"Best of" lists are unnecessary but they lend themselves to the Internet so well—platform of scroll-worthy material. Keeping track of creative output within a span of 365 days is an arbitrary measure of quality control but because my brain tends to work in intuitive—not analytical for the most part—ways and I can't remember dates or time-frames well at all, I tried keeping a year-long list starting last January, just to see what would happen. Any time something lodged in my consciousness for more than three weeks, I figured it was a keeper, so here's a little list of some favorite things of 2017. I'll be brief so your scrolling finger doesn't get a callous. May you face 2018 with open minds, hearts and good memories to come.
Books! I love books and I'm usually reading three three to five of them at once, trading them off throughout the day and night. I always seem to have 20 books checked out from the library at all times and when I enter a decent bookstore (which are disappearing from our cities in a terrible online-based epidemic), I usually buy a few books which end up stacked up around the house because all the shelves are full at this point. I'm a book pig, no doubt about it. Here are some I liked this year:
The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen
Some notes I took upon reading Vanity Fair/Rolling Stone journalist Cohen's travels with the Stones: Personal, historical, great sentences and editing—an almost-haiku of rock journalism. Includes a lot of (sad) perspective from Marianne Faithfull and the dark and fascinating influence of Anita Pallenberg on the band. Jagger comes off as a narcissist business man, Richards a genius musician and selfish addict. Watts a sweet steady presence who fell apart in middle age, in reverse order to 99% of rock stars. A lot of credit is given to Gram Parsons for his country-rock influence.
History covered: importance and influence of American blues to post-WWII England youth. The blues, its beginnings and its influential recordings are given a lot of weight in this book. The British invasion and hippie mysticism and drug experimentation of the 60s is extensively covered, as is Altamont, of course—its ugliness and impact on celebrity/fan paranoia and separateness that heralded the 70s. The whole Altamont experience reads like a horror story, starting with Mick and Keith wandering through campfire gatherings the night before the concert, as the desolate pass fills to beyond capacity, and ends with their treacherous escape in an overloaded helicopter as the free concert erupts into murder and mayhem.
You also get the stories behind how the Stones' classic albums were recorded, and that's a book in itself. The aftermath, which asks why they still tour, reveals the surprising knowledge that Keith Richards lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Great book.
Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded by David Hepworth
In 1971 I was seven years old—the magic age. The age of reason. But I never considered how many seminal albums were released within that year because, c'mon, I was seven. I did like radio though and my friends and I were grooving to the music big time, listening to KFRC in Concord, California and to our older siblings' and cousins' record collections because they had disposable incomes and we had no choice.
With the breakup of the Beatles in '70, Hepworth dubs '71 the beginning of the rock era. Each chapter of this enjoyable, informative read outlines not only the albums that began the mega-rock industry industrial complex, but how society influenced the artists, how the record industry grew into a mammoth incubator of talent and wealth, and how each album influenced society and the music industry.
Surprisingly Carole King's Tapestry kicks things off into high gear, launching quietly and setting off a popular maelstrom of singer-songwriter folk-rock that today we still equate with sincerity and artistic expression on a grand scale. Hepworth covers the Carpenters, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone with equal depth and fervor and Bowie coming to America, of course. It's a thrill ride of musical exploration until we hit the pay-dirt wall with The Eagles, a more calculated attempt to mine the infinite riches that would eventually morph into the bloated rock industry that begat the punk rebellion that begat...digital piracy and tumbleweeds blowing down the corridors where once record moguls shared their coke stashes.
What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz
This was published in 2013, but it was featured on an end-aisle at Powell's in the art section and I snagged it on a whim. It's a fast and fascinating history of contemporary art, which my knowledge of was spotty at best. If you studied art history in college and never got past the Renaissance era, this is going to fill in so many blanks for you and you'll enjoy it too. Gompertz answers all your contemporary-art questions and concerns, especially: why is this art? And: but my five-year-old could do this! You will finish this book a much more learned creature than when you started and when you visit modern-art museums, you will have all the background you need to appreciate what's been placed in front of you. The timeline of modern art and its iconoclasts are exhilarating and worthy fields of study for any creative person or appreciator.
TV! It lives in our houses. It's in our subconscious. TV is still a powerful entity and don't you forget it.
The Detectorists - No, it didn't start in 2017. 2017 is OVER. But this was the year I finally saw this two- (now three, but not available in the U.S. yet) season British gem. Mackenzie Crook's quietly deadpan take on metal detectorists who hunt the old farmsteads of England looking for historical, possibly pre-Roman finds. They don't just want treasure. They want transcendence. Also starring the great Toby Smith—this show is gentle in the best sense of the world, with shots of nature interspersed with the nuttiest group of small-town obsessives and their prized equipment. This show is soul food and often very funny but also extremely human. Crook is a treasure.
To be continued...