Wednesday, January 05, 2005
I’m so late getting into the “year-in-review” for comics that there’s no point in even trying. Heidi McDonald said it best, and, after that, what’s to say? I started a reaction to her piece but scrapped that too, since others are doing a much better job of it. I also started a “best of” list for 2004 comics, then ditched it too. Looking back over the year, there just wasn’t enough that stuck out in my mind to make it worth putting a list together.
In an effort to make this post meet “year-end post” guidelines, here are some of the comics I did enjoy reading in 2004:
Boy Trouble #5
Don’t Be a Crotte
I guess I’ll just let that stand in lieu of a “best of” list. It’s the best I can do.
In terms of specific comics, the one thing that strikes me about 2004 is the number of series I liked that ended.
Bone ended its story, and Roberta Gregory finally let Fantagraphics pull the plug on Naughty Bits. Of the three books that got me into non-mainstream comics all those years ago, only Stray Bullets is left. It feels almost like the end of an era or something equally pretentious.
At least Bone got to end on its own terms. Now I need to complete my set of the hardcover collections before they fall out of print. I still need about half of them. I’m enough of a compulsive completist to want my whole set to match (all hb, all b&w); enough of a snob to want the black and white editions over the color; and enough of a couch potato to not want to deal with lugging the monstrous all-in-one edition around.
Naughty Bits, on the other hand, slid into such a long, slow decline that ending the series seems more like a mercy killing. A couple of years ago, Gregory printed a letter from Fantagraphics publisher Kim Thompson with some suggestions for improving the book’s sales. I think that was the beginning of the end, since it resulted in less and less Bitchy Bitch in each issue and page after page of poorly done autobio comics from Gregory. Some of the stories, about losing her cat and her father’s illness, were touching, but their emotional impact was blunted by the style Gregory used. The tiny panels of cramped artwork which exactly mirrored the heavy blocks of text above them made these stories hard to read and a chore to slog through.
Better were her stories about unconventional women from history, but these still sucked page space away from the characters I bought the book to read. It was frustrating to get snippets of Midge and her life instead of stories.
The hardest part about the last few issues of Naughty Bits was reading the inevitable apology from Gregory about the book’s lateness and the way she had to throw it together and rush it out to get it printed. I wanted to appreciate her honesty about the low-paying nature of her work and the other jobs that took precedence because they paid more, but after a while it began to seem like doing the book was an afterthought or an inconvenience to her. I don’t think that’s the message she intended to send, but it’s certainly the feeling I was getting.
Nevertheless, Gregory should be commended for keeping the book going as long as she did. Forty issues is nothing to sneeze at for an alternative comic. I hope she won’t be absent from comic books for too long. Most of the better part of the NB run has been collected by Fantagraphics, which means that my favorite stories are still in print.
Other comic losses for me in 2004:
X-Statix—the last Marvel book worth reading
Promethea—technically it hasn’t ended yet, but the last issue has already been solicited.
By the time all the dust settles, I’m down to two regular monthly titles, and a bunch of stuff that rarely comes out. If it weren’t for graphic novels, I wouldn’t be a comics reader at all.
I bought a TON of music in 2004—lots of new and lots of used stuff. And there are some things that really stuck with me. Some of them didn’t leave the CD player for weeks at a time. This is a neat, little summary.
BEST CD's of 2004
10. American Us—Los Mocosos: A fabulous, tasty, danceable blend of latin funk, jazz, pop, hip hop, with elements from several Latin American musical traditions mixed in, plus some pointed political and social commentary. Simply excellent.
9. The Impossible Dream—Patty Griffin: This would make the list simply because of the long awaited “official” recording of “Mother of God.” However, the rest of the CD is just as good.
8. Lifeline—Iris DeMent: You don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate old time gospel hymns. In her liner notes, DeMent notes that she finds comfort in merely playing and singing these songs. This CD was released right after the election. I ended up playing it over and over and over. Then I realized I understood exactly what she was talking about.
6. No Depression: What It Sounds Like/This is Americana: Both of these compilations pull together eclectic collections of music and artists in an attempt to define two genres that seem to defy definition. Maybe the labels and definitions don’t matter and we should just start calling it all “good music.” If you're curious about alt-country or americana music, these are bot good places to start. If you're a fan of either genre, these are compilations of some of your favorites.
5. Van Lear Rose—Loretta Lynn: This completely blew my socks off. It’s got a couple of weak moments, but the rest of the CD more than makes up for them. It’s about time the world realized that Lynn still has power in her pen and her voice. It’ll be interesting to see what she does next.
4. A Boot and A Shoe—Sam Phillips: Kind of like an intimate, personal cabaret, these short, compact songs offer tantalizing glimpses into Phillips and her life and then they haunt you.
3. The Revolution Starts Now—Steve Earle: The political posturing is exactly what it needed to be: strong, strident, and urgent, but beyond that there’s also the best duet ever with Earle and Emmylou Harris. And they’ve done some great songs together.
2. Land of Milk and Honey—Eliza Gilkyson: Of course the highlight of this CD is the recording of Woody Guthrie’s Peace Call with Iris Dement, Patty Griffin and Mary Chapin Carpenter, but the whole CD overflows with the personal, the political, and some of the best music you’ve ever heard.
1. East Nashville Skyline—Todd Snider: Simply the best album of his career, from start to finish.
STUFF THAT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE THE LIST IF I HAD BOUGHT IT
Universal United House of Prayer—Buddy Miller: He did a lot of these songs when he opened for Emmylou Harris in Indianapolis. They are incredible and he is a musician’s musician.
Underdog Victorious—Jill Sobule: One of my favorite singer-songwriters. I like her quirky, yet moving songs a lot.
BEST USED CD’s I BOUGHT
Campbell explores the spiritual side of life with her beautiful stories about people doing the best they can.
Drag Queens in Limousines—Mary Gauthier
This was the object of a grand quest for me when I finally found it in an LGBT bookstore in Indianapolis. It was worth the effort. Gauthier tends to dwell on the darker side of life, but she does it with the most amazing songs.
STUFF I REALLY WANTED TO PUT ON THE BEST OF LIST BUT COULDN’T
All That We Let In—Indigo Girls
Wayward Angel—Kasey Chambers
They’re all good albums, but they all sound like exactly what you would expect after listening to other works from these artists. In other words, there’s little to no growth on any of them and the songs feel pretty generic. Thankfully, generic for these three artists translates to “pretty good.” I listen to all of these CD’s quite a bit, but there’s not a lot on them that grabs me, shakes me, and makes my toes curl the way that most of the songs on any of the CD’s on the “Eddie’s Best” list do.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2005
This should end up being a good year too, since there are new CD’s coming from a ton of great artists:
Hopefully, that will also mean touring!
MUSICAL DISCOVERIES OF 2004
Some new artists who came into my musical collection after seeing them open for others in concert:
Girlyman: Tight harmonies, dreamy vocals, quirky instruments, and songs about love, life, and gender identity. What more do you need?
Greencards: A smoking hot bluegrass/newgrass trio from New Zealand. They play tight and intense and sign with gusto. They closed their set with a version of Bill Monroe’s Walls of Time that made my brain melt.
For another take on the music of 2004, check out what our local public radio station thought.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
I’m as stunned as everyone else by the devastation from the tsunami. It’s hard to get my head around the damage reports and the numbers. When you also consider that these are some of the poorest countries in the world, the horror and injustice seem almost cosmic.
And yet, the United States had to be almost shamed into taking decisive action. We can spare untold billions to bring chaos and death to the Middle East, but have to wait for worldwide criticism before we can bring the full weight of our resources to bear to help people who need it.
A commentator on ABC News last night pointed out that this is a chance for the US to turn its image around in a part of the world where it is much needed. Indonesia has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, after all. I think it’s a good start, but as long as we are occupying Iraq, we undo the good we do on a daily basis.
I remember going to the Mount St Helens area when I was in college. It must have been close to ten years after the eruption. They were just starting to let people visit the area, but there were strict regulations about what you could do and where you could go. The ecosystem had just started repairing itself and they didn’t want to jeopardize anything. I remember everything being gray and brown and very quiet. Nothing but twisted, mangled trees for miles. It was eerie and, yet kind of awe-inspiring. You can’t walk through a demonstration of that level of power and not be moved.
I was active in anti-nuclear causes when in those days. This was the 80’s, after all, and it seemed Reagan was hell-bent on destroying the world. As I looked over the scene at Mount St Helens, I kept thinking to myself: “Human beings should not have this kind of power. We cannot handle it.”
Nearly twenty years on, we have another colossal natural disaster and another Republican President hell-bent on destruction. Looking the news reports, I hear that same refrain playing in my head.
Newsarama has a good piece about making donations for aid and relief, including word about some of the things other sites are doing. It’s good to see comics geeks getting outside themselves and thinking about the larger world. In the comments section, one poster shared this link to a good story about making sure the donations are appropriate to the need, while another shares this one for checking out the charity you donate to. There was a story on the news last night about online donation scams. Some people have no morals whatsoever. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has an easy donation link set up.
Like many other comics fans around the world, I am still in shock over the death of Will Eisner. One more link to the history of comics is gone. Hell, he was more than a link; he was comics history. He was there at the beginning and has been creating, writing, and drawing ever since. I can’t think of anyone else who was as active through all phases if comics history.
Eisner was a link to the past, but also to the future for comics. He didn’t invent the graphic novel, but he was one of the first to tap into its potential. He was an early visionary who saw that this artform had the potential to do much, much more than tell stories about men in tights slugging each other. He believed in comics as literature and art. He made comics that were literature and art.
There was a period of time when he drew instruction manuals for the military. Of course, they were in comic form. When my dad was in the Army, he would bring some of them home to me to read. It was my first exposure to comics as an educational medium and is probably what sparked my interest in this particular style of comics story.
Thankfully, there are more and more people all the time who take up Eisner’s torch for comics. His inspiration and influence will live on.
We saw a lot of shows over the course of the year—a bunch in town and a lot on the road. We put some miles on the Oldsmobile in search of good live music. Here are some of my thoughts about what we saw in 2004.
Listed in reverse-order, countdown style.
15. Darrell Scott at the Kentucky Theatre
The man who wrote “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” in an intimate setting with a cozy crowd. He sat on a rocking chair onstage and just wowed us over and over.
14. The Zarb Brothers and Troubadours of Divine Bliss at Homefront
Homefront is a local radio show that features local and regional grassroots artists. They tape once a month and we are regulars. They tape two shows at time, so your admission gets you four great acts. The Troubs and the Zarbs were one show and a better matched pair of acts I could not imagine. The Zarbs are from Australia by way of Bardstown, Ky and the play some of the best roots-rock you’ll ever hear. The Troubs are a quirky eclectic duo who just play intoxicating music. It was a heavenly night and one of the best Homefronts ever.
13. Listening Room at the Rud with Alan Rhody, Tim Krekel, Carter Wood, and Danny Flanigan
Four fantastic talents with ties to Louisville in a no smoking, no talking venue. I could get into this Listening Room thing.
12. Old Crow in store at Ear X-Tacy
I kept thinking that the guy on the banjo looked familiar until it dawned on me: He looks like Dave Rawlings. Then he did a guitar solo and it dawned on me again: He is Dave Rawlings!
11. Carrie Newcomer at Homefront
Homefront tried a couple of special midweek shows in the spring with slightly “bigger” name artists than they usually get. The attendance was unfortunately sparse, but the shows were grand. Carrie Newcomer has a rich smooth alto that suits her meditations on the nature of love, life, and humanity. It was a great midweek date for me and Keith. I think we left a little bit more in love than when we came, if that doesn’t sound too cheesy. You can’t see Newcomer live and not be touched.
10. Kate Campbell at Homefront
Another one of their special shows. This is the show that made me a Kate Campbell fan for life.
9. The Indigo Girls at the Kentucky Center
It was just like the old days--just Amy and Emily with their guitars...and an audience singing right along. I was amazed at how good songs that I had only heard them do with their band sounded! Plus, we met the incredible Girlyman!
8. Todd Snider at Headliners in February
He was fresh out of rehab, but in good form for this set with Will Kimbrough. He did all of the Todd standards, which of course made the crowd loud and annoying, but it was a fun show.
7. WFPK Listener Appreciation Concert
Ben Folds. Patty Griffin. The Holmes Brothers. Wow! Thank god for good public radio stations. Best moment: Ben Folds standing on his piano conducting the audience like a choir to record some backing vocals for an album he was producing.
6. Kris Kristofferson at the Ryman
This show happened the week that he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and he was in fine form and great spirits. He did all his standards, plus a bunch of stuff that only Kristofferson diehards know. It was one of those shows where Keith and I would list the stuff we wanted to hear him play, only to hear him do it a few minutes later. And he pulled no political punches.
5. Todd Snider at Headliners in December
The best show I’ve ever seen him do. It proved that he can hold an audience with him, do a bunch of great songs, and not do "Beer Run."
4. Riverbend at Chattanooga
We went down to Chattanooga for this week long music event to see Todd Snider and Guy Clark, both of whom were incredible. We also got to visit with my brother, do some shopping, and have a good time.
3. Iris DeMent at the Dame
I love everything about Iris DeMent! She held a barful of people spellbound throughout this show. You could hear a pin drop the whole night. It was awesome. And she has the most wonderful dry sense of humor.
2. Emmylou Harris at Indianapolis
This was my birthday gift and I got an autographed set list after the show. It was an amazing retrospective of her entire career, where she sang almost all my favorite songs. And she closed with Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight, which is my all time favorite song of hers!
1. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco
Only one thing tops Emmylou in my book, and that’s a two day free festival featuring Steve Earle, John Prine, Guy Clark, and ton of other folks, with Emmylou closing! Everything about the weekend was perfect and there were so many highlights that it’s almost impossible to name them all. Unforgettable.
SHOWS I WISHED I HAD LIKED BETTER
Sometimes things just don’t click. In most of these cases, it was the audience that spoiled things for me. I don’t get why people have to act like jerks at concerts and then have the nerve to say that you’re the one messing up a good time when you complain.
Steve Earle in Ashland: It was Steve solo and acoustic. It could have been marvelous, but it wasn’t. It’s never a good sign when a performer tells someone in the audience that they are “pissing me off.”
Robert Earl Keen at Headliners: The audience was annoying, but not as bad as it could have been. But Keen seemed to be in a foul mood that night. He did a real perfunctory set of the expected songs and frowned the whole night. I was less than impressed.
Kris Kristofferson in Chicago: Don’t get me wrong. Kristofferson was EXCELLENT to the point of being AMAZING. Having to sit through Jimmy Wayne and Trace Adkins wasn’t. Neither was sitting in a houseful of Republicans on 9/11 who weren’t amused with his politics.
Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider at the Ryman: My god it was the Ryman! Full of the kind of drunken rednecks and frat boys that Keen and Snider attract. In other words, it was HELL. Both of them are so much better than their typical audience member would demonstrate. But Snider didn’t do "Beer Run!" On the plus side, this show did introduce us to the Greencards!
OTHER CONCERT REGRETS
We were on the road to so many shows that we missed most of the fall season of Homefront.
Waterfront Wednesday started a “no cans, bottles, or coolers” rule that turned a great night to pack a picnic and see some great free music into something to miss.
SHOWS I WISH WE COULD HAVE SEEN
Kasey Chambers in Chicago: She’s got to come closer than that!
The Sweet Harmony Traveling Revue didn’t come close enough to catch either.
Old Crow Medicine Show at Headliners: We love the Old Crows, but after missing so many Homefronts, we couldn’t justify missing the last one of the season to see them.
Buddy Miller did two free shows in Louisville in one day and we missed them both! It was our last day before going to San Francisco and we had a ton of stuff to do. Sigh!
Buddy and Julie Miller did a small club in SF during Hardly Strictly. Emmylou and Steve Earle joined them at different points. We were in SF and didn’t go. Ack!
Oh well, I guess you can’t do everything. But you can sure try.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2005
Buddy Miller at Headliners in February: Looks like that might be our first show for the year!
I’ve got my fingers crossed that a new Mary Gauthier CD means a tour with a stop at Headliners. (Of course I thought the same thing when Eliza Gilkyson’s CD came out last year.) If she’s anywhere close, I’ve already told Keith we’ll be gassing up the car.