Benito Vergara

A Few of My Favorite Things, 2014 Edition.

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Man where did the time go. It’s almost 2015 and I’m a year older.

It’s been a good year. I spent the last third of the year angry and anxious, though I’m feeling a lot better now. The other two-thirds were a blur. Changed my job and moved to another department. Celebrated my dad’s 80th. Celebrated my daughter’s 13th. Made some headway in my Project Management classes. Lost weight. Got into an awesome writing workshop with awesome writers. Ate a lot of homemade lunches and dinners. Started the year by meditating daily but that didn’t work. Besides, my asawa and dog kept me sane.

But hey, some uninterrupted streaks of things I do daily:

  • that seven-minute workout
  • drink a kale-and-berries smoothie
  • floss
  • drink at least 8 ounces of fluid
  • write for at least 30 minutes

Some of these streaks are longer than others, but writing everyday even when it sucks was a huge win for me.

Reads

This year I read far fewer books and saw way fewer movies than in 2013 — but that’s probably because I read a lot more short fiction. Wrote a lot too.

Every year I try to read One of the Classics I Just Never Got Around To; this year it was Moby Dick. Fascinating in its size and ungainliness, filled with brilliant digressions, though it wasn’t the literary revelation that Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth was to me last year.

I read Casandra Lopez’s poetry chapbook, Where Bullet Breaks (2014) twice in one sitting; it’s that good. “I want a new language,” she writes. “One with at least / 50 words for grief / and 50 words for love, so I can offer / them to the living / who mourn the dead.”

I also really liked Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way (2009). Here were my notes.

Here’s some of the best short fiction I read this year:

And some great links / essays / articles worth sharing (despite the title of the third article below):

The Screen

I saw only one movie on the big screen this year, so I figured I’d make it count: that was Lav Diaz’s stunning Norte, the End of History (2013). But my favorite movie was Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013), hellish and thrilling and featuring Bong’s signature tonal shift into comic lunacy — best typified here by Tilda Swinton and her teeth. Plus the best production design and sense of space I’ve seen in a while.

One of my favorite documentaries ever, Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), finally came out on DVD (and Netflix!) this year.

I was kept glued to the television by, well, television, really. I guess I haven’t tired of all the charismatic antiheroes on the small screen: Kevin Spacey in the riveting House of Cards, Cillian Murphy in the stylish and bleak Peaky Blinders. The Good Wife and Grimm have never been better. But best of all was the hypnotic True Detective, which I consumed in one night. Or, if you like, the other way around: it consumed me.

Music

First off: my favorite tracks this year are in this Spotify playlist: earworms 2014. I think there are only one or two songs on that list that actually came out in 2014.

inc.’s no world (2013) was my favorite album this year. An odd choice for me, since it isn’t the usual indie dance pop or Japanese noise jazz or abrasive indie rock or minimal electronica that I used to like back in the day. inc. is basically bedroom retro-soul, with vocals barely rising above a breathy croon — though its inspiration is less Motown than it is Sade circa 1985.

Rhye’s Woman (2012) and FKA Twigs’ LP1 (2014) were also cut from the same R&B cloth, though the latter’s otherworldliness gives it the edge here.

Power Struggle’s In Your Hands (2014) is their strongest, most accomplished album to date, which is saying a lot; it hits hard not just because of the rock samples (there’s at least one I can’t believe they got away with) but because of Nomi’s lyrics, more pointed and politically direct than ever. In Your Hands is radical in the sense that it’s about love: not just romantic love, but love in the Che Guevara sense, and how “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

I also spent a lot of time listening to two monolithic blocks of melancholy: William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops (2002-2003) and Leyland Kirby’s We Drink To Forget The Coming Storm (2014). At some point the world falls away and you’re left with all this dying music.

In the first half of 2014 I listened to more Everly Brothers songs than I could count (22 hours’ worth, according to Last.fm). And a lot of new age, for some reason: I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990 is an uneven but fascinating and lovingly-packaged compilation.

Also, Devonte Hynes is officially the coolest guy in music right now (see Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe, Solange’s “Losing You,” Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing,” which to my ears is a near-perfect pop song).

Liz Phair would have eaten Lana del Rey for breakfast, but LdR, with her lyrics that dare you to be appalled, was my guilty listening pleasure this year.

Oh yeah, shows. I went to maybe 17 this year (I know, I know), almost all of excellent quality (I’ve been pickier in my middle age), including (in alphabetical order):

  • The Buzzcocks at Slim’s [“Why Can’t I Touch It?” was the highlight]
  • Cut Hands and Godflesh at the DNA Lounge [not often you see William Bennett and Justin Broadrick on the same bill, especially with Bennett dancing with both arms in the air]
  • Diocletian at the Oakland Metro Operahouse [they destroyed]
  • FKA Twigs at the Great American Music Hall [unreal]
  • Kraftwerk at the Fox [in 3D!]
  • New Order at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium [though it was pretty much the same setlist when I saw them almost a decade ago]
  • Rhye at the Fox [the surprise was the jazzier, looser arrangements]
  • Sky Ferreira at the Independent [no, I was not the oldest person there]
  • Tame Impala at the Fox [sheer sonic and visual overload]
  • Tears for Fears at the Fox [yes, I sang along to 75% of the songs]
  • Up Dharma Down at Saguijo [2 in the morning, 90 degrees in the club, the walls and everyone sweating]

But the best show was easily Bryan Ferry at the Fox: not only was it an incredible recap of Ferry’s last 42 years of music, it also boasted the most good-looking band (that includes Ferry) I’d ever seen. Here’s a setlist on Spotify: Bryan Ferry, The Fox, 4/14/2014.

Other Stuff

Everyone knows about Serial, so no need to introduce it. But it really is a stunning achievement in storytelling.

Recently, I uninstalled all my games from my phone, and in only seven days’ time, I finished reading a novel, two short story collections, a chapbook of poetry, and at least a couple of literary journals. I’m not known for dispensing advice, but that would be it: unplug as much as you can. Freedom and Offtime worked too.

So goodbye to Pocket Planes, Flappy Bird, Lex, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, Asphalt 8, QuizUp, and my favorite game of 2014, Injustice: Gods Among Us. They were incredible wastes of my time and at some point on QuizUp I was even ranked #1 in Horror Fiction in the state but it was fun while it lasted.

Now for an even more productive 2015.

 

Notes on Gary Lutz’s “Stories in the Worst Way”

In books on January 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

A summary wouldn’t do this collection of varieties of domestic disturbance any justice, and of course a parody, as tempting as that might be, would be impossible to do right. To read Lutz is to enter an unfamiliar world tinged uncomfortably with the real. Or more prosaically, the other way around: a real world that’s just… off. Kinked, somehow.

On Van Halen’s “1984.”

In music on January 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Yesterday (January 9), Van Halen’s 1984 album turned 30 years old.