Top 10 of 2003
Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Opened in May in a down-and-out neighborhood in Memphis (a down-and-out
kind of city), the Stax Museum is a celebration of Memphis soul,
a perfect replica of the original Stax studios and a more triumphant
vision of racial harmony than the National Civil Rights Museum
uptown (where the tour more or less ends at the balcony on which
Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, as if the Civil Rights Movement
stopped right there). Pictures in the lobby document the disrepair
into which the original Stax studio fell during the ’70s and
’80s, and finally light upon a picture of a field where the museum
now stands with only a lonely historical marker to document the
insanely great things that happened at Stax during the ’60s.
When you get into the museum, that insane greatness is the
official story of Stax. You can hear Steve Cropper and Rufus Thomas
about Stax’s multiracial approach to soul, funk, and rock.
You can hear analytic breakdowns of how Stax’s sound was
different from anything else happening in soul, and how the mish-mash
of gospel, doo-wop, country, funk, rock, blues and r&b built
that ultra-crisp Stax sound on the foundation of Booker T & the
MGs. You can see eye-popping examples of excess, such as Isaac
Hayes's gold-plated, white-fur-lined Cadillac. And, unlike the
defeatist Civil Rights Museum, the Stax Museum brings the history
— Live at the Old Waldorf (Rhino Handmade). Attention,
jam bands! This record illuminates why you suck. Live at the
Waldorf, the official release of the long-traded Television
in San Francisco bootleg, cleans out the noise and demonstrates
the peak brilliance of guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd
pretzeling their sounds around each other (and incidentally proving
the existence of telepathy). Lloyd, the more formal and restrained
of the two in studio, fires off perfectly executed squalls, walking
the fine line between precision and emotion, while Verlaine tips
the free-form scales into fiery passion, searching for that perfect
phrase regardless of time or distance. People called Television
the Grateful Dead of punk rock, but neither the Dead nor any of
their self-indulgent followers ever had the skill or anger to create
music this powerful.
Seven Samurai theatrical re-release (Cowboy Pictures). The
Greatest Story Ever Told, on the big screen with deleted scenes
and new subtitles, and it was better than my Criterion DVD. It
came to Austin in early 2003, and, despite the uncomfortable seats
in the theater, held the audience transfixed throughout.
from the Tombs reunion, Austin, Texas, Dec. 13, 2003. Who needs
a cure when RFTT is offering a final solution? This seminal
protopunk band, which splintered in 1975 into seminal punk bands
Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, featured three of its original five
members and two extraordinary stand-ins on this one-time tour:
David Thomas (who started the world-shattering Pere Ubu with Peter
Laughner upon RFTT’s split) on vocals, Cheetah Chrome (who
formed the Dead Boys with drummer Johnny Blitz after RFTT) on Gibson
guitar, Craig Bell on bass, with Steve Mehlman (currently of Pere
Ubu) filling in for RFTT’s original drummer Johnny Blitz
(whereabouts unknown), and Television guitarist Richard Lloyd standing
in for the deceased Peter Laughner on the Fender guitar (which
is somewhat appropriate, given that Laughner briefly replaced Lloyd
in Television in the mid ’70s). After suffering the indignity of
creepy beer-throwing assholes who kept interrupting their songs,
RFTT started their set over and burned the place down. I’m
sure that everyone who saw the band on their too-brief tour felt
lucky to experience this sort of chaos-generator, H-bomb, free-jazz
noise-rock, probably for only this once.
Jubilee: The Mad Cultural Politics of the New Economy: Salvos from
the Baffler (W.W.
Norton & Company). Read my article.
Decemberists — Her Majesty the Decemberists (Kill
Rock Stars). Of
all the new albums this past year, this one was the most fun, funny,
and literate. It's like listening to Stephin Merritt and
James Thurber get ripped and finish each other’s sentences, all
set to the sweetest exquisitely catchy chamber-pop this side of
Scott Walker. Not many bands with so idiosyncratic and obvious
an influence as Neutral Milk Hotel could come into their own, but
the Decemberists have the wit and talent to stand out from under
Jeff Mangum’s shadow.
(America’s Best Comics). Sure, Alan Moore is a seriously
odd man with some seriously odd obsessions, but luckily for us,
obsessions with magic and mysticism have spilled over in this,
the greatest of his current
series. Promethea is the beautifully drawn and surprisingly realistic
tale of a young woman, Sophie Bangs, who becomes the Mother of
All Stories, meets God, and then learns of her destiny to end the
world. The five issues from 2003 address Sophie’s poignant
aftermath of meeting God, fighting with her best friend, and trying
to avoid her terrible destiny. As of this writing, however, the
end of the world has begun and the end of the series (and with
it, Moore’s probable retirement from comics) is due in 2004.
Upon a Time in the West DVD (Paramount Home Video). Every
conceit of the Western genre is pushed to its logical extreme in
Leone’s 1969 classic, from the vast, sprawling
landscapes to the clinically tight close-ups and haiku-like sparsity
of dialogue. It’s as if Leone had never seen a Western (never
mind his considerable previous contributions to the genre), but
was trying to film one after having them described to him by a
drunken John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. There are maybe 12 scenes
total in this three-hour epic, and they’re all iconic. Who
cares if it doesn’t make sense? It’s poetry.
Office” (BBC America). Britain's meanest and funniest
show finally came to the United States in 2003. Awkward discomfort
has never made me laugh
as hard or struck so
many nerves, and I’m amazed at the skill with which Ricky
Gervais and Stephen Merchant found the subtle humanity in their
cast of losers and monsters. At the end of Season One, I was glad
that I didn’t know any of those people. At the end of Season
Two, I saw myself in the worst of them. And I still can’t
think about the end of the not-yet-released-domestically two-part
Christmas Special without losing my last, palest vestiges of cool.
10. This. Being part of The High Hat kicks ass. The people who donate their
and talents to make each issue happen leave me in a constant
state of awe, and my world is a better place because of them.
Five of 2003, or Signs & Portents of the Apocalypse
could easily fill a hundred of the worst of 2003 with the words
and deeds of the Bush Administration, but to spare you another
angry jeremiad, I’ll stick to cultural events.
music radio’s backlash against the Dixie Chicks. How dare
they speak their minds? Don’t they know that celebrities
have to march in lockstep with the political leaders of their times,
however morally bankrupt? That’s what it means to love America!
Nelson & Toby Keith, “Beer For My Horses.” Willie,
why do you forsake us? Please tell us that John Ashcroft was threatening
to drop a semi-nude statue of Justice on Trigger
to force you into recording this obnoxious pro-vigilante, pro-war,
pro-frontier justice bullshit with the execrable Toby Keith.
fries. I’ll have mine with “free-speech” ketchup
and an “I’m-a-brainless-moron” burger, please.
Hilton’s celebrity. Why? Why do I need to know who this rat-faced
anorexic brat is? Is she truly as spam-worthy as the noble cause
of Nigerian financial
Limbaugh gets his talk-radio show back. …
and, meanwhile, the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws that
he supports send less well-connected drug addicts to rot in jail.
I guess you’re exempt if you’re a loud-mouthed public
Republican. Hey, Bill O’Reilly! Wanna start that smack