My New Year’s resolution is to not be hemmed in by boundaries and/or categorization, because, you know, I’m punk like that. So here’s some of the best stuff I encountered this year, regardless of whether it actually originated this year, in no particular order or category.
1.) Faygo Original Grape soda
I am a huge fan of grape soda, and at one point this summer I bought a bunch of different brands and tried them over the course of a week. They were all pretty close in flavor — basically Dimetapp-Meets-Something-Vaguely-Reminiscent-Of-Grapes — but somehow Faygo towered above the rest for me. Maybe it’s their retro-cool label. Anyway, turns out this is the one thing I have in common with fans of the Insane Clown Posse. Speaking of which…
2.) Jon Ronson’s interview with The Insane Clown Posse
One of my favorite journalists once again does the impossible — avoiding condescension even as he interviews a couple of profane misogynistic rappers who wear clown makeup and pen science-bashing songs about the “miracle” of magnets. Ronson’s writing is witty and humane without letting his subjects off the hook for a second. Hey, and the name “Ronson” reminds me of another thing that was best:
3.) This Video
A regional dish from the Northern Italian city of Bergamo; basically meat, cheese, breadcrumbs and something sweet (pear and almond cookies, f’rinstance) stuffed into pasta, shaped kinda like a peppermint candy wrapper, and fried up in butter and sage. I’m pretty sure it’s the greatest freaking thing I’ve ever eaten, but I discovered it this year in Bergamo on my honeymoon so I may be biased.
5.) Keith Maillard’s “Difficulty At the Beginning” novels
Author Keith Maillard’s four-novel series — following a young man from his teen years in the 1950s through the conflagrant ’70s — is some of the most unique writing I’ve read in a while. It manages a bunch of neat tricks, not the least of which is telling a story about Baby Boomers while avoiding the standard coming-of-age-in-the-60s cliches (example: JFK’s assassination happens between books 2 and 3). The series reads almost like autobiography; you get the feeling Maillard could write endlessly in the voice of his main character and it would never stop feeling true. Stick it out through the third and weakest of the series and you’ll be rewarded with the titanic and hallucinogenic fourth one, which is the toughest to get through but well worth it.
6.) True Grit
I love the Coen Brothers even at their most inscrutable, but it’s especially nice when they decide to make a movie that’s just basically entertaining. Everyone on screen seems to relish the Coens’ precise and often hilarious dialogue, and by the end we get as close to a true emotional climax as the Coens ever deign to mess with.
7.) “Paula Deen Takes Ludes and Makes Food”
A clip of Paula Deen & pal constructing an infarction-on-a-plate, slowed to depressant speed and spiced with sound effects. I think I watched this more than any viral video this year, and I don’t think I’ve found anything so continuously hilarious since Steve Martin’s “The Nervous Father.” It’s the music at the top that does it — transforming Deen’s sandwich into a melancholy symbol of self-destruction.
8.) The Ideal Cocktail (variation)
I don’t know where I stumbled upon this tart dry drink, but it’s been my go-to all year — refreshing in moderation, fairly sneaky in immoderation. How I’m mixing it:
In a shaker over ice, add:
- 1 oz. Plymouth gin
- 1 oz. dry vermouth
- 1/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- dash Angostura bitters
- caster sugar to taste (1/4 to 1/2 tsp. or so)
Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Gain incrementally more appreciation of life.
9.) Plain steel Zippo lighters
They are the perfect size, shape and weight to feel substantial in the palm, they’re pleasantly warm to the touch after use, and are practical and shiny.
10.) M-Jo – “We Know Why,” live 2008
A few years back, on a trip to The Netherlands, I was lucky to be introduced to “The Amsterdam Songwriters Guild,” a group of Dutch musicians who work solo and together on mostly folky musical projects. Among my favorites is M-Jo, who balances folk with Beatle-y pop and lo-fi. This year he finally put out a studio version of his song “We Know Why,” which inspired me to dig out a recording I made of him performing the song live back in 2008, at a club called De Nieuwe Anita that’s more like a comfy living room than a nightspot. The rhythm, by the way, was tapped out by a fellow musician on a picnic cooler.
P.S. Listen through to the end and you’ll hear the sounds of Amsterdammers grooving to Elvis Presley.
P.P.S. Check back here over the next few days — I’m sure I’ll be waking up every morning thinking of stuff I should add and/or subtract from this list.