward to reading the way I used to look forward to Pauline Kael. I guess the era of the powerful movie critic is over: everything is now Rotten Tomatoes.
But I still rip open the cover as soon as I get it in the house, to see what “everyone” is reading. In fact, many of their stories make news and are on the internet and website long before I get the actual magazine in California.
I give New Yorker subscriptions to several people for Christmas. I can’t think of a better present.
Anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon – by Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor
Trump cartoons from The New Yorker
New Yorker dog cartoons
More New Yorker cartoons
BEST MOVIE (a tie): THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI and LADY BIRD
I didn’t see everything, but these two are the best of what I did see. Martin McDonagh fulfills the promise of IN BRUGES, and Greta Gerwig emerges as a first-class screenwriter/director.
Both filmmakers benefit from wonderful performances by two excellent actresses: one young, one not-so-young. Saiorse Ronan and Frances McDormand should fight it out for the Best Actress Oscar.
BEST TV: MSNBC
I’m fairly addicted to MSNBC. I turn it on several times each day, to find out the latest outrage. My hatred for Trump and the GOP is a constant fire within and needs fuel. I can reliably turn on MSNBC and in a few minutes, I’ll hear something to enrage me.
(I also check CNN and Fox News, to see what they’re saying. The TG won’t have Fox News on when she’s in the room, but I watch Fox all the time, to find out what they are saying, what propaganda they are pushing to a very large segment of the American people.)
So thank you to RACHEL MADDOW, LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, JOY REID, ALI VELSHI, STEPHANIE RUHLE, CHRIS HAYES, STEVE KORNACKI, NICOLE WALLACE, ARI MELBER, HALLIE JACKSON, KATY TUR, and even CHRIS MATTHEWS.
BEST RADIO: HOWARD STERN
Howard’s long interviews are great entertainment. And some of them go so long – more than an hour and a half – that you can listen to them several times and never hear them all. This year, I enjoyed interviews with people I like such as Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bono and the Edge, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Scarlett Johannson, Rosie O’Donnell, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Louis C.K. (before the revelations), as well as people I might not normally be interested in: Sheryl Crow, Liam Gallagher, Kelly Clarkson, Craig Ferguson, New Kids On the Block, Chris Robinson, Adam Levine, and Miley Cyrus.
BEST POP CONCERT: JAMEY JOHNSON and MARGO PRICE
The best concert I saw in 2017 was this one, as satisfying a double-bill as I’ve seen in a long time.
Here’s what I wrote in May --
JAMEY JOHNSON and MARGO PRICE at the Ace Hotel
Man does not live by classical music alone. At least this man doesn't. Occasionally I have to get out and see something with a little contemporary life. And this prime double bill – Jamey Johnson and Margo Price – fit the bill.
Every few years, someone comes along to "save" country music from abject mediocrity. This year, it was Sturgill Simpson. Last year, it was Chris Stapleton. A few years before that, it was Jamey Johnson.
And Jamey Johnson is still doing it. He threw a GREAT country rock show. Ten piece band, including full brass and two drummers. Some great covers: two Merle Haggard songs – "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" and "Mama Tried" – and The Band's "The Shape I'm In." And fine versions of Jamey's own best songs.
I understand that he's been having some legal problems with his management – surprise, surprise! – and he hasn't recording any new songs since 2010's THE GUITAR SONG. (His only recent album was a tribute album to the great country songwriter Hank Cochran.) So he seems to put a lot of energy into his live shows: they're all he has now.
Perhaps the sweetest moment of the concert was when the audience stood and sang along with Jamey as he played his BIG song, "IN COLOR" – 2009's Song of the Year according to both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. It's one of those country songs that encapsulates all of life in a four minutes. The whole audience sang loudly and swayed along with the music as if it were a summer camp reunion.
Opening up for Jamey was Margo Price, a young singer with some good honky-tonk chops. She did a brisk, effective 45-minute set, peaking with her soon-to-be-classic "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)." Check out this fine country lyric:
"I put a hurtin' on the bottle
Baby now I'm blind enough to see
I've been drinking whiskey like it's water
But that don't touch the pain you put on me"
Jamey Johnson's IN COLOR – with lyrics
Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss sing IF I COULD ONLY FLY from the Merle Haggard tribute concert in Nashville, April 6, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-IAOrWAtPE
Jamey at Farm Aid, 2012 – "High Cost of Living"
Margo Price – "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" – from Farm Aid, 2016
Since the time of that blog, Margo has released her excellent sophomore album ALL-AMERICAN MADE: smart, soulful country, just like her first MIDWEST FARMER’S DAUGHTER.
Here’s my favorite cut, showing again Margo’s gift for writing clever, yet basic songs:
A LITTLE PAIN – “A little pain never hurt anyone”
Still no new music from Jamey Johnson, just a lot of great stuff on YouTube:
YOU ASKED ME TO – with Alison Krauss at Farm Aid 2016
BEST BOOK: EMPIRE OF LIBERTY: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood
Even though this book was written in 2009, I read it this year, so it’s my Best Book of the Year. This book is part of the Oxford History of the United States series from Oxford University Press. Over the years, I’ve been haphazardly making my way through this series, and this volume was one of the best.
Written by a professor from Brown who had previously won the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes for his work on the American Revolution, this 700+ page book covers the volatile
era between the winning of national independence and the emergence of a mass democracy and modern economy in the rapidly expanding new country. Wood synthesizes a massive amount of information in this book, covering the great personalities (Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Burr, Madison, Marshall, etc.) and explosive issues of the day. It was, a lot of it, the second act of HAMILTON.
What I love about this book—and, indeed, all the books in the Oxford series—is that it shows that the issues that bedevil America really haven’t changed. This volume was consumed with the same conflicts that afflict us today: racism … the dynamics of capitalism … narrow commercial interests vs. the common good … educated elites vs. rowdy insurgents … rural vs. urban … North vs. South … the importance of changing media and technologies.
I love our great, crazy country, and this book showed me once again that it’s always been great and crazy.
Truthfully, the best thing about my life – this year, and every year – is living with the TG every day in the wonderful home she’s made for me. And our children. And now Calder.
AND THE RUNNERS-UP
I got a lot of enjoyment and edification this year from …
Vittorio Grigolo in TALES OF HOFFMANN at the LA Opera … Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Charles Blow, Masha Gessen, and other truth-tellers … live Dwight Yoakam (finally!) … the Super-Bloom in the desert … the Beatles Channel of Sirius Radio … Steve Earle’s “Hardcore Troubadour” show on Sirius … all kinds of nuggets on YouTube … MLB TV … and “The Great British Bake Off” – scrummy!
Grigolo in a scrap from TALES OF HOFFMANN
Top Ten “Great British Bake Off” Moments
50 Amazing Facts about “The Great British Bake Off”