Monday, January 1, 2018

Picks of the Year: 2017

2017 won't go down as a great year, but compared to 2016, it was fantastic. In reviewing, I noticed that I saw a lot less live shows than I usually do. This is probably due to my accident on July 4th when I tripped on some cobblestones in Portugal and dislocated my ankle. I spent the rest of the summer on crutches or at least walking very carefully. I remember attending the Elvis Costello concert and trying to maneuver a concert crowd at an outdoor (grass) venue. We usually attend many shows at this venue during the summer, but I was less motivated to attend when I'm hobbling. Also, standing for a few hours wasn't ever appealing as well.

Last years was full of death and mayhem, we had a little of that but no more than could be expected. I lost one of my favorite aunts. My father had ten siblings and now they are all gone. An entire generation of my family is gone from this planet forever which makes me more sad each time I think about it.

We had our roof fixed this year. This is a good thing. It was a pain for about a week. Compared to last year's loss of the furnace, being without electricity for a week and without water for six weeks, the new roof was a blessing.

I also started volunteering this year, something I used to do a lot of when I was younger. Every Saturday I drive into Burlington and assist in teaching a group of Bhutan refugees American civics in preparation for their citizenship test. I have been really enjoying this. For Christmas, they got together and bought me a new business suit.

Best book I read in 2017:
I joined a book club this year so this means I have less control over the books I am reading but I am having better reads and getting more perspective. This has mostly been a good thing because I'm meeting a lot really great people. As a telecommuter, I really need more outlets to makes friends in my area. My favorite book of the year was The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I was surprised about how much I ended up caring about the rowing team in the 1936 Olympics. It read like good fictional novel. Other books I've read this year include: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz, Var the Stick by Piers Anthony, Just Kids by Patti Smith, 11/22/63 by Stephen King and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolff (which I didn't finish). With exception of the last one, I enjoyed them with varying degrees. I also read two graphic novels, Saga #6 and #7.

Favorite new movie: 
Because of my injury, I went to the movies more often than usual this year.  Here are all of them that I can think of: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnorak, Bladerunner 2049, The Big Sick, The Guardians of the Galaxy II, Logan, Lion, La La Land, Hidden Figures and Get Out.  I enjoyed all of them, but if I had to pick a favorite, it had to be Get Out. I can't say I have seen anything like it before, both scary and hysterical.  I'm guessing that both Get Out and The Big Sick are going to be ignored by the Oscars because they are comedies.

I only went to see La La Land because my wife dragged to it. I have to admit it was better than I expected. I finally got to see Moonlight on Blueray and I am glad that the better movie did win, because Moonlight was amazing.

Favorite new TV show: 
I discovered a lot of new shows this year. Among them are; The Crown, Gypsy, Dark, The Punisher, Alias Grace, The Handmaid's Tale, Westworld, Big Little Lies, Divorce, Crashing, The Deuce, Insecure, Mindhunter, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 13 Reasons Why, Iron Fist, Ozark, The Defenders, The OA, Runaways, The Orville, Preacher, Legion, Atlanta and Travelers.  I guess I watch a lot of TV.

There are some standouts. The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, Big Little Lies and Atlanta are the best on the list. They are just superior television that you wouldn't be able to see on television years ago. We have some very creative people really stretching the form. They have creative story telling, social relevance and depth on many levels. The biggest disappointment was Westworld. I heard almost universal praise and it just wasn't that good. The biggest surprise was 13 Reasons Why. I didn't expect to be captivated by a drama about teen suicide.  

Favorite quote:
"Despite the constant negative press covfefe" by our toddler in chief. Need I say more!

Favorite new podcast : 
I discovered a lot of new podcasts this year, among them are: Radio Atlantic, The Daily, Slowburn, The Deeper Dig, Freak Out and Carry On, Civics 101 and The Hilarious World of Depression. My favorite is the New York Times' The Daily. It really should change its name to The Week Daily because it only comes out five days a week. It goes into depth about a story that is being covered in the New York Times that day. I listen every morning as I begin work.

Best concert I attended:
I only saw four live shows this year: Robert Cray, Elvis Costello, Kung Fu and Joe Pug. I have say that I enjoyed Joe Pug the most. It had to be because of the venue. He is a fantastic song writer and we saw him at an intimate setting, The Higher Ground in Burlington. This is much more my speed these days.

Best album:  
I bought some great new albums this year, in MP3 format of course. I bought "Lotta Sea Lice" by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, "Mental Illness" by Aimee Mann, "Together At Last" by Jeff Tweedy, "A Deeper Understanding" by The War on Drugs, "The Navigator" by Hurray for the Riff Raff, "In Between" by the Feelies and "More Fast Songs about the Apocalypse" by Moby. The Moby album was a free download which I am grateful because it is awful.

The Aimee Mann album is my favorite with her deeply personal song writing. As usual, she is spectacular tackling her own experiences with mental illness. Here is some of the lines from "Philly Sinks":
Philly thinks, and when he thinks he can't feel anymore
Philly drinks, and when he drinks, all the drunks hit the floor
Philly sinks, and when he sinks you go down
And when you do, you both drown
The entire Jeff Tweedy album is a bunch of acoustic remakes from some of his other bands. If these were all new songs, I'd be picking this album because like Mann, he is one of America's greatest living song writers. Here are a few of great lines from some of his songs: "All my lies are always wishes," "His goal in life was to be an echo" and "you are right about the stars, each one is a setting sun."

Favorite new songs: 
I have 234 mp3 files of songs from 2017. I spend the month of December listening to only a playlist of these songs. I payed for most of them. In addition to getting the awful Moby album for free, I did download the NPR 100 which is their picks for the best 100 songs at the South by Southwest music festival. As usual, I end up disliking most of these tracks, but I do find some gems from the bunch which I am grateful, because they are free.

Here are some of my favorites:

"Benjamin Franklin's Song" by the Decemberists
"Sheep" by Mt. Joy
"Fight to Survive" by Thievery Corporation
"The Last Ten Years" by Mark Eitzel
"When the Wall Comes Down" by Hiss Golden Messenger
"Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles
"Total Entertainment Forever" by Father John Misty
"Hard Living" by Chris Stapleton
"One of These Days" by Bedouine
"Goose Snow Cone" by Aimee Mann
"Philly Sinks" by Aimee Mann
"Stuck in the Past" by Aimee Mann
"Muddy Waters" by the Deslondes
"Continental Breakfast" by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
"Rosey" by Bermuda Triangle
"Faded Days" by Actual Wolf
"Passing Time" by Almighty American
"Destitute" by Christopher Paul Stelling
 "I'll Quit Tomorrow" by Dawg Yawp
"Sports" by Fufanu
"Forgot Myself" by Jen Cloher
"Going Mad As Street Bins" by L.A. Salami
"Carin at the Liquor Store" by The National
"Television" by Planes on Paper
"Darling" by Real Estate
"He's Fine" by the Secret Sisters
"Holding On" by The War On Drugs
"Thinking of a Place" by The War On Drugs
"Sea of Clouds" by Deer Tick
"Hungry Ghost" by Horray for the Riff Raff

Since I have to pick a favorite, I pick "Benjamin Franklin's Song" by the Decemberists. Franklin is one of my favorite personalities from American history so the fact someone wrote a great rock song documenting his achievements is very pleasing to me ... and it rocks.

The best trip of the year was our trip to Portugal.

We flew into Lisbon, met up with our friend Paul, enjoyed Lisbon (particularly the sangria on the beach) and then went to Porto. It was stunning. It might be the most beautiful city I've seen in Europe. The restaurants and bars line the Duoro River and row boats deliver the port wine from the vineyards up river. This was truly the peak of our trip and as we crossed the river into their sister city Vila Nova de Gaia, the highpoint quickly became the nadir. Maybe a half hour after we crossed the river, on July 4th with my Captain America shirt on, I tripped on the cobblestone and dislocated my ankle. For about a minute, my foot was perpendicular with my leg. As a group of strangers carried me off the street, I was screaming, it slowly snapped into place. I spent the next five hours in an ambulance and emergency room and the rest of the trip on crutches. I still haven't gotten a bill from the hospital. Gotta to love socialized medicine.

We went to Philadelphia for Memorial Day and met up with our niece and stayed with friends.  We went to see the Cubs in Cincinnati which is an amazing city.  We went to Arkansas for a week. The highlight of that trip is that we can now tell people we've been to Arkansas. I've been to 40 plus US states and I have to say, Arkansas is the least interesting and I have no plans to ever go back again. 

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