Okay, I'm a 27-year-old, half-Mexican, half-white straight/single woman and I do need a hook on this beat, thank you. 2003 was the year I began: 1. DJing, and 2. Blogging. As my friend Joe Gross put it, "Djing is the new playing bass in a shitty rock band." Writing for a weblog is obviously the new "starting a fanzine," except the two are so inextricably connected, along with 3. Downloading music, which made the DJs and the blogs so much better, archival, anthemic. More information is good, not bad. Downloading music would be the new "fucking the system," except the RIAA is already totally screwed.
My name is Nate and I live in St. Paul Minnesota and am 26 years old. I like sports cars and Rey Mysterio and girls and Drunken Master and convoluted portmanteaus. My favorite kind of music is a tie between the kind that uses notes and the kind that uses beats, though the kind that uses both is super and best. I write for City Pages (Mpls/St. Paul) and Seattle Weekly and Red Flag Media and a blog that lots of Googlers looking for the word "hipster" stumble into. I'm glad that rock is back because I look kind of stupid throwing devil horn hand signals at Aesop Rock shows. Oh, hell, I look kind of stupid no matter what.
St. Paul, Minnesota
I felt pretty lucky this year: the Bay Area music scene was politically charged, crazy-active, noisy and gossipy, even. I might have had something to do with the latter but I can't be held responsible for the rest of the lovable mess. Panic-rock poobahs wormed their way into Chinatown dice bars. Afterhours clubs throbbed like bad hangovers. Cross-disciplinary comminglings sexed up art galleries, warehouses, and house parties. Afterward everyone had a cigarette outside; I had a Diet Coke. I like to think it was all the happy, lingering fallout of the dot-com boom, which attracted creative types from all over the country a few eventful years agoand left a few with half a brain. And then there was the regular influx of short-timers. All were welcome and all united to back the Green Party's bass-playing mayoral candidate and everyday indie-boy Matt Gonzalez.
San Francisco, California
Madeline Adams (#3 album) is an 18-year-old girl from Athens, GA who barely anybody has heard of except for my friends and I (she's the younger sister of my buddy Carter) and Mike Mills of R.E.M., who allegedly tried to make out with her after one of her gigs. Madeline plays acoustic guitar and sings, and on this album, her friend Alex adds some percussion. Listening to her wide, innocent soprano, I realize why our culture is so obsessed with staying young: because youth can be so stunning, so full of hope, so capable of creating beauty.
I want to call my emo band Smash Your Head on the Dashboard. This is after me and my friend Amy Salit start our all-girl Jewish punk band Burning Bush and our all-girl Afghanistani band She-had.
The utter brattiness of "Stacy's Mom" makes it more fun than any of us should admit toand for women of a certain age, it can also add a little smugness as the freefall of age anxiety is foisted onto your plate. Rather than swallow, turn this baby up--and bite back.
I'm still a gay Caucasian male, now 36 and partnered, living and working in Seattle. I took a pretty big hit, in terms of (critical) writing gigs, in 2003, so in addition to my DJ career I now supplement my income with a part time job at an indie record store. My writing currently appears in No Depression, The Stranger, Time Out New York, Boston Pheonix, Flaunt, and The Advocate. I'm currently working on a new book proposal and a radio show pilothopefully 2004 is going to be a more prosperous year! Xoxox, El Toro
Kurt B. Reighley
Country Music Magazine senior editor from '99 to July '03, when it was closed by its corporate owners. Now freelancer, writes for Nashville Scene, L.A. Times, No Depression, Country Music Today, other magazines/weeklies. White male, 47, married, father of two.
I suspect in reading the winning Top 50, my eyes will glaze over in befuddlement. "I never heard of any of these motherfuckers."
I have grown old.
But I feel young.
I have to admit I spent many hours in the past year listening to dead white guys. No, I don't mean Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon (although I listened to them, too). I mean a little classical music there, kids. Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky, Bartok: The last frontier for an aging rock critic. Of course, none of those guys had a new album out last year, at least as far as I know. So I did the next best thing: I tried to vote only for artists who were either already dead or older than me, and I am getting pretty old for this gig. Fela, Zevon, Waylon; gone, gone, gone. Emmylou, Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Crusaders, Ibrahim Ferrer; all eligible for membership in AARP, or getting really damn close. I did vote for Black Eyed Peas, which was too much fun to leave off (hey, I am not dead yet), and Roy Hargrove, who combines an old soul with a young mind.
Johnny Cash didn't shot anyone in Reno, but he imagined he could. Just to watch him die. Some redneck Goethe who couldn't imagine a crime of which he wasn't capable. A walkin' contradcition, partly truth and partly fiction, his buddy Kristofferson called him. If he was damned so be ithe could ask for forgiveness, but he'd never take his salvation for granted. Johnny Cash always stood with humanity, flawed and hurt and hopeful.
Johnny Cash. Rest in peace, you old weird American monument head. I loved you. But can I tell you something in strict confidence, Johnny? I'm kinda glad you passed before they could prop you up and hand you the lyrics to "Oops I Did It Again."
Like most people, I'd anticipated Johnny Cash's passing for a long time. It was when June Carter Cash died unexpectedly--the media accounts alone had been heartbreaking enough, husband Johnny at her bedside in the hospital, sending out a request to everyone to please pray for her recovery--that I found myself pondering life and death, however. I just couldn't shake the mental image of Johnny sitting in his Tennessee home, alone in the dark, grieving for June, maybe asking himself some of the same questions we were asking. He was the hard-living one, right? The one with the recent health problems? The impossibly frail-looking man in that video of "Hurt"? The one who was supposed to go first? And I thought of my mother, upstairs in her room, alone with her TV shows, in the weeks after my father died. Did she ask any questions? Did she get any answers? Is that why she came to accept death with such grace and reserve?
Despite what her justifiably proud husband said in his last autobiography, June Carter Cash was never one of the greats of country music. She had, however, have one of the great American lives. She co-wrote the indelible "Ring of Fire." She flirted with Elvis Presley and dated James Dean and studied acting under Lee Strasberg. If she hadn't wrung the drugs out of Cash and saved him for the rest of us, she might have developed her cornpone Little Junie Carter act and given Minnie Pearl a run for her money. She made the right choice.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Best New South: Bubba Sparxxx
Best Old South: Al Green
Best Really Old South: Geeshie Wiley (on Yazoo's The Best There Ever Was)
Best South London: Basement Jaxx
Best Southern Canada: Buck 65 (from Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia)
Best Southern Rock: Drive-By Truckers
Best Cover by a Southerner: Johnny Cash's "Hurt"
Gone but not forgotten: Tony Thompson.
Forgotten but not gone: Metallica.
Brooklyn, New York
It almost seemed scripted that, so soon before Bush's go-it-alone war, we should lose Mister Rogers, the last beautiful American. Hey, he was a singer-songwriter toand as far as "Won't You Be My Neighbor," "Tree, Tree, Tree," and all the rest go, we've seen worse material for boxed sets, and will again.
Mount Tabor, New Jersey
I'm 33, married, and have a two-year-old son. I saw Finding Nemo 34 times this year, more times than I heard any record.
At #9, I have The Cheetah Girls, but really I don't know anything about the album, just the single, "Cinderella." It's been in the Top Three of the Radio Disney Nightly Countdown for weeks now, mostly in the top spot. Youd know this, too, if you had an eight- year-old daughter with a voracious, encyclopedic, catholic taste in music, not excluding the sounds of her generation. "Cinderella" is a deliciously catchy pop tune, like nearly everything on Radio Disney; like "So Yesterday," like "Holes," and, like, so on. And the lyrics are protofeminist: "I don't wanna be like Cinderella/Sittin' in a dark cold dusty cellar/Waitin' for somebody/To come and rescue me/I'd rather rescue myself." Now, a doting dad like me probably reads more meaning into this than my daughter and her third-grade friends, who don't need a song to tell them how to act. One day I.m picking up my kid and one of her friends and they drop this on one of their male classmates who is standing there. Girl: "Hey, why do boys like smart girls?" Boy: "Uuuhhhh." Other Girl: "Opposites attract." And they walk away without even laughing, leaving the befuddled moax knowing he's been punked but unable to sort out the details.
"Yeah, yeah," folks snort about Amy Rigby, "raindrops keep falling on her head." But you can't convince me that she knows less about the look of love than you-know-who. And is there another major songwriter in the history of rock who's been so consistently dead- on and neglected? Amy's a great one because the thing in her songs that seems like fatalism actually evinces more hope, charity and non-religious faith than you'd find in the Bible. Makes me wonder if midlife ambivalence is too much for our allegedly aging population to deal with.
K. Leander Williams
Brooklyn, New York
If Fever to Tell was my new girlfriend, Liz Phair was an ex I hadn't seen in awhile who's superficially so different from when I last saw her (she's totally tarted up and her new boyfriend looks like he's actually upwardly mobile and probably has nothing interesting to say, oh fuck you Liz I bet you're secretly miserable now that you've entered the real world) that it took me a long time to realize that she's happier and more confident then I've ever seen her before. Sure her cynicism and bluntness was a lot more attractive when, like, she was in love with me, but if I actually stop thinking about myself for a second, I have to admit that she's way too frikkin' cool for me to be so possessive. I always feel awkward saying that having cool ex-girlfriends is, fuck, for the lack of a better word, educational. But in all reality I'm just lucky to know someone this honest, funny and observant.
State College, Pennsylvania
Living Things, who recorded the year's best hard rock song, and whose very good album might never come out now since the advance says "DreamWorks" on it, are actually three young brothers from St. Louis whose '60s radical Dylan-and-Neil-Young-fan mom useta slide Malcolm X and Chomsky books down the chute to the basement ever since they were 11 years old, and she'd only let them have a band if all their songs had political messages. If they learned a cover tune, they'd have to change its words, even. In Metal Edge they said they read newspapers front to back every day, and are planning a national tour to let kids know why the Patriot Act is so dangerous. I hope they still get to do it.
Brooklyn, New York
This year I won't rant and rave about the destruction that is Dubya. We all know what we having to do on Election Day. I would like to point out, however, that Sweden's Katatonia made the best rock and roll album of the year and that all of you Wilco-loving motherfuckers who have never heard of them should be ashamed of yourselves. What are you afraid of? Does the heavy metal font of their band logo scare you? Are you afraid of sweet little Swedish boys? What are you, a big baby? What if I told you it sounded exactly like the Byrds? Then would you buy it? Well it does, yeah, and um, it sounds like the Band too! Just like the Band! You probably will buy it now, you unadventurous moron. Yeah, you! The one in the corner waiting for another friggin' Big Star reunion. Why don't you go write the gardening column, pal? Yer dead to me. No, but seriously, it's a great album.
I could have given 90 points to Erase Errata, because even though their album was not my most listened to of the year I feel like they are the only band in a long time that has galvanized the people, shook some shit up, and made us content with what we are all so afraid of, which as I see it is adventure and giving the consumerist impulse a mouthful of dirty snow. The consumerist impulse dictate that if we do not obey it, an icicle will penetrate our hearts and we will be doomed for all eternity to never get laid and will be forced to accept that we have flat/lumpu butts and are not friends with the Strokes.
Calexico: Feast of Wire. Visitors from places covered with trees and high buildings always surprise me with their awe of the desert. Invariably they frame their response in terms of beauty. How blue the sky! How grand the mountains! Having lived here most of my life I see through their struggles with the vocabulary. The desert? It's hideous, mishapen. It's awkward and gangly, its colors faded by the endless, cruel sun. The mountains don't sit for their postcard pictures, they loom, insolent, abiding until we leave this place. The desert will kill you in its broad, glaring spaces. And it is beautiful, beyond words.
Buck 65 felt like the record of the year from the first play. The beats seem so right. His one little sample jumps right out at you. And the wordsI never listen to words, but I find myself hanging on every line. Everyone I've played it for loves it. When my sister-in-law finally finished her college math requirement my nephew came back quoting Buck 65: "I don't ever have to cut my hair or do math again."
Kid Rock's latest displays a Dixie-fried dandy aesthete still at war with himself, tentative about his artistic moves due to an innate fear born of years of taunting by idiots and ingrates, and yet valiantly determined to be simultaneously true to the Africa and Dixiana he has loved all his life. Kid Rocksingle father, classic rock standard-bearer (like Aragorn, the ghost of a million Led Zeppelin song fragments), Coors-chugging badass redneck hip-hop son of the Motor Citydoes not believe in "separate but equal," personally or professionally, so bless his heart, as they say in the Southland.
Kandia Crazy Horse
I took up substitute teaching last year, while waiting around for graduate school to start. One day I was assigned to high school/grade school music class. For the latter, I wound up cutting short the vague lesson plan to play jazz (seven-year-olds dig Dizzy Gillespie, Sketches of Spain not so much, although they enjoy hearing of Max Roach playing jazz clubs with when he was about their age) and quiz them on their favorite music. There were some Hilary Duff fans and one tiny, angelic blonde who declared her favorite song was "the `Hey ho let's go' one from the car commercial," but the vast majority were hip-hop fans--not for the beats or the rhymes or the message but "because of the dirty words" or, more often, "because I like the rapper."
Lissa Townsend Rodgers
It all got a bit ridiculoid when 7L and Esoteric's long-running battle-rap beef with Cage and Copywrite spilled out to throw barbs at Cannibal Ox. Vast Aire spat back, and the next thing you know Can Ox producer/underground space-beat kingpin El-P is poking his head into Aesop Rock's album to say hi on "We're Famous." "This is for all those super-scientifical geniuses turned underground thug who think hip-hop is dead but can't get their fuckin' style outta '94point to us like we're not hip-hop." Enter the Blade Runner/Akira remix of the "Grindin'" beat, and four minutes of Last Real Indie Rapper Alive fury, and a couple of fiercely obtuse verses from Aes later the beef has carved a deep schism in the post-Rawkus rap world. Subsequently, we were treated to the supreme ironies of an MC called Esoteric mocking the "nerd rap" of "Def Sux" and "Gaysop Rock" (damn, settle down, Beavis) and El-P barking mockeries of Dangerous Connection's poor unit-shifting over the same "Vital Nerve" beat he once spat "when sales control status I place no faith in the majority" over.
St. Paul, Minnesota
I had drinks with Meltzer New Year's Eve, and all of a sudden he says, "Can I eat your pussy?"
I'm a bit shocked, pause, say, "Of course you can, but may you?"
"May I eat your pussy?"
Viva Las Vegas