By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
South Euclid, Ohio
Demographics: I was over the hill a quarter century ago Except for the workout MP3 playlist, my unit of listening is still the album
Sexual orientation: still strong
Bizarre Interlude of the Year: Ian McCulloch, phone call from England, Sept. 8: I'm trying to interview a somewhat besotted McCulloch about the new Echo & the Bunnymen album, Siberia, and when I mention that some of the lyrics clearly point at the breakup of his marriage, he suddenly starts stammering, "Oh fuck, fuck, fuck man . . . I can't fookin' talk . . . " He starts to gasp, then I hear the sound of a man weeping uncontrollably. The phone line goes dead. I begin to drink heavily.
Asheville, North Carolina
I am stuck in a small town that hates me. I am called faggot from the windows of moving pickups, I have trouble finding work, and everyone knows my family and me. I have been sick this year, depressed, and have seizures as well. It has been cold and extremely lonely. I grew up in this town, and every time it gets bad, I go back to my mother's house. Listening to the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree once a week for a year has been inspiring. It feels strange to say this, but it has given me hope and a reason for living. John Darnielle's rampant optimism, tempered by a hard realism, reminds me to put one foot in front of the other.
Fort Sask, Alberta
At first Arular was my favorite album, but the more I listened to it the more I thought that M.I.A. was selling violence as a solution, and not just in a "shot a man in Reno" way. And I thought, well, I wouldn't have followed Lennon down that road, so I'm sure not following her. And then I started to imagine myself as a ground-down neocolonial subject, which was kind of the point, duh. But I was still like, maybe it'll come to that if these bastards keep at it, but I'm not there yet by a long shot. Then I read where she says she's not advocating violence after all, and I was actually kind of disappointed, but it's still my favorite, again.
The Living Things album reminds me of "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Both bait the government's authority by asserting brassy independence, proving they're not the suckers Whitey thinks they are. That said, Creedence never made me want to strip down to my skivvies, wrap myself in feather boas, and dry-hump every appliance in my apartment.
Brooklyn, New York
If ever there's been a guy shipwrecked by the dream, it would be Cleveland's Michael Stanleywho once upon a time held the attendance record at the local coliseum (outselling even Led Zeppelin) and still has the number at the outdoor Blossom Music Center, yet could never take the adulation of the "Rock & Roll Capital of the World" national. Like all true believers, he refuses to surrender, cranking out records in his basement that ignite a blue-collar dignity-on-the-American-made-line ethos that is seldom seen, let alone recognized. With a deep voice aged by too many cigarettes, Stanley offers up the talismans of his faiththe faith of a man who never quite made it, but refuses to give in.
If you ever lose your day job, listen to some old Judas Priest albums. It will give you a pick-me-up without the nasty hangover.
Like a few hundred bona fide geniuses and more than 5,000 hopeless fools, I played in the main event of the World Series of Poker this year. A couple days after busting out, I was still walking around the RIO in a daze, and then I heard the glorious music. There was, I guess, some sort of high-school theater event going on. And as I walked out of the poker tournament area, I heard the unmistakable sound of teenagers wailing, practicing the theme song from Rent: "525,600 minutes . . . how do you, do you measure a year?" I stopped and listened and stared, and then headed over to the Wynn, newly inspired, and crushed the card games.
Brooklyn, New York
I'm stoked about the return of that perennially imperiled genre, the Song That Totally Fucking Bugs the Living Shit out of People. Say what you like about "My Humps" and "Laffy Taffy," they did not fade into the background, or remind you of better versions of the same songthey made you feel alive, if only because they made you want to plunge soldering irons into your eardrums.
Brooklyn, New York
Since I've reached a point in my personal life where I'm frighteningly well-adjusted and horribly even-keel, I don't often find myself projecting private demons onto pop music anymore. So I know for certain I've heard a perfect pop song when it makes me experience emotions that I'm not even feeling at the time. Robyn's "Be Mine" was that kind of song, suckering me into pantomiming heartbreak and desperation with no less conviction than if I'd just been dumped myself a moment ago. For a man enjoying couplehood, it was voyeuristic catharsis.