Monthly Archives: June 2013

sister_wendy_

Art For Our Sake: Announcing a New List

Many years ago, I attended a poetry reading given by a friend of a friend.  The poet made his entrance accompanied by a cadre of followers, all carrying signs and chanting in unison, “I don’t know much about art, but dammit I know what I like.”  Like much of modern artistic expression, what made the procession interesting was the questions it raised:  Were they affirming this anti-elitist sentiment or mocking it?

I admit that I don’t know a lot about art, specifically the arts of painting and sculpture (I know even less about architecture).  We had a pretty good survey course in high school, but since then I have just gleaned bits and pieces of information from conversations with artists and art history majors, Sister Wendy’s BBC series, Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and lots of museum-going.  I like pretty pictures, art that tells a story or generates an emotional response and art that shows off the artist’s dazzling technique, but I also appreciate art that challenges me and makes me ask the questions, What is Art? and Is this thing I’m looking at an example of it?  (As a solution to this perennial quandary, an artist friend in college had an “It’s Art” stamp made up.  Now it was very easy to tell what was art and what wasn’t – just look for the stamp.)

Humans have been making art for over 30,000 years, and in that time there have been numerous technological advances (like the science of perspective, or the guy who invented tubes that allowed oil painters like Van Gogh to paint outside).  There have also been shifts in the philosophy of art, changes in the answers to the question, Why make art?  To improve our chances of catching a bison?  To worship our deity?  To kowtow to the rich and famous?  To make a political statement? To explore the effects of one color on another?  To show the world that there is art everywhere we look?  To stimulate the beholder to ask the questions, Is this Art? Is so, why?  If not, why not?  This last is what Tom Wolfe hates about modern art – that the explanation of the work can be more interesting than the work itself, that the work is meaningless without the explanation.  But the response is, all artists expect the viewer to bring something to the table – it’s just that with pre-modern art, much of what we bring is emotional and feels instinctive; now we often need to bring our cognitive faculties, and that can feel like work.

The old saw is that photography killed representational art, and artists had to come up with another reason to exist, so they created forms of art that were successively more and more removed from photographic realism.  Even as a novice, I recognize that this theory has more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall.  For one thing, anyone who has done any photography will tell you that “photographic realism” is a rarely-achieved ideal.  For a famous example, think of the one picture of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Shutter speeds were so long back then, and the speech was so short, that Lincoln is just a blur.  It actually reminds me a little of a modern art painting (I forget by whom) in which the painter paints a portrait and then, before the paint is dry, smudges the subject’s face with his finger (or at least that’s what it looks like).

All of which brings me to my latest list.  I scoured the Internet and library shelves (oversized, mostly) to find collections of the best ever paintings and sculptures that the world’s artists have ever created.  I found 15 such lists and combined them into one giant list, then put every work of art that made it onto at least three of the lists and put them here:  Best Works of Art of All Time – The Critics’ Picks.  In the process, I learned quite a bit about art and art history.  Some examples:
(1) Paleolithic cave painters used the deepest most inaccessible parts of their caves to paint, meaning they weren’t making decorations to be admired by their peers but religious/magical images that only their deities could see.
(2) What we know of Greek sculpture we have mostly learned from Roman copies of Greek works.  The bronze statues made by the Greeks were later melted down for other uses, while the mostly marble copies made by the Romans have survived.
(3) Some of the most magnificent 14th, 15th and 16th Century works of art are contained on altarpieces, which were wooden contraptions with panels and hinges that stood in front of or behind the altar in a Catholic church and contained painted or sculpted religious scenes.
(4) In representational painting, it’s all about the light.
(5) There are only so many 16th Century Dutch landscapes that I can look at in a row before feeling restless.
(6) Maybe your kid could paint that, but it would never occur to him/her to do it.

Check It Out – My Personal Checklists

As you may already know, I don’t just make lists, I also like to play with my lists.  (Contrary to popular belief, this does not lead to blindness.)  I have been wanting to take my best music, literature and film of all time lists and set them up so you can see which items I’ve checked off, and so you can do the same.  If you’ve ever spent any time on listsofbests.com, you know what I’m talking about.  Unfortunately, WordPress (at least here in the cheap seats) doesn’t allow for such sophisticated programming.  Undaunted, I have found an alternative ‘check-off’ method.  Instead of checking off each movie I’ve seen, book I’ve read and and piece of music I’ve listened to, I have highlighted it in blue – Royal Blue, I might add.  (See below.)  So now, if you care (and, honestly, why would you?), you can find out which of the “best evers” I have partaken of so far.  And to make the fun last longer, you can make a copy of each list and do the same.  Happy listing!

My Film Checklist
My Literature Checklist
My Music Checklist 

valerie bertinelli

The Facebook Jokes

I have always had goals.  When I was six, I wanted to be a paleontologist (a fact my parents loved to share with friends: “Ask him what he wants to be when he grows up”).  When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a naturalist, like Charles Darwin.  In high school, I wanted to write The Great American Novel.  But as I approached adulthood, and ever since, I have spent most of my efforts on achieving three overarching goals: (1) to find true love; (2) to know everything; and (3) to make the world a better place.  “The Facebook Jokes” fits into my somewhat twisted interpretation of the third goal, but first I need to say a few things about the other two.

First comes love.  This is not a relationship advice blog, and I certainly don’t have any credentials for giving relationship advice, except perhaps 24 years of marriage to the same endlessly intriguing (and wise and kind and patient) person and a fair number of practice relationships before that.  I guess my main piece of advice is grammatical: ‘love’ is an active, not a passive verb.  We initially pair off because of feelings like attraction, infatuation and lust (and, occasionally, a feeling best described as “last call”).  Despite our culture’s romanticizing of these emotions, they are just evolution’s way of ensuring that our species continues to propagate.  (At least, this is how I rationalize my high school crush on Valerie Bertinelli.)  Once attraction brings two of us together (I’m not even going to mention three-ways – oops, just did), the complicated part begins.  In order to stay together, it’s not enough to feel something (a dirty little secret: some days, you may feel nothing at all – this is the point at which all Hollywood couples split up), you need to do something.  For him.  For her.  For yourself (self-awareness is always good; improving communication skills – listening, guys? – is even better).  For the both of you.

I’m very lucky and grateful that I have had many opportunities to become part of a pair over the years – I’ve laughed with and learned something from every one – but my life partner of the last 27 years (24 with the gold bands on) –  that’s another story.  With her, I’ve achieved goals I didn’t even know I had.  But that’s not what this blog is about, remember?  It’s about jokes.  But before we get to that, we have to deal with my omniscience obsession.

Goal Number Two.  First, let’s get this out of the way: I loved school.  Being forced to spend hours of each day learning was like someone telling me, “We’re going to make you eat cake and pie and ice cream every day, like it or not.”  I loved science, math, social studies, languages, art, and music, but the best part of all was that they made us read books, and write and talk about them.  (I remember a very early quasi-list was a bookmark that I used for several years – patched up with tape as it fell apart – on which I placed a hatch-mark for each book I read, like a gunfighter notching his kills.)  They also let us write stories, and essays, and occasionally read them out loud.  To me, this was heaven.  Plus, except for my four-years at an all-boys Jesuit high school, there were girls!  Right there at the desk next to me, the cutest girl I had ever seen.  More on that later.

Here’s what I learned about learning.  Every time I found out about another topic, I wanted to know all about it: dinosaurs, insects, oceanography, rocketry, Mesopotamia, the Acadians, the human brain, nuclear physics, trees, Prince Henry the Navigator, Jeffersonian Democracy, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, The Beatles, punk rock, sentence diagramming, algebra, Venn diagrams, weather, birds, chemical bonding, the Big Bang, Nazi Germany, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Bob Dylan, democratic socialism, stream of consciousness, post-modernism, film noir, cinema verite, the auteur theory, assisted reproductive technologies, feminism, homosexuality, imitative polyphony, serialism, folk, jazz, blues, Cartesian dualism, dada, surrealism, vegetarianism, logical positivism, Portugal.  Even now, in my Medieval, or middle-aged, period, I come across a new topic at least once a month and find myself scouring the Interwebs to find out more.

But here’s the other thing I learned: I don’t have enough time or energy to know everything.  Also, even though I was pretty smart, I wasn’t quite smart enough to understand all the information I was ingesting.  (And, even worse, as I get older, I’m forgetting a lot of what I learned before.)  I’ve adopted two different approaches to these problems.  The first approach is to eliminate certain topics from my to-learn list.  It is very hard to give up on any potential subjects, so right now I only have two: (1) engineering and (2) dance (although I am intrigued by Nijinsky, especially in connection with The Rite of Spring, and Isadora Duncan, but mostly for her fateful choice of scarves).  I sometimes add economics to the list, but since I deal with labor and workforce issues in my chosen profession, that’s probably not a good idea.  The second, and probably more fruitful approach, is to pick a few topics to focus on more intensely.  Naturally, my choice of topics is somewhat broad, thus giving me more leeway.  Right now, my list would probably include: (1) literature; (2) film; (3) music; (4) natural history (especially native plants and birds); (5) history; (6) philosophy; (7) foreign cultures/travel; (8) U.S. politics; (9) the U.S. labor movement; (10) comedy and humor; (11) family history/genealogy; and (12) photography.  Note that this list could also form the core of a ‘things I like to do’ list: (a) read; (b) write; (c) watch movies; (d) listen to music; (e) write & perform music; (f) explore natural areas; (g) travel; (h) follow politics and support progressive candidates and causes; (i) support workers and unions; (j) watch and listen to funny stuff; make people laugh; (k) take pictures; (l) spend time with friends, family and loved ones; (m) engage in stimulating conversations with other humans – and the occasional dog or cat.  (Edit:  Interesting that I didn’t mention making lists or blogging.  Hmmm…)

Which brings me  to my third goal, and the reason for this post in the first place.  Like so many people, I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it.  But I lack the confidence of so many others.  For example, I’m not convinced that most other people will agree with what I think of as “a better world.”  In fact, I might not even agree with my own definition a week, a month or a year from now.  So there’s that.  Then there’s the law of unintended consequences – even if we all agree that some change would help, it might end up making things much, much worse.  This happens all the time.  So what to do?  At a certain point, I suppose, I have to take a leap of faith and pick a couple of things that I think might really help, based on my knowledge, experience and, of course, The Magic 8 Ball.  So here’s what I picked:  (1) help employees by providing legal assistance to them and their unions to improve their wages and working conditions and the fairness and justice of their workplaces; (2) without compromising my principles or harming my physical or mental health, (a) try to be a loving and caring husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend and (b) try to be kind, considerate and fair to everyone else; and (3) tell jokes that make people laugh or, in the case of certain puns, groan and roll their eyes.

The last point brings us, finally, to the point of the blog: Facebook.  For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with Facebook.  I ‘liked’ things that make me laugh or that I agreed with.  I announced big events.  I posted some photos.  But I didn’t have anything to say on a regular basis.  I had no interest in sharing my day-to-day activities with my Facebook friends (as fascinating as I found theirs to be).  Then it suddenly hit me:  jokes!  Facebook, it turns out, is the perfect forum for trying out new material.  And although several people over the years have referred to me (affectionately, I have to assume) as “a wise ass”, I have no ambitions to become a comedian of any sort (audible sighs of relief from various corners), it is lots of fun to come up with things I think are funny and use them to answer that eternal question, “What’s on your mind?”  If other people laugh, that is great – they get a healthy smile on their face and I get the satisfaction of putting it there.  If not, no problem, it will be gone the next time you log on, down into the Facebook basement (or is it a dungeon?) where old posts go to sit in the dampness and reminisce about the days “we were on the wall.”  So here are a few Facebook jokes from the past couple of years – do with them what you will.

The Facebook Jokes

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Amnesty International, the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy for all the free return address labels.

While cleaning the spice rack, I knocked over some herbs and ended up with a lot of thyme on my hands.

My doctor told me I have a non-productive cough. So apparently my cough sits around all day DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

A partner at work is missing two of his chickens. He suspects a coyote is the culprit. The tip-off: all those empty Acme boxes behind the barn.

Just “liked” Elizabeth Warren. Should I worry that she’ll think I “like her” like her?

I was thinking of selecting the very best poems by Walt Whitman and publishing them in a book. I was going to call it “A Whitman Sampler.”  Although I am a little worried that people may just read a little bit of each poem until they find one they like.

Q. Why did Gandhi throw his bread against the wall? A. Because he believed in naan violence.

On being a lawyer:

        As I sit here in the office on a Saturday night, having procrastinated too long on
        my brief, and now pulling a marathon writing session to get it done on time, I realized –
        Hey, things haven’t changed that much since college.

        Just filed a motion for enlargement of time. Now I’m worried that the judge won’t be
able to grant it until there’s a quantum fluctuation in the fabric of the cosmos.

Whenever someone says, “Let me be totally honest with you…”, I always want to ask, “What were you doing before?”

On the BP oil spill:

           Reminder: Change batteries on my blowout preventer.

Just thinking about that old joke where Rene Descartes walks into a bar and orders a drink. When he’s done, the bartender asks if he wants another and Rene says, “I think not” and disappears.

Movie Reviews:

       Finally saw 127 Hours. I give it one thumb up.

       After sitting through all nine and a half hours of Les Miserables, here’s what I learned:
       (1) In 19th Century France, everyone sang instead of talked (2) in perfect English! and
       (3) little Cockney boys roamed the streets of Paris.

As we walked out of Amour, I thought, They don’t make romantic comedies the way they
used to.

Neighbors skeptical about attempt to create a new holiday tradition of door-to-door St. Patrick’s Day caroling.

One of the worst things about getting older is slowly losing my hearing. Like the other day, my wife asked me to bring home a bag of lemons, and I misheard her and brought home a bag of lemmings. Cute little critters, but try to squeeze one over your swordfish and it gets nasty!

I was thinking that ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ should not apply to masochists.

Spit on the sidewalk = lowered expectorations?

Just found out there is an interstate highway in Hawaii. Hmm.

Ate three apples yesterday. My question is: Will it keep three doctors away for one day or one doctor away for three days?

My latest band name idea: The Maynard G. Krebs Cycle

Keep meaning to get to one of those Procrastinators Anonymous meetings…

Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation. North Carolina: First In Flight. Who’s got the Wright stuff?

Classical concert promoters, astonished at sell-out crowd, later discover typo in announcement for Beethoven’s “Erotica” Symphony.

I was surprised to hear Stephen Hawking’s voice coming out of the ticket machine in my local parking garage. Doesn’t he have enough work with all the physics stuff?

I was sorry to see that Don Cornelius, of Soul Train, passed away last week. My thoughts go out to his distant cousin, Yukon.

Why did the woman in the produce section slap me? All I said was, “Nice pear.”

And who (in our age cohort) can forget that rousing call to action: “Do a little dance. Make a little love. Get down tonight. Get down tonight.”

Making lists: it’s not just my passion, it’s also a desperate cry for help.

If your childhood was anything like mine, you spend the rest of your life in fear of having to say the words, “Where should I put this?”

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I was reminded of that classic blues song, “If it wasn’t for stained dress shirts, I wouldn’t have no dress shirts at all.”

If you’re like me, when you think, “21st Century Innovations that Have Improved Our Quality of Life”, one thing immediately comes to mind: Gas Station Television.

Whenever I hear the Republicans accusing the Democrats of planning to redistribute the wealth, I always think the same thing: I wish.

Since the election, Obama has stopped sending me e-mails every day. Are we no longer friends?

I hear Courtney Love is making a comeback – she’s hosting a cooking show, where she’ll teach viewers how to make brownies, cookies, etc. It will be called, “Someday You Will Bake Like I Bake.”

Reading an interesting book about a nobleman stuck in an ancient prison who escapes by greasing a crack in the stones with vegetable oil and slipping out. It’s called The Count of Monte-Crisco.

Not sure why, but like the rest of Massachusetts, we’re going on a milk-and-bread-only diet for the blizzard.

Just realized that, from the outside, “Too busy to clean the house” and “Too lazy to clean the house” look exactly the same.

On my way out of the office one winter morning, a man on his way in said, “Watch out for the black ice” and for just a second I thought, What a racist!

Since the meteor fell in Russia, I haven’t seen a single dinosaur. Coincidence?

Just downloaded Michelle Shocked’s two new songs, “When I Grow Up, I Want to Be An Old Bigot” and “Anchored Down in Crazy Town.”

Lawyer’s Dictionary: “clearly” (adv.) = I don’t have a real argument. I’m just hoping you’ll think this is obvious.

The verdict is in: the spider in the bathroom is guilty of being big and scary. Jury still divided (1-1) on whether to impose the death penalty.

At my nephew’s high school graduation, everyone was peppering him with baseball questions – he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. I waited for him to finish an answer, and then I asked my question, “What does it feel like when, every time you get up to bat in Little League, the whole infield and outfield moves in much closer to home?” He looked at me for a second, and then I said, “Actually I do know how that feels.”

I’d Like to Thank The Academy…

I’ve been nominated for a Sunshine Award, which looks something like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to Elizabeth (whose wonderful blog is located at http://bkwrm513.wordpress.com/) for nominating me – I accept! In compliance with the rules, I’m supposed to answer 10 questions and then nominate 10 other bloggers for the Award.  The first part is easy, but since I’m new to blogging, the second part may take a while.  Here goes:

QUESTIONS THAT MUST BE ANSWERED

1) favorite color: The color of pomegranate seeds.

2) favorite animal: Black-throated blue warbler.

English: Black-throated blue warbler

Black-throated blue warbler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3) favorite number: 12 – the atomic number of the carbon atom, the basis of all life

4) favorite (non alcoholic) drink: seltzer, with lime

5) favorite (alcoholic) drink: sober since 1995, but before then, any locally-brewed ale would do

6) facebook or twitter: Facebook – it’s where I test all my new material.

7) my passions: my marriage, film, literature, music, native plants, birds, travel, the labor movement, progressive politics

8) giving or receiving gifts: I love giving my wife gifts, and buying myself books and CDs.  Otherwise, I find getting gifts for others (and shopping in general) very stressful and I’m generally disappointed with the gifts other people get me (except gift certificates for books and CDs).

9) favorite city: my adopted home of Boston – I love that (not so) dirty water.DSCF0085

10) favorite TV program: You can find my favorite 50 TV shows of all time under the “Other” button at the top of the page.  At the top of the list is The Wire, five seasons of the best, most realistic gritty urban drama (and Greek tragedy) ever put on the tube.

 

 

The Terrifying 2000s

The fall of the Twin Towers.  Al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism on the rise.  Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.   Intifada.  Chechnya.  The Janjaweed.  The tsunami.  SARS.  Benazir Bhutto assassinated.  The Great Recession.  The Patriot Act.  Reality TV.  Mel Gibson.  There was plenty to be scared of in the first decade of the 21st Century.  We were so frightened, we even started a war against terror itself.  We started out with Clinton and ended with Obama, but mostly we got the misunderestimations of George Bush.  There were other, less terrifying developments: The Eurozone.  GPS.  Hybrid cars.  Atheism bestsellers.  Martha Stewart went to jail.  Peter Jackson did LOTR fans proud (except for Tom Bombadil fanatics).  Kids got their news from The Daily Show.  Hunter Thompson’s ashes were shot from a cannon.  Vets coming home with PTSD were refused treatment by the government they bravely served.  It was that kind of decade.

Here they are: some of my favorite books, films and music from the 2000s.

Favorite 00s Films

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)
Fat Girl (Breillat, 2001)
American Splendor (Berman, 2003)
Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001)
Dogville (von Trier, 2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Moore, 2004)
Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
Talk to Her (Almodovar, 2002)
Juno (Reitman, 2007)
The Lives of Others (von Donnersmarck, 2006)
Moulin Rouge! (Luhrmann, 2001)
Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001)
No Country for Old Men (Coen, 2007)
Once (Carney, 2006)
Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, 2001)
Slumdog Millionaire (Boyle, 2008)
Tarnation (Caouette, 2004)
Traffic (Soderbergh, 2000)
Downfall (Hirschbiegel, 2004)
Waking Life (Linklater, 2001)
The White Ribbon (Haneke, 2009)
Yi Yi (Yang, 2000)

Favorite 00s Music

PJ Harvey  Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000)
Shelby Lynne  I Am Shelby Lynne (2000)
U2  All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
Mariza  Fado em Mim (2000)
Greg Osby  Invisible Hand (2000)
Pérotin  Perotin (Hilliard Ensemble) (2000)
Johann Sebastian Bach  Mass in B Minor (Gächinger Kantorei & Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Rilling) (2000)
Macy Gray  The Id (2001)
Buddy Guy  Sweet Tea (2001)
Jason Moran  Black Stars (2001)
Wilco  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Beck  Sea Change (2002)
Sleater-Kinney  One Beat (2002)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs  Fever to Tell (2003)
The New Pornographers  Electric Version (2003)
Arcade Fire  Funeral (2004)
Sufjan Stevens  Illinois (2005)
My Morning Jacket  Z (2005)
Petra Haden  Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out (2005)
John Adams  The Dharma at Big Sur (BBC Symphony Orch./Adams) (2006)
The Hold Steady  Boys and Girls in America (2006)
Camera Obscura  Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)
Arcade Fire  Neon Bible (2007)
The New Pornographers  Challengers (2007)
The Swell Season  Once: Music From the Motion Picture (2007)
PJ Harvey  White Chalk (2007)
Los Campesinos!  Hold On Now, Youngster… (2008)
Tune-Yards  Bird-Brains (2009)
Leonard Bernstein  Mass (Baltimore Symphony Orch./Alsop; Sykes) (2009)

Favorite 00s Books

Dave Eggers  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000)
Ian McEwan  Atonement  (2001)
David McCullough  John Adams (2001)
Leif Enger  Peace Like a River (2001)
Jeffrey Eugenides  Middlesex (2002)
Janet E. Browne  Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002)
Edward P. Jones  The Known World (2003)
Bill Bryson  A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
David Maraniss  They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967 (2003)
Steve Coll  Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004)
David Crystal  The Stories of English (2004)
Tim Riley  Fever: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Transformed Gender in America (2004)
Kazuo Ishiguro  Never Let Me Go (2005)
Charles C. Mann  1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005)
Joan Didion  The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
Duncan Clark  The Rough Guide To Classical Music (2005)
Michael Pollan  The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006)
Julie Phillips  James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006)
Philip Lopate (ed.)  American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now  (2006)
Alex Ross  The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007)
Annette Gordon-Reed  The Hemingses of Monticello (2008)
Mark Harris  Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood  (2008)

The Naughty Nineties

Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton, the cigar, and the blue dress that never made it to the dry cleaners.  Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Coke can.  Desert Storm and the Scud Stud.  CNN and the 24-hour news cycle.  The Rwandan Genocide.  The Bosnian Genocide.  Kosovo.    Grunge mashed up heavy metal and punk and draped a torn flannel shirt over it.  Riot grrls took third wave feminism and added electric guitars and explicit lyrics.  And speaking of explicit lyrics, they put warning labels on rap CDs, helping sales under the law of unintended consequences.  The 90s was the era of sex, lies and the Intertubes.  James Cameron was king of the world.  Disney started making animated classics again.  They freed Nelson Mandela.  Alternative music and indie film briefly took over, until the big corporations caught on and cashed in.  A lot of us started thinking it might be worth it to pay more for organic.  Scientists cloned a sheep – hello, Dolly.  Al Gore started talking about something called ‘global warming.’  On TV we had Friends (hairdo: the Rachel), ER (hairdo: the Clooney) and, of course, Steve Urkel.

Here are some of my favorite films, books and music from the 1990s:

Favorite 90s Films

Short Cuts (Altman, 1993)
Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995)
Being John Malkovich (Jonze, 1999)
Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)
Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)
Happiness (Solondz, 1998)
Ed Wood (Burton, 1994)
Fargo (Coens, 1996)
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (Morris, 1997)
The Celebration (Vinterberg, 1998)
Groundhog Day (Ramis, 1993)
Lone Star (Sayles, 1996)
Microcosmos (Nuridsany/Pérennou, 1996)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)
Rushmore (Anderson, 1998)
Secrets & Lies (Leigh, 1996)
The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan, 1997)
All About My Mother (Almodóvar, 1999)
Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992)
Boogie Nights (Anderson, 1997)
The Apostle (Duvall, 1997)
American Beauty (Mendes, 1999)
Election (Payne, 1999)
Boys Don’t Cry (Peirce, 1999)
Brother’s Keeper (Berlinger/Sinofsky, 1992)

Favorite 90s Music

World Party  Goodbye Jumbo (1990)
The Sundays  Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (1990)
They Might Be Giants  Flood (1990)
Sinéad O’Connor  I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)
Rosanne Cash  Interiors (1990)
Franz Liszt  Sonata in B minor (Pollini) (1990)
Erik Satie  Erik Satie (Queffélec) (1990)
R.E.M.  Out of Time (1991)
U2  Achtung Baby (1991)
Throwing Muses  The Real Ramona (1991)
Johann Sebastian Bach  Cello Suites (Rostropovich) (1991)
Elliott Carter  The Four String Quartets (Juilliard Quartet) (1991)
R.E.M.  Automatic for the People (1992)
Josquin Des Prés  Missa “Ave maris stella”; Motets & Chansons (Taverner Consort & Choir/Parrott) (1992)
Aimee Mann  Whatever (1993)
Liz Phair  Exile in Guyville (1993)
Anonymous  Adorate Deum: Gregorian Chant from the Proper of the Mass (Nova Schola Gregoriana/Turco) (1993)
PJ Harvey  To Bring You My Love (1994)
Letters to Cleo  Aurora Gory Alice (1994)
Johnny Cash  American Recordings (1994)
John Dowland  Complete Lute Works, Vol. 1 (O’Dette) (1995)
Alban Berg  Wozzeck (Barenboim; Grundheber; Meier; Baker; Clark) (1994)
Dmitri Shostakovich  String Quartets (Emerson String Quartet) (1994-1999)
Garbage  Garbage (1995)
Alanis Morissette  Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Emmylou Harris  Wrecking Ball (1995)
Aimee Mann  I’m With Stupid (1995)
Beck  Odelay (1996)
Radiohead  OK Computer (1997)
Sarah McLachlan  Surfacing (1997)
The Sundays  Static & Silence (1997)
Bob Dylan  Time Out of Mind (1997)
Yo La Tengo  I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997)
Garbage  Version 2.0 (1998)
John Scofield  A Go Go (1998)
Lucinda Williams  Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
Steve Reich  Music for 18 Musicians (1998)
Wilco  Summerteeth (1999)
Tom Waits  Mule Variations (1999)
The Magnetic Fields  69 Love Songs (1999)
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny  Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (1999)

Favorite 90s Books

David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest (1996)
Arundhati Roy  The God of Small Things (1997)
Zadie Smith  White Teeth  (1999)
Daniel C. Dennett  Consciousness Explained (1991)
Richard Fortey  Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (1997)
Philip Gourevitch  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (1998)
Janet E. Browne  Charles Darwin: Voyaging  (1995)
Andrea Barrett  Ship Fever: Stories (1996)
John McPhee  Annals of the Former World (1998)
Norman Rush  Mating (1991)
Tony Judt  Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (1999)
Tim Riley  Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary (1992)
David McCullough  Truman  (1992)
Julia Cameron  The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992)
Dennis Overbye  Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe (1991)
Aljean Harmetz  Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca–Bogart, Bergman, and World War II  (1992)

The Execrable Eighties

I just need two words to sum up what was wrong with the 80s: Ronald Reagan.  He’s the guy that fired the striking air traffic controllers, thereby sending the message to employers everywhere that the government was on their side, not the side of the workers and their unions.  He’s the guy that made it cool to be conservative, to blame the poor for their poverty, to pretend that racism and sexism were problems of the past and those who didn’t buy this outrageous lie had a “victim mentality.”  They made ‘tax and spend’ liberal a four-letter word, while raising government spending to record highs.  What was that stuff trickling down, anyway?  It wasn’t water and it smelled kinda funny.

And what did our culture give us as the backdrop for this class war?  MTV: Paula Abdul dancing with cartoons.  Boy bands.  Boy George. Big hair for women (and hair metal bands); buzz cuts for men.  Speaking of hair, A Flock of Seagulls.  And in the theaters:  Porky’s.  Flashdance.  Iran-Contra.  Wait, that last one was real, wasn’t it?

I can’t complain too much, though.  On a personal level, the 80s brought me together with my life partner and true love (you know who you are) – but I can promise you that Reagan had nothing to do with it.

Here are my favorite books, films and music of the 1980s:

Favorite 80s Films

Stardust Memories (Allen, 1980)
Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987)
The King of Comedy (Scorcese, 1982)
The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989)
Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)
Raging Bull (Scorcese, 1980)
Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)
Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)
Say Anything… (Crowe, 1989)
My Dinner With Andre (Malle, 1981)
sex, lies, and videotape (Soderbergh, 1989)
The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1988)
Raising Arizona (Coens, 1987)
Hannah and Her Sisters (Allen, 1986)
This Is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984)
Baby It’s You (Sayles, 1983)
Local Hero (Forsyth, 1983)
Atlantic City (Malle, 1980)
Return of the Secaucus Seven (Sayles, 1980)
The Vanishing (Sluizer, 1988)
Sans Soleil (Marker, 1983)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Richter, 1984)
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Ophüls, 1988)

Favorite 80s Books 

Salman Rushdie  Midnight’s Children (1981)
D.M. Thomas  The White Hotel (1981)
Gerald Mast  A Short History of the Movies (1986)
Raymond Carver  Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988)
Randy Shilts  And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987)
Howard Zinn  A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (1980)
John Gardner  The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (1984)
Anthony J. Lukas  Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (1985)
Don DeLillo  White Noise (1985)
T.C. Boyle  World’s End (1987)
Art Spiegelman  Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History (1986)
Tom Robbins  Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
James M. McPherson  Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988)
Taylor Branch  Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (1988)
Ernst Mayr  The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (1982)
A.J. Ayer  Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1982)
Robert Middlekauff  The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (1982)
John Diekelmann  Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities (1982)
Martin Amis  Money (1984)
Joseph Campbell  The Power of Myth (1988)
Tim Riley  Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album By Album, Song By Song, The Sixties And After  (1988)
Jack Connor  The Complete Birder: A Guide to Better Birding (1988)
Kenneth O. Morgan  The Oxford History of Britain (1988)
R.F. Foster  Modern Ireland: 1600-1972 (1989)
John Kobal  John Kobal Presents the Top 100 Movies (1988)

Favorite 80s Music

Talking Heads  Remain in Light (1980)
Dire Straits  Making Movies (1980)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  Le Nozze di Figaro (London Philharmonic Orch./Solti; Te Kanawa; Popp; von Stade; Ramey) (1982)
Elvis Costello  Imperial Bedroom (1982)
The Roches  Keep On Doing (1982)
Paul Simon  Hearts and Bones (1982)
Tom Waits  Rain Dogs (1985)
Domenico Scarlatti  Best Sonatas (Ross) (rec. 1984-1985, rel. 1991)
Elvis Costello  King of America (1986)
Peter Gabriel  So (1986)
Paul Simon  Graceland (1986)
U2  The Joshua Tree (1987)
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir   Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares          (1975, rel. in US, 1987)
Alison Krauss  Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection (1987-1994)
Béla Bartók  6 String Quartets (Emerson String Quartet) (1988)
k.d. lang  Shadowland (1988)
Johann Sebastian Bach  The Well-Tempered Piano, Part 1 (Jaccottet) (1989)
Henry Purcell  Dido and Aeneas (The English Concert and Choir/Pinnock) (1989)