Friday, December 18, 2009

End of the Decade Review

Best of 2009

Biggest Hipster Happenings


1. Sonic Youth at Live on the Levee

The words SONIC YOUTH, ST. LOUIS and FREE seldom (read: never) appear together in the same sentence, so the local hipsterati shit a collective brick when it was announced near the start of summer that Thurston, Kim & Co. would be gracing our fine city with a show on the riverfront. As it turned out, my having shown up six hours in advance was wholly unnecessary, but it allowed me to stake out the perfect seat in direct eyeline of the stage, a vantage point from which I surveyed the impromptu Vintage Vinyl employee reunion which took place on the street below, enjoyed the spectacle that was the sound check, and even rubbed elbows with Mr. Steve Shelley during the opening act. The impossibly perfect weather provided an exquisite backdrop for the two-hour-plus performance, and even my long-held disdain for encores slunk away sheepishly when confronted by a medley of "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Death Valley '69". The sound tech drew immediate ire from the post-show crowd for having pulled the plug on the band's impromptu accompaniment of the fireworks display (in favor of Finger Eleven, no less), but there really could have been no more punk rock ending than SY's being cut off for making too much noise.

2. Leonard Cohen at the Fox

Those fortunate enough to see L. Cohen wear an old man's mask amidst the glorious trappings of the Fabulous Fox were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime event that secured them bragging rights for years to come. Despite suffering from a curiously hillbilly crowd, the music sounded more vibrant than ever, thanks to a peerless backing band and Leonard's own age-belying sprightliness. Three hours and countless encores later, the die-hards were satisfied, and those who had only come to hear "Hallelujah" had been converted, leaving the quintessential ladies’ man with nothing left but to tip his hat and skip back to his lonely bungalow atop the Tower of Song.

3. The Breeders at Blueberry Hill

Celebrating their recent appearance in the Breeders' "Fate to Fatal" video, the Arch Rival Roller Girls were out in force for this triumphant follow-up to the band's shindig last year at Pop's. Yet even the majority of the team only accounted for a small portion of the crowd, who packed the Duck Room to the rafters and screamed along with what amounted to at least 75% of Last Splash. After too many years of plasticine pop idols, it was a joy to see Kim and Kelley holding it down for beautiful real women everywhere.

4. Morrissey at the Pageant

You will never see a better stage backdrop. Ever.

5. Gogol Bordello at the Pageant

By all accounts, this was not only one of the best shows of the year, but one of the best shows the Pageant has ever seen. Alas, I was unable to partake, having worked that night at Suite 100 next door. Nonetheless, even my limited perspective treated me to one seizure, one broken ankle, and at least two security takedowns. The only show that came close was the backwater bonanza of Tech N9ne, but the difference with Gogol was that they actually rocked.

6. Girl Talk at the Pageant

Even if you didn't find your way onstage (or if you were standing still with your arms crossed, like your plucky reporter), you were nonetheless treated to the dance party of the year. A great gasping grope-a-thon that threatened to explode into an unfettered free-for-all at any moment, Gregg Gillis's adventures in AudioMulchland provided some much-needed heat in the dead of winter. The crowd was essentially what you'd find if Novak's didn't have an age limit, but any bacchanal that attracts more than one person dressed as Greenman from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is worth an elbow in the chest.

7. XX Merge

The finest label this side of 4AD celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a heart-stopping showcase featuring the likes of the Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire, Spoon, Lambchop, M. Ward, and enough also-rans to satisfy even the surliest of record store clerks. The lineup was conducted in almost total secrecy, with the unspoken but understood goal that no one could know in advance when and where the Neutral Milk Hotel reunion would take place, lest all the other shows go unattended. Not a bad idea, but pity the poor Mangum-loving souls who had to settle for Superchunk.

8. Big Muddy Records Party at Jefferson Underground

Rooftop show + rockabilly bands + fire pit + BYOB. You do the math.

Everything Else:

1. Where the Wild Things Are

The film adaptation that no one was waiting for became the defining moment of Gen X/Y cinema, a May-September wedding of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and In the Night Kitchen, with Spike Jonze and Karen O packing the whimsy and Dave Eggers and Catherine Keener packing the cred. Somewhere, Michel Gondry is weeping.

2. The Weezer Snuggie

Either a staggeringly cynical promotional gimmick or a brilliantly stoopid gift for the fans -- either way, the most indie accessory since DIY sliced bread.

3. Dark Night of the Soul

Ridiculously overrated though I consider Danger Mouse to be, his collaboration with Sparklehorse and David Lynch was a stroke of genius on par with Jello Biafra's mayoral campaign. That the end result (a highly experimental and crushingly beautiful work that included a jaw-dropping lineup of indie rocker cameos) managed to exceed its own hype was no small miracle; throw in the fillip of the album's contentious release having relegated it to a shadowy online-only distribution, and you've got both the most mysterious record of the decade, and quite possibly the best.

4. I-64/40 Reopening

Contrary to their cheap-beer-swilling, MacBook-jocking reputation, hipsters love to exercise. In particular, they love to exercise with lots of other people; such is the appeal of the Fucking Bike Club, a freewheeling cadre of local fixie fanatics who revel in casual 38-mile treks around the bi-state area and rock their rolled-up pant legs as both a freak flag and a middle finger. It was therefore only natural that the announcement of Highway 40's long-awaited completion was met with tremendous anticipation in cafés and cycling shops, as it was well known that pedestrians and cyclists would be granted the first tread upon its virgin path. Alas, the grand unveiling of the retooled interstate attracted hundreds of like-minded rovers, whose intrepid journey along the concrete expanse gave them a privileged perspective of what their motorist friends would soon see whizzing by at a much higher speed.

5. The Flaming Lips ft. Stardeath and White Dwarfs – Dark Side of the Moon

I think my head just exploded.

6. The Edgar Allan Poe Postage Stamp

Well, it was a big deal for me, anyway. Also, for the record, the Joan Baez show was excellent.

Biggest Bummers of the Year

1. Michael Jackson dies on my birthday

Can you believe that? On my fucking birthday.

2. Jeff Smith indicted for electoral fraud

At which point Joan Bray became the last hope of progressive Missourians.

3. KFUO-FM sold to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

When word got out at the beginning of fall that our beloved Classic 99 was under threat of being mutated into an all-religious format, the St. Louis intelligentsia responded in force. Shockingly, the subsequent flurry of idignant, needlessly verbose emails to the church wasn't enough to stop the deal from going through, and cultural watchdogs began counting down the days until Mozart was usurped by Michael McDonald.

4. Adam Yauch contracts cancer

No punchline here. I have friends who cried.

5. Classic literature/Twilight tie-ins

Actually, these were pretty ingenious. The dynamos at HarperCollins, always thinking around corners, saw the Twilight phenomenon as a chance to pander to the tween demographic by lending a hip, youthful edge to material that might otherwise carry the stigma of being assigned reading. Not a bad idea in theory; it worked for Baz Luhrmann. Unfortunately, Harper's folly was to release new trade paperback editions of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Romeo and Juliet with florid Meyer-esque artwork and Twitard-friendly cover blurbs (e.g., "Bella & Edward's Favorite Book", "The Original Forbidden Love"). The end result had all the youth appeal of your hippie uncle wearing a Hootie shirt, and the kids saw through it immediately. But they all had a good laugh, and then they went through with their initial plan to use Mom's credit card to buy a copy of The Host.

6. Lady Gaga

The soundtrack to self-trepanation, with a hatchet haircut to boot.

7. Peanut butter recall

Why don't you just rip my heart right out of my body?

8. Hope and change endure a heavy sack beating

With the sun blocker in place and the town aghast, Obama was on top of the world. So he wanted to kick up his heels and indulge his sweet tooth. The GOP had thwarted his earlier attempt to take candy from a baby, but with them out of the picture, he was free to wallow in his own crapulence. But the old axiom was misleading: taking the candy proved exceedingly difficult. Stricken, he lurched forth in search of aid, but finding only slack-jawed gawkers, he gave up and collapsed on the sundial. Then, with his last ounce of strength, he sucked out his gold fillings and swallowed them. Those paramedics have sticky fingers.

9. Norman Borlaug dies

At the senseless age of 95.

Best Headlines of the Year

1. Ice skating bear kills Russian circus hand (

2. "Gollum-like" monster emerges from lake (

3. Glitch hits Visa users with $23 quadrillion charge (

4. Dentist accused of dropping tools down patient's throat before death (

5. Sex-starved Kenyan sues over boycott (

6. Chesterfield Hummer dealerships fights declining
sales with guns (

7. 120 degrees + 150 miles - toilet = fun (

8. 'Dr. Death' plans to plastinate King of Pop (

9. Urinating dog triggered argument resulting in 3 officers' deaths (

10. Two brothers in Pakistan earn millions making bondage products for the West (

Best of 2000-2009

Now, you're probably aware that I am exactly the kind of nerd who insists that each decade begins with a 1 and ends with a 0. But two of my top five albums came out in 2000, so...quiet.

Top 40 Albums / EPs

1. Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge, 2004)
2. Doves - Lost Souls (Astralwerks, 2000)
3. The White Stripes - De Stijl (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000)
4. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City, 2004)
5. DeVotchKa - How It Ends (Anti-, 2004)
6. Radiohead - Amnesiac (Parlophone, 2001)
7. Circulatory System - S/T (Cloud, 2001)
8. Air - The Virgin Suicides (Astralwerks, 2000)
9. OutKast - The Love Below (Arista, 2003)
10. Apollo Sunshine - Shall Noise Upon (Headless Heroes, 2008)
11. Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant, 2005)
12. Brazilian Girls - S/T (Verve Forecast, 2005)
13. David Holmes - Come Get It I Got It (13 Amp, 2002)
14. Sigur Rós - Agaetis Byrjun (FatCat, 2000)
15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - S/T (Touch and Go, 2001)
16. DJ Shadow - The Private Press (MCA, 2002)
17. Benoît Charest - Belleville rendez-vous (Delabel, 2003)
18.The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001)
19. Jeffrey Lewis - It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through (Rough Trade, 2003)
20. Radiohead - Kid A (Capitol, 2000)
21. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals (Illegal Art, 2008)
22. D'Angelo - Voodoo (Virgin, 2000)
23. M.I.A. – Kala (Interscope, 2007)
24. Cody Chestnutt – The Headphone Masterpiece (One Little Indian, 2002)
25. Yoko Ono - Yes, I'm a Witch (Astralwerks, 2007)
26. Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (V2, 2000)
27. Kono Michi - 9 Death Haiku (Shark Batter, 2009)
28. Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (Interscope, 2000)
29. Tenacious D - S/T (Epic, 2001)
30. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block (Wichita, 2006)
31. Fannypack - So Stylistic (Tommy Boy, 2003)
32. The Shins - Oh, Inverted World (Sub Pop, 2001)
33. Brian Eno & David Byrne – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todomundo, 2008)
34. Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (Kranky, 2000)
35. The New Heaven and the New Earth - All Saints' Day (self-released, 2009)
36. Gorillaz - S/T (Virgin, 2001)
37. Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (Temporary Residence Limited, 2003)
38. Daft Punk - Discovery (Virgin, 2001)
39. Madvillain - Madvillainy (Stones Throw, 2004)
40. Rich Aucoin - Personal Publication (self-released, 2007)

Top 40 Songs

1. Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
2. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - "Home"
3. Radiohead - "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"
4. The White Stripes - "Hotel Yorba"
5. Sigur Rós - "Viðrar vel tl loftárása"
6. Gary Jules - "Mad World"
7. DJ Shadow - "Blood on the Motorway"
8. Joanna Newsom - "This Side of the Blue"
9. M.I.A. - "Bird Flu"
10. Those Darlins - "Wild One"
11. Eels - "Souljacker part I"
12. Muse - "Take a Bow"
13. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse feat. David Lynch - "Dark Night of the Soul"
13. Deltron 3030 - "3030"
15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Mystery Girl"
16. Tiger Army - "Wander Alone"
17. Radiohead - "Pyramid Song"
18. Apollo Sunshine - "Happiness"
19. Gorillaz - "Clint Eastwood"
20. OutKast - "Prototype"
21. Peter Bjorn and John - "Young Folks"
22. Doves - "Break Me Gently"
23. Shareef Ali - "Broken Record"
24. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Nevertheless"
25. DeVotchKa - "The Enemy Guns"
26. The White Stripes - "We're Going to Be Friends"
27. The Weepies - "World Spins Madly On"
28. The Pipettes - "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me"
29. Elvis vs JXL - "A Little Less Conversation"
30. Radiohead - "15 Step"
31. Wyclef Jean - "If I Was President"
32. Dead Man's Bones - "Pa Pa Power"
33. Tenacious D - "Wonderboy"
34. OutKast - "B.O.B."
35. The Shins - "Caring Is Creepy"
36. Puscifer - "The Mission"
37. Jay-Z - "My 1st Song"
38. Bright Eyes - "First Day of My Life"
39. Portishead - "Deep Water"
40. The Strokes - "Last Nite"

Addendum: I recognize and regret my limited appreciation of hip-hop from the last decade, as I am presently stuck in an obsession with the New School. I promise to try harder to stay current in the future.

Top 100 Films

1. City of God (Miramax Films, 2002)
2. The Pianist (Studio Canal, 2003)
3. You Can Count on Me (Paramount Classics, 2000)
4. Adaptation (Columbia Pictures, 2002)
5. Lilo & Stitch (Walt Disney Pictures, 2002)
6. Sideways (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004)
7. Transamerica (The Weinstein Company, 2005)
8. The Savages (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2007)
9. Bad Santa (Dimension Films, 2003)
10. Deliver Us From Evil (Lions Gate Films, 2006)
11. A History of Violence (New Line Cinema, 2005)
12. Rejected (Bitter Films, 2000)
13. Brick (Focus Features, 2005)
14. Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli, 2001)
15. Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2006)
16. Zodiac (Paramount Pictures, 2007)
17. Love Actually (Universal Pictures, 2003)
18. The Corporation (Zeitgeist Films, 2003)
19. The Prestige (Touchstone Pictures, 2006)
20. Tarnation (Wellspring Media, 2003)
21. The Eye (Palm Pictures, 2002)
22. The Host (Magnolia Magnet, 2006)
23. Rivers and Tides (Roxie Releasing, 2001)
24. When the Levees Broke (HBO, 2006)
25. Kill Bill (Miramax Films, 2003)
26. Bug (Curb Entertainment, 2002)
27. Good Night and Good Luck (Warner Independent Pictures, 2005)
28. Big Fish (Columbia Pictures, 2003)
29. Mystic River (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2003)
30. Maxed Out (Red Envelope Entertainment, 2006)
31. The Magdalene Sisters (Miramax Films, 2002)
32. Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features, 2005)
33. Wall-E (Pixar Animated Features, 2008)
34. Donnie Darko (Newmarket Films, 2001)
35. The Triplets of Belleville (Sony Pictures Classics, 2003)
36. Planet Earth (BBC, 2006)
37. Requiem for a Dream (Artisan Entertainment, 2000)
38. Jesus Camp (Magnolia Pictures, 2006)
39. A Mighty Wind (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2003)
40. Up (Walt Disney Pictures, 2009)
41. Sin City (Dimension Films, 2005)
42. DiG! (Palm Pictures, 2004)
43. Team America: World Police (Paramount Pictures, 2004)
44. Napoleon Dynamite (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004)
45. High Fidelity (Buena Vista Pictures, 2000)
46. Almost Famous (Columbia Pictures, 2000)
47. Ghost World (United Artists, 2001)
48. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (THINKFilm, 2002)
49. Inglourious Basterds (Universal Pictures, 2009)
50. King Corn (Balcony Releasing, 2007)
51. 28 Days Later (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2003)
52. L.I.E. (New Yorker Films, 2001)
53. Fear(s) of the Dark (IFC Films, 2008)
54. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005)
55. The Orphanage (Picturehouse Entertainment, 2008)
56. The Woodsman (Newmarket Films, 2004)
57. District 9 (TriStar Pictures, 2009)
58. Barbershop (MGM, 2002)
59. (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2009)
60. Waking Life (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2001)
61. Freestyle (Palm Pictures, 2000)
62. With a Friend Like Harry... (Miramax Zoë, 2000)
63. Red Dragon (Universal Pictures, 2002)
64. Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (Cowboy Pictures, 2002)
65. Shaun of the Dead (Focus Features, 2004)
66. The Incredibles (Buena Vista Pictures, 2004)
67. Hotel Rwanda (United Artists, 2004)
68. Hustle & Flow (Paramount Classics, 2005)
69. Bowling for Columbine (United Artists, 2002)
70. Hell House (Seventh Art Releasing, 2001)
71. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal Pictures, 2008)
72. Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing, 2008)
73. The Butterfly Effect (New Line Cinema, 2004)
74. The Fearless Freaks (Shout Factory, 2005)
75. No Country for Old Men (Miramax Films, 2007)
76. The Aristocrats (THINKFilm, 2005)
77. Blue Car (Miramax Films, 2002)
78. Brotherhood of the Wolf (Universal Pictures, 2002)
79. There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage, 2007)
80. The Departed (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006)
81. Precious (Lionsgate, 2009)
82. Superbad (Columbia Pictures, 2007)
83. Kinsey (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004)
84. Bodysong (Channel, 2003)
85. Coffee and Cigarettes (United Artists, 2004)
86. End of the Century (Magnolia Pictures, 2003)
87. Trapped in the Closet (Jive Records, 2005)
88. Thirteen (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2003)
89. Scratch (Palm Pictures, 2001)
90. The Machinist (Paramount Classics, 2004)
91. Thumbsucker (Sony Pictures Classics, 2005)
92. Copy Shop (Sixpack Film, 2001)
93. Y Tu Mamá También (IFC Films, 2001)
94. Coraline (Focus Features, 2009)
95. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008)
96. Kurt Cobain About a Son (Balcony Releasing, 2006)
97. Amélie (Miramax Films, 2001)
98. Far from Heaven (Focus Features, 2002)
99. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2008)
100. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Focus Features, 2004)

Honorable Mentions (i.e., Films that I Didn't See but Which I Heard Were Extraordinary, in Chronological Order)

Amores Perros (Lions Gate Films, 2000)
Snatch (Columbia Pictures, 2000)
Timecode (Columbia Tristar, 2000)
The Believer (Fireworks Pictures, 2001)
Monsoon Wedding (IFC Productions, 2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista Pictures, 2001)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Miramax Films, 2002)
Lost in La Mancha (IFC Films, 2002)
Spider (Sony Pictures Classics, 2002)
Finding Nemo (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003)
The Squid and the Whale (Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2005)
Syriana (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005)
The Lives of Others (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006)
Pan's Labyrinth (New Line Cinema, 2006)
Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage, 2007)
Gran Torino (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008)
Man on Wire (Discovery Films, 2008)
The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2008)

That's it for this decade. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PlaybackSTL: Best of 2008

Craziest Things I've Seen All Year

1. Kid next to me in the Toadies mosh pit getting a concussion from a stage diver

Since the demise of Mississippi Nights and the Creepy Crawl, it's gotten slightly harder lately to get caught in a mosh. The last place I expected to find one was at the Pageant, but damned if the Toadies didn't make it happen. During their sold out show in late July, the room reached a delicious fever pitch that threatened to erupt at any moment. I was perched against the gate at the front of the pit, screaming Todd Lewis's lyrics back into his face while being violated from behind by a surging mass of humanity, when some random goon launched himself from the stage and landed smack into the face of the kid on my right. There was a crack as the kid's head met the floor, and then he was pulled to his feet by his friends and shuffled away by security. Rumor has it that there was an ambulance idling out front during the show; I'd like to think that it wasn't even for him.

2. Heath Ledger performing a magic trick

Technically, his first screen appearance came during the opening bank robbery, but to those of us assembled at the Moolah for the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight, the Joker didn't really make an entrance until he came strolling into a mob meeting a few minutes later. After months of feverish anticipation of Heath Ledger's already legendary performance, the crowd was amped to respond to even the most simple onscreen affectation, but nothing could have prepared us for his dispatchment of a grunt who happened onto the wrong end of a pencil. To say that the place exploded would be an understatement -- it was the equivalent of Clark Gable's revealing the bare chest beneath his shirt while dropping the bomb on Nagasaki. In that one moment, Heath exceeded all of his own hype, and in the process set a new standard for cinematic malevolence that has kept us little fanboys in thrall ever since.

3. Fatal hit-and-run bike accident in Colorado Springs

The single greatest night of my southwest road trip this summer took place in the least likely place imaginable: Colorado Springs, an epicenter of evangelism located an hour south of Denver. After reuniting with a friend of mine who moved out there two years ago, my companion and I were treated to the spectacle of the New Life Church, the famed congregation from which Ted Haggard was deposed in 2006 for being a meth-smoking hypocrite. I was familiar with the Rocky Mountain megachurch from the documentary-cum-horror flick Jesus Camp, but I still found myself in awe of the sheer magnitude of the place. After nosing through its various auditoriums and atria, we decided to scoot after witnessing the end of a Christian rock concert, and thus headed up to the mountains to find an overlook of the city.

The path to the overlook was almost absurdly labyrinthine, winding through dimly lit off-roads and indistinguishable clumps of suburbia. As we traversed the narrow side streets leading up the hill, we began to notice road blocks and flashing lights. It was mere seconds before we happened across an intersection that was cordoned off by police, where through the red and blue we could make out the figure of a body on the ground covered by a sheet, with a mangled bicycle lying nearby. The scene was obviously fresh: We could still see the remnants of the accident all around. I had never seen a recent death in such close proximity, and the image seared itself into my memory. We quickly turned and found an alternate route, remarking upon the odd circumstances that had brought us to such a scene. The overlook proved well worth the trouble, providing a beautiful view of a small burg nestled under looming mountains and a starry sky, but its majesty was tainted by the bizarre events that had preceded it. I found out later that the accident had actually involved two cyclists, both of whom were killed by an elderly woman driving under the influence of barbituates and morphine. The destruction she had wrought had provided me with one of the strangest and most ineffable sights of my entire year.

4. Sidewalk party in front of Macro Sun, complete with llama and burro

Working in the Loop provides one with the opportunity to witness all manner of unusual things. During my brief stint at the Tivoli in 2002, I learned that there was no better place to people-watch than from inside the box office, where on Saturday nights one could be treated to the sights and sounds of the Hare Krishna hootenanny outside the Foot Locker. Similarly, my six-month tenure at Subterranean Books exposed me to all sorts of situations to which I might not have been privy otherwise. The greatest took place during the transition from spring to summer, when the street was filled with people and the energy was palpable. Our friends at Macro Sun decided to throw a sidewalk party to drum up business, and in doing so they pulled out all the stops. Just when I had started to tune out the sound of the belly dancer's finger cymbals, I heard the low bleating of what sounded like a goat. I poked my head outside and discovered a llama prancing about on a leash, followed closely by a burro. The confusion on my face was mirrored by the confusion on theirs, and I was left with a host of unanswered questions and a husky odor that permeated the store. The animals were tied to the tree on the sidewalk so that onlookers might be encouraged to come forth and gawk, and there they stayed for an hour or so -- never once fitting in with their environment, and yet somehow assimilating perfectly.

5. Black man being elected President

I wish I had stuck around Meshuggah for the party. Supposedly, Delmar exploded when the election was called. Instead, I spent the evening at my mom's house in Dogtown, where my pithy noisemakers were the only sound on the whole street.

Best Comebacks

1. Idealism

I have long lamented the complacency that defines my generation. Having grown up in the sunlight of the Clinton administration, when the economy reached unprecedented highs and pop culture was defined by irony and apathy, kids my age never seemed to have a defining issue around which to convene, let alone any impetus to rebel. During the long slog that was the Bush regime, there were some brief flashes of discontent, but even these settled down once it became clear that the war wasn't going to end just because a few protestors camped out in Crawford. It took an unapologetically liberal, half-African senator from Illinois to finally galvanize the youth base, and in doing so, he rejuvenated the electorate as a whole. The presidential election of 2008 often resembled a bad sitcom, with every week providing more absurd late night material, but Barack Obama's relentless adherence to his message of hope remained a stalwart rallying point for millions of disillusioned Americans. His epic sweep into the history books proved definitively that times had changed, and that the morning in America which Reagan had promised might finally come to pass.

2. Portishead

After eleven long years, Geoff Barrow and company finally released their third excursion into the depths of trip-hop. Bearing influences as diverse as Edith Piaf and Silver Apples, the album (simply titled Third) did its best to make sense of an electronic landscape that had been transformed by the likes of DJ Shadow and Radiohead. Its crackling industrial moments bore little similarity to the lethargic Portishead of old, but the band's trademark gloomy romanticism (courtesy of lyricist/siren Beth Gibbons) remained prominent. Portishead's return to the fray may have met some expectations while dashing others, but after such a long absence, a completely satisfactory product might well have been impossible. When all was said and done, it was nice just to have them back.

3. Robert Downey, Jr.

In 2008, having spent the better part of the decade making up for his five-year lost weekend, Robert Downey, Jr. finally reclaimed his rightful place at the top tier of the Hollywood gentry with a trio of hit movies. When he ushered in the summer blockbuster season with the spectacular Iron Man, it seemed only fitting that the fallen wunderkind should portray a boy genius forced to fight his way back to his former glory. His subsequent roles in Charlie Bartlett and Tropic Thunder were met with less acclaim, but the die had already been cast: Chaplin was back, and he was all out of bubblegum.

4. Futurama

In the pantheon of great shows cancelled before their time, only a select few garner exhibition in the main hall: My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development...and Futurama. Matt Groening's paean to the grand clichés of science fiction elicited instant adoration from a minute but devoted audience, but its brilliance and significance were lost on studio execs expecting another out-of-the-box smash like The Simpsons. 20th Century Fox pulled the plug after four exceptional seasons, but the success of the rejuvenated Family Guy and the tireless appeals of the Futurama fanbase resulted in a trio of straight-to-DVD feature films released sequentially. The show's writers took advantage of the lack of constraints imposed by the 22-minute episodic format, crafting epic stories that dealt with everything from Fry's millennium-long love for Leela to a rip in the very fabric of the universe, but the show's diehard fans still bayed at the door for its return to TV. Who knows? Maybe they'll win. It worked for Stewie.

5. Thermoreactive clothing

During the convergence of glitz and grunge that occurred as the ‘80s gave way to the ‘90s, there was a special brand of cool that could only be attained by having someone leave their handprint on your shirt. Hypercolor tees were the textile equivalent of the Swatch: An oddball confluence of high concept and mass appeal, with enough of an edge to play just as well on MTV as in Peoria. Alas, like their eye-gouging cousin the snap bracelet, Hypercolor clothes were doomed to obsolescence. Following a class-action lawsuit filed by Japanese consumers who were left with irreparable changes to their skin tone on account of thermochromatic underwear, Hypercolor manufacturer Generra was forced out of business in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of miscolored clothing that never quite looked right but was nonetheless cooler than tie-dye.

Fifteen years later, with the ‘90s revival beginning to bloom, thermoreactive wear is making its way back into public consciousness. In classic ironic fashion, however, it's now being touted as haute couture, with designers such as Henry Holland charging hundreds of dollars for the privilege of dressing up like a mood ring. American Apparel has released a more economy-aware variant of the classic Hypercolor shirt, which in all likelihood will never attain the iconic status of its predecessor; nevertheless, the mere fact that you can once again ruin your clothes forever by simply ironing them should be cause for celebration.

Most Overrated Pop Culture Phenomena

1. Twilight

As if the 'tween market weren't grating enough, Gen X alumnus Stephanie Meyer saw fit to unleash a florid melodrama that wed the gothic window dressing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the vacuous intrigue of The O.C. Released just as the core Harry Potter acolytes began to deal with hormones and acne, the Twilight series took middle academia by storm, selling millions of copies worldwide and providing a new unattainable ideal for lovelorn teen girls everywhere. In a definitive usurpation of Hollywood's reliable 14- to-19-year-old male demographic, the Twilight movie dominated box office receipts upon its release in November; suddenly, vampire kids were everywhere, "stupid lamb" had entered the national lexicon, and Robert Pattison had become an overnight sex god. And everyone who wasn't in love with Edward Cullen found themselves wishing they could drive a stake right through his heart.

2. The Olympics

From the moment Chinese officials decreed a change in the toilet facilities throughout the Olympic village to accommodate Westerners who didn't want to stoop over the can, it was clear that the 2008 Summer Olympics would be an entirely different animal. The games provided China with a chance to air out the stink of their deplorable human rights record by hosting emissaries from all over the world in the name of unity, and they made it clear during the opening ceremonies that they weren't messing around. But their nationalistic spotlight was hogged by an amphibious Baltimorean named Michael Phelps, who dominated the swimming events, broke every Olympic record in existence, and managed to cure cancer in between laps. For the better part of the summer, the national dialogue consisted almost solely of Phelps' flawless physique and superhuman caloric intake, and he quickly found his way onto Wheaties boxes and SNL. But to those who couldn't care less about athletics, the Olympics were just another minor diversion from China's ongoing dismissal of international law.

3. "Pay What You Want"

Downloading media content for free has been the national pastime since the advent of Napster in 2000. The rise in peer-to-peer programs opened a Pandora's Box of illegal delights which the RIAA, MPAA and FBI have tried desperately ever since to extinguish, but as the trend grew more ubiquitous and media conglomerates more out of touch with the times, the artistic community learned to utilize the online network for their own ends. The underground success and mainstream assimilation of such flagrantly illegal musicians as Danger Mouse and Girl Talk proved that the market had changed since the litigation-happy days of John Oswald and Negativland, when the record industry still had the clout to squelch even the slightest affront to its Draconian system of copyright law. With a perfect storm brewing, it was only a matter of time before the major players took part.

Radiohead found themselves in a unique position in mid-2007. They had just completed their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, but their contract with Capitol had been allowed to expire. Thus, they were offered the option of signing to another label for the album's distribution, or doing it the old-fashioned way and putting it out themselves. When Wilco was faced with this decision in 2004, they chose the former. Radiohead chose the latter. Their official website became a portal for their new music, allowing fans the chance to download it directly from the band; the gimmick, however, was that they offered a business model in which those who partook of the music could pay whatever they wanted for it. To an outraged record industry, still reeling from Prince's free distribution of his most recent album, Planet Earth, it was tantamount to treason. But for Radiohead fans, long familiar with the band's interactive online experiments, it was a natural progression. The band also offered a box set with bonus goodies for those willing to cough up real cash, but the main event took place online. The album was only available for a short while before being removed from the servers in preparation for an official release, but the damage had already been done. Subsequent releases by Nine Inch Nails and others further impacted the potato Radiohead had stuck up the RIAA's tailpipe, but it was In Rainbows that made the press. Alas, everyone who had benefited from the peer-to-peer revolution knew that this day had been a long time coming.

4. Sarah Palin

Not since Dan Quayle had a vice-presidential candidate provided such sublime late night fodder. With her Marge Gunderson drawl and supreme telegenicity, Sarah Palin sashayed her way into the annals of political serendipity with unprecedented hubris and panache. The press went wild for Caribou Barbie, but the truth was that there was nothing of substance beneath the bouffant. Her disastrous interview with Katie Couric and subsequent embarrassment at the VP debate validated suspicions that she was nothing more than a cynical ploy by the Republican party to snap up the female voters they supposed had been disenfranchised by Hillary Clinton's defeat to Barack Obama, and her utter annihilation at the hands of Tina Fey destroyed any chance of her being taken seriously as a politician.

There were a few scary weeks in which the spectacle of her evangelical convictions governing world policy seemed all too possible, but the election results made it clear that the majority was no longer going to be swayed by the Republicans' usual tactics. If she doesn't succeed in furthering her political career, then hopefully Palin will retreat to her outpost in Wasilla, where she can keep an eye out for Russian bombers while teaching little Tripp Easton how to shoot them down.