Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011, and my Predictions for 2012 (Today: MUSIC!)

Ever stop and think why you like a particular song?

I do, and when I stop and think about it, oftentimes the reason why I like a song has less to do with the song itself and more to do with what's going on with me at the time I hear the song. Other times, there's one particular moment or piece of the song I like so much that it makes me like the whole entire song. (Something I've commented on before, here and here.)

So here's my list of The Best Songs I Heard For The First Time In 2011 -- which, note, some of them may not have first been made in 2011, but who cares about that? They were new to me this year and why I liked them. Feel free to add your own nominees in the comments.

The countdown is to the Best Song of 2011:

12. The Presidents
, Jonathan Coulton:

Why I Liked It: I first heard about Coulton on a podcast in which it was revealed that he made thousands (hundreds?) publishing his music through his own website, making him something of a hero to me because that's what I'd like to do with my writing. (So far, I'm not making thousands unless I count the money in decimals, the way England used to with the ha'penny, and I really think that we lost something in society when we stopped having money you could break into usable bits.)

I like this song of his the best because (a) it's catchy, (b) it mentions William Howard Taft, who is a lead character in a book of mine that I'll probably finish this year (you can read most of it for free here) (c) It's catchy. That's worth mentioning twice, because you try writing a catchy song about the presidents.

What I predict for Jonathan Coulton in 2012:

He just got his breakthrough song, Code Monkey, turned into some sort of musical by some sort of group, so by the end of the year, and zombies are big, so we can expect a guest shot from him on the final season (this year) of The Walking Dead, where he'll play an office worker turned into a zombie in homage to his song RE: Your Brains.

Here's that musical:

PS: We can hope that The Walking Dead ends this year, can't we?

11. Friday,
Rebecca Black.

Why I Liked It: Mostly because people hated it, which is how I get to like a lot of stuff, because screw you, world, don't tell me what to like. When I heard how much everyone hated the song, I went and listened to it, and it wasn't that bad. I explained it more at length (of course!) here.

What I Predict For Rebecca Black In 2012: Did you know that Rebecca Black's video spawned its own pop culture spinoff already? The Girl In Pink who rode in the car apparently was elevated from "person" to "person some people know about," thanks to riding in the car with Rebecca. She's even released her own single:

Which leads me to my prediction: A reality show for Rebecca Black and The Girl In Pink, a sort of "Teen Moms" meets "American Idol."

10. Butterfly Nets,
Bishop Allen

Why I Like It: Sometimes -- most of the time -- I am in a quiet, pensive mood . The raucous jabbering persona I play on the Internet isn't really me; that's just a character I put on for your entertainment. Soft, quiet songs that make me remember my life only in my memories it's tinted like a yellowing newspaper are one of my favorite things.

Also: that sax solo midway through puts a lump in my throat.

What I Predict For Bishop Allen in 2012: I don't know anything about this group. I don't even know how I came to have their CD or where I heard about them or whether they're even a group anymore. So I'll say... they will do the score for that Prometheus movie. That seems timely.

9. Friday (literal version.)

Why I Like It: Just because something's played out doesn't mean I can't like it. In fact, I'm planking right now.

8. Music For A Found Harmonium
, Ferny Grove Percussion Ensemble:

Why I Like It: I love Awesome Covers of Already Awesome songs, and these kids are good. Plus, they look like they're having fun.

What I Predict For Them In 2012: They've probably graduated and gone on to boring jobs by now -- but maybe the fame engendered by making this list will get them into a reunion tour and they'll cover other songs? They're really good:

7. Their Duet
, Wim Mertens:

Why I Like It:
Someone put a video on Youtube of the "Baby Einsteins" only instead of the "Baby Einsteins" soundtrack, it had this song as the backing. I don't know why people do the things they do, but Mr F and Mr Bunches liked the video and I liked the song so I put it on my playlist.

What I Predict For Wim Mertens in 2012: More people pirating his work in obscure and nonsensical ways, until SOPA goes into effect and we all get sued into oblivion by Viacom and J.K. Rowling.

6. Golden Phone,
Micachu & The Shapes:

Why I Like It: When Sweetie and I went on a date night this year to State Street, she was shopping at Urban Outfitters and this song was playing. I found it catchy and it reminds me of that night, which was marked by pleasant weather, an excellent sandwich that probably killed two chambers of my heart, and a mysterious animal that made me realize Sweetie and I were soulmates.

My Prediction For Micachu et al in 2012:
I will hear their new song while picking up take-out at Chili's and mention it on December 31, 2012, but by then the world will have ended 10 days earlier, making it somewhat of a moot point.

5. Almost Every Single Song By Slow Club, Ever, But I'll Just Pick Out "Me And You"

Why I Liked It:
Slow Club was my 2012 version of Noah & The Whale, a band I became enamored of, but they've outlasted my Noah obsession and earned spots on four different playlists on my iPod (Running, Upbeat, Indie, and the After, which is the music I listen when writing that aforementioned book starring Taft.) Rhythmic music, obscure lyrics, and a sort of Zooey Deschanel-esque vibe without actually being Zooey Deschanel, which is important because I really kind of feel like Zooey overdid it this year.

What I Predict For Them In 2012:
They've been featured in a commercial, and their sound was ripped off for some car commercials, but the life cycle of quirky almost-folksy duos is a short one; Quirky, almost-folksy duos are the fruit flies of the music world. We'll probably never hear from them again, just like Noah & The Whale, which, I know, not a duo, or maybe they are. I really know very little about the bands I like, as I don't particularly care about them, I like the music. I don't need to know anything about the band to enjoy the music, anymore than I need to know about Patricia Cornwell's private life to have enjoyed the Kay Scarpetta books before she got all whacky about them.

4. Will You Be There,
Ida Jo (and the Show?)

Why I Like It: I've always liked this song, and Ida Jo's mournful, folksy take on it elevates the song to a spiritual level. Plus it lets me like the song without the moral quandary of liking something Michael Jackson did. Moral quandaries ruin music for me.

What I Predict For Ida Jo in 2012: God, I don't know. I'm just going to stop predicting stuff. It's getting old.

3. Graphology,
Olivia Mancini & The Mates:

Why I Liked It:
First, it's the kind of song you can see yourself driving to, say, through the plains of Kansas on an early, slightly chilly June morning when the corn isn't that high and the sun has only just come up and everything is flat and shaded bluish-gray except the horizon itself, and you're on your way to an adventure you can't really imagine yet but which will clearly be a lot of fun.

Second: Try writing a catchy song about studying graphology, which is the study of handwriting.

Third: The song seems to be about never stopping learning, and that is something I aspire to. The amount of knowledge I add to my life each day only makes me realize how many more things there are out there that I don't know yet, which makes me sad sometimes but then makes me excited other times, because in both cases, there's still lots for me to learn.

2. Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,
The New Pornographers (Acoustic Version)

Why I Like It: Not only is it a catchy, uplifting song by a group I love, but also: Mr Bunches loves this song, and we watch the video together and name the instruments they play. Then he sings along with it, which is really amazing considering that not many 5-year-olds know the word byzantine, let alone how to use it in a song.

And The Number one Best Song of 2011:

1: Friday, by Stephen Colbert:

Why I Liked It: It's clearly the Best Song of the Year: It combines Friday, which really was an earth-shattering song when you think about it, with Stephen Colbert, who is himself a pop culture force like no other, and they raised money for charity by doing this, which I found admirable especially in that by doing so, Colbert helped offset the incredible harm he's doing by siphoning money off from Democrats to fund his "Colbert SuperPAC" joke which is intended to make a point but which point it makes is likely to be "helping elect a Republican by getting liberals to give money to a joke cause rather than real causes."

Also: Ladies and gentleman, Taylor Hicks! ought to be said more often.

Previous Bests Of 2011:


Books (And Other Smarty-Pants Things)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best Of 2011, and My Predictions For 2012 (Today: Celebrities!)

Back when I was a kid, I regularly read Doonesbury comic strips. I still do, in fact, but now I read them on the Internet whereas back then I would check compilations of Doonesbury strips out of the Hartland Public Library, an institution I used so often that I still remember my library card number (it was "4002.")

Back then, you checked books out by having the librarian write your library card number on the little card and take it, and then stamp the book with a due date and send you on your way. I bring that up in order to compare it to how I checked out a book the other day from the Madison Public Library: I logged on to the website, found the book I wanted, entered my 13-digit library card number (actually Sweetie's; I use her card because of my ongoing feud with the Middleton Public Library, a feud that I'm fighting in part by not paying a late fee on my own card, so I can't use it), clicked a few buttons, and then went upstairs and began reading the book on my Kindle.

My, how things have changed!

Except that they haven't, not really, because this little jaunt down memory lane has a point, and that point is that way back then, Doonesbury did a series of strips where Rick Redfern went to work for People magazine and had to go to a gossip symposium where he learned how to be a celebrity journalist. One of the strips commented that the then-modern-day "celebrity" had not really done anything worth celebrating, and proposed rebooting the whole system (presumably, not a gritty reboot) to refocus on those people truly worth celebrating.

That debate has gone on, obviously, for at least 30 years, and maybe longer; I'd be willing to bet that if you go back and look at a 1920s newspaper (or, as they were called back then, event-o-printoriums)(but they still had horoscopes, which said things like "Today, you will do the jitterbug in a speakeasy with a tall, dark stranger.)(Yes, my knowledge of the 1920s is based exclusively on once watching the film version of Chicago.)

if you went back to the 1920s, you'd find that back then, people were griping about other people being famous simply for fame's sake.

So maybe it's about time we stopped debating whether people are famous for the "right" or "wrong" reasons, and just accept that people become famous for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes once they become famous we want them to keep being famous, for whatever reasons. After all, is it any better to become famous playing an ultraviolent delinquent who rapes people than it is to become famous for nothing at all?

Which brings me to the Best Celebrity of 2011:

Oh, come on. Who else could it be?

Once you stop obsessing over whether celebrities need be required to do something worth celebrating before we obsess over them, the choice of Kim Kardashian as 2011's Best Celebrity is a no-brainer, much like the people who obsess over Kim Kardashian's fitness for the public eye.

The answer to whether celebrities have to do something worth celebrating lies, like a zen koan, not in the external world, but in the meaning to the question itself. When people say things like "Kim Kardashian is famous for nothing! She has no talent!", they are exposing their own ignorance and biases.

I note that I do not pay attention to those who say she's famous because of her sex tape. Kim's sex tape, like Harrison Ford's gig painting a doorway, allowed her the entryway into show biz, but, like Harrison Ford, Kim has stayed around longer than her dearth of any displays of talent would allow her to do so. If you say that Kim Kardashian is famous, now, because of her sex tape, then, you are saying that Americans will pay attention to someone for four solid years because of one sex tape, and while Americans will pay attention to a great many things in hopes that there's some sex in it somewhere (see also: all those Dragon Tattoo books), four years is a lot longer than one sex tape can hold even our addlepated attentions.

Plus, think of all the other people who have released sex tapes and who have not maintained the level of fame that Kim Kardashian has.

No, the sex tape was what opened the door, but Kim Kardashian has kept her foot firmly wedged in that door since then, which brings us back to that zen riddle posed by people who say she's famous for doing nothing and has no talent.

Who do you suppose, in saying that, that those people are thinking about as the 'rightfully' famous?




Social workers?


I could go on.

People who say Kim Kardashian has no talent and doesn't deserve to be famous classify the world into "those deserving fame based on their talent" and "those not deserving of fame because they have no talent."

And then, under the deserving fame column, they put people like actors, and singers, and dancers, maybe, and directors, and possibly comedians.

All talented people, of course. Or many of them, anyway.

But the fact that those people are not arguing that doctors/judges/social workers/activists, etc. should be more famous shows that they classify talent very narrowly: the talent that deserves fame, they say, is the ability to make me laugh or cry or hum the tune to a musical about the 1920s.

I've been humming that song all week, since I jogged to it on Monday.

That-- that -- is the talent that most people say is deserving of fame.

That's why it's so ridiculous that people argue that Kim Kardashian should not be famous: because if there is someone deserving of fame, shouldn't it be the people that accomplish something that matters?

I love movies, books, (some) TV shows, music, art, sports, all that stuff. But do those things matter enough that we should be going nuts over them, and not over other things?

Here's a thought to mull on while you work through this. This past year, a boy named Luke learned to walk again after suffering a rare case of encephalitis that hospitalized him for lengthy periods of time and left him unable to walk for four months. With the help of 8 therapists, this little boy eventually walked on a treadmill, and 4-day-a-week therapy sessions built around a show Luke loved ("Wipeout") helped him build up strength and stamina.

Luke still used a wheelchair for many things when the summer came and he got to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp, and, inspired by being there, Luke walked unassisted across the field.

That is a remarkable story, isn't it? Very touching and heartwarming and it was headlined:

Jaguars center Brad Meester inspires boy, 6, to learn to walk again

Now, I don't mean to diminish Brad Meester's role in Luke's recovery: Meester visited him and urged him on and invited him to training camp and was in general a wonderful guy.

But Luke was already learning to walk, and had his life saved by a team of doctors and therapists and surgeons none of whom saw their name in a headline as inspiring a boy to walk again.

So let's get a sense of perspective, okay? It was nice for Brad Meester to help a little sick boy recover.

It was heroic and talented and news- and fame-worthy of that team of doctors to use their skills, skills that did not involve "pretending people are shooting at us" or "standing resolutely in front of another large man for a few seconds at a time."

Whenever I hear people say "Kim Kardashian has no talent, she's famous for nothing," I think to myself "Yeah, but most people are famous for being marginally, if that, more talented." And the people who should be famous, the people who really are talented, rarely are.

With that out of the way, let's tackle the other big complaint about Kim Kardashian. No, it's not that she is serious about never being photographed from behind,'s that her wedding was fake.

That outraged people this year -- the fact that Kim Kardashian got fake married and then real divorced made people madder than any three things Netflix could have done; if I didn't know better, I'd have suspected that Netflix put Kim up to it simply so that they could get off the hotseat of "Americans being upset at stupid stuff".

But why?

Why, exactly, were people upset about Kim Kardashian's wedding-and-divorce news cycle? (The timing of it more or less exactly coincided with the premiere of various iterations of her shows, right?)

The general reason I hear is that she made lots of money off of it, and so people were really, really mad that she made them believe she was marrying for love and then she wasn't, really, and so she shouldn't have gotten paid for something that wasn't real and didn't matter.

Excuse me?

That is the standard we are now setting for our celebrities? You only get paid if we believe that what you're doing is real? I guess I ought to cancel my plans to go see Ghost Protocol tonight.

I can't believe that two decades into reality tv, this needs to be said, and I can't believe, further, that I'm going to mention Kim Kardashian and Erwin Schrodinger in the same sentence, but I just did.

Schrodinger, remember, famously said that it is the act of observing something that collapses the wave form and inevitably alters the possibilities of what can happen.

Schrodinger's cat is meant as a criticism of quantum mechanics; he used it to point out that the idea that all possibilities exist equally until we observe the outcome of an experiment; the act of observation reduces the waveform of probabilities to a single outcome.

Which is to say: observing changes the event.

Which is what happens when we create "reality" TV shows that follow people around and make them do things. No "reality" TV show is real because once you put a camera on someone, they stop scratching their butt and start doing things, and in the process of doing those things, they inevitably change their behavior, for better or worse.

The most obvious example of this was Horrible Kate Gosselin, who used her status as a "mom" to forget all about being a "mom" and try to become a reality star.

I do not object to people becoming famous; I do not object to people becoming famous by using their kids, either [provided the kids aren't ill-treated]. What I do object to is people like Horrible Kate Gosselin pretending to be a mom in order to get on TV; that's misusing kids and once people realized that Horrible Kate Gosselin felt about those kids the way you or I might feel about something nasty we stepped in, they stopped watching.

But that's not the point. The point is that when Horrible Kate Gosselin first got on the air, she was a struggling "mom" of 8 kids with an idiot husband and a fetish for natural peanut butter, trying to buy groceries at a savings club to make ends meet.

Within a season, though, the money Horrible Kate Gosselin was getting paid to pretend to care about her kids on TV had changed things: they took those kids to Disneyland and ate breakfast with Mickey, and vacationed in Hawaii and shopped for houses that included a horse farm.

Simply paying Horrible Kate Gosselin to watch her changed what people were watching.

That is what happened, I figure, with Kim Kardashian's wedding. TV shows have long featured big emotional hooks and suspenseful cliffhangers, which is why it's so hard to make a life into a TV show. Rarely does your life have a big emotional hook or suspenseful cliffhanger at the precise time you'd like it. Kim Kardashian may or may not have liked Kris Humphries for real -- seems pretty clear she didn't, though -- and may or may not have ever married someone if it weren't for the TV show. But we all are -- well, you all are, because I don't watch -- watching her, and so she had to do something important.

Her sisters had gotten married and had babies with a guy who is actively trying to look like a fictional serial killer, which, what?! How does that not worry the bejeesus out of you?! Is there a context in which someone can try to emulate a serial killer in a non-sociopathic way?!

But Kim Kardashian hadn't done much of anything for a while, had she? I'm pretty sure she hadn't, and so she got married because what else could she do? Try out to be an astronaut? Learn to kayak? Switch to Hinduism?

Kim Kardashian is in the entertainment business, and wants to remain there. So she got married, and if you watched the wedding, and then watched the divorce, you were entertained.

And yet, people got mad, because Kim Kardashian's wedding, they figured, was not "real."

You know: real like all the other stuff you see on television. Real like, say, Miley Cyrus' career.

You remember Miley Cyrus, right? She was someone, once. Miley -- not her original name, by the way, she was legally Destiny Hope Cyrus before she changed it in 2008 to Miley Ray Cyrus -- got famous playing a teenager who pretends not to be a rock star, and now Miley Cyrus is a rock star who pretends not to be a teenager, and nobody hates her even though nothing in her life is any more "real" than Kim Kardashian's wedding was.

Like talent, we apply the word real in an odd way: Kim Kardashian did, after all, get married for real, even if she didn't really intend to be married for long. But people felt it wasn't real because they wanted it to be real real, not just reality show real.

And THAT is why Kim Kardashian is the Best Celebrity of 2011. Not because she's so famous that merely looking kind of like her can lead to sort of offshoot fame itself -- as with Not Kim Kardashian in the Old Navy Commercial:

And not just because she's somehow managed to make everyone pay attention for four years of not doing much of anything while getting people to watch, and not just because she and her family make in excess of $65,000,000 per year just for hanging around their house and talking about themselves, which is a good reason why we should give up on our current civilization and start a new one: in a post-apocalyptic world, we might have to fight ravaging mutants for a can of avocadoes, but we probably would have our priorities rejiggered to avoid voluntarily donating $65,000,000 per year to people who don't need it simply because we want to see what they do next (answer: not much of anything, which is all they ever do! From what I have seen of the Kardashians, they don't do very much of anything).

No, all of those things are just offshoots of celebrity the way it has existed prior to 2011, and those alone wouldn't get Kim Kardashian to be the Best Celebrity of 2011.

Instead, I'm naming her because she completed the transformation of celebrities this year, and, in doing so, proved me right, in part, and then went beyond that.

Last year, I said that 2010 was the year celebrity died:

Celebrity, as a concept: the idea that there are those out there who are famous, celebrated, for doing something the rest of us have not. Those people no longer exist, at least not in the form that celebrity has taken since the 16th century, when the concept of celebrity was invented.

The door is wider open than ever...and as more and more people get let into the celebrity compound, the people already there have to try harder to get noticed: everyone's doing something else and frantically trying so hard to become, or stay, famous, that they will do anything to stay in the spotlight.

...It's the corollary to Warhol's famous comment: When everyone is famous, nobody is famous.

That's what I said then, and I concluded that in 2011,

The only way celebs get noticed now is to not exist... Hunger Games like, our celebrities in the future will increasingly be pitted against each other in a deathmatch for the fragmented public attention.

And I pronounced celebrity dead.

And it was, for a while -- but Kim Kardashian resurrected it, a mad scientist working in a mountaintop lair (or, in this case, a blue lagoon somewhere in the tropics), and like Frankenstein (read here why I call it that and not Frankenstein's monster), what now exists is not recognizable as a living form of celebrity, but celebrity is no longer dead.

Instead, we have a hybrid form of celebrity that has talent, of sorts - -it takes something to keep people watching for four years, and lots of people have tried to do that and failed -- and is famous enough for us to care about but not famous enough for us to not care about -- nobody cares that Tom Cruise's marriage is a sham, after all, and nobody is mad at Britney Spears for her string of failed marriages including one that lasted what, a day? -- and in doing so, created a new reality. After Kim Kardashian's marriage, there is real like what I do every day, and there is real like reality TV and then there is a different real altogether -- a new sort of reality springing up the way DC Comics used to create new universes. Call it Earth-K, and on Earth-K, real isn't real yet but it can be, if we wish real hard.

Kim Kardashian's marriage was Tinkerbell's fading glow, with one exception: whether you clapped your hands or not as Tink lay dying, Tink revived because that story had already been written. On Earth-K, the stories are written by what you demand, and that is why people are mad: They watched Kim Kardashian and willed her into a marriage, observing her until she collapsed the waveform into the reality they wanted. They clapped as hard as they could, and it didn't work.

Maybe that's Kim Kardashian's fault, but it's also her greatest accomplishment yet. Kim Kardashian, I salute you.

RUNNER UP: Rebecca Black. Because I really do like that song, and you people are all mean.

Predictions For 2012: Kim Kardashian will host Saturday Night Live, which has somehow become a thing to do again, will appear as a guest judge on either X-Factor or American Idol (if Idol is still on. Is it still on?) and at some point will be photographed with a foreign dignitary, before she goes on to become a spokesperson for Netflix, creating a singularity of hate that grows and swallows all the enmity in the world and starts a new era of peace and love.

Prior Bests Of 2011:

Books (And Other Smarty-Pants Things)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Of 2011... And My Predictions For 2012 (Part One: Books, and Other Smarty Pants Things!)

There are, as I type this, 111 hours and 14 minutes left in 2011, which makes naming the my Best Of 2011 somewhat less dicey than people who began naming their Bests days, or even weeks ago.

I always used to wonder about that: Naming the Best of this or that in early December leaves out the possibility that anything good will happen in December, doesn't it?

Then I wondered if anything really good ever happened in the arts or science or culture or style in the last two weeks of December, because if nothing like that ever did, then what's the big deal about naming Bests on, say, December 5?

So I investigated, the way everybody investigates everything, by googling it, and so I asked Google the question:
Did anything really important ever happen in the last two weeks of December?

And learned that somehow Britney Spears is involved:


Naturally, I didn't click that link, because even though Britney doesn't appear on the top 10 list of celebrity links most likely to infect your computer with a virus, it's abundantly clear to me by now that clicking any links on the Internet, ever will result in your computer starting to foam at the mouth and Nigerian princes being legally allowed to sublet your kitchen.

Also, yes, my computer has a mouth.

Anyway, Wikipedia, which is becoming surprisingly reliable (I'm using "reliable" in the sens of "easy to get to, and I'm lazy") has a series of pages by day and a list of things that happened on that day, so I picked out December 29 at random (I'm using "random" in the sense of "not random at all"), and found these amazing things that happened on December 29ths of yore:

In 1813, the British soldiers burnt Buffalo as part of the War of 1812.

In 1914, James Joyce began serializing his first novel, A Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Boy, in a magazine, (so if you, like me, like to serialize your stories, you're in good company as far as literary critics are concerned, but not as far as I'm concerned because I've never read Joyce and never intend to.)

In 1937, Ireland became a country.

In 1983, Alison Brie was born.

Sheer, random chance how that
came up.

So if you were, in any of those years -- or any of the other years in which there was a December 29th, for that matter-- putting up your "Best Of" list before December 29, you would perhaps miss out on some important events like "The Best Burning of An American City by a Foreign Power" or "The Best New Country" or "The Best Potential Source For Downloading Malware Onto Your Work Laptop 28 Years From Now."

Nevertheless, I'm going to go ahead and start posting my Best Ofs, because that's how I roll. I got 99 problems but a calendar ain't one, as I like to say.*

*That song played over the credits of the new version of
Fright Night, which was the movie Sweetie and I watched on Christmas Eve, and I've decided to make that my catch phrase this year. Let's see if it sticks!

So for the rest of this week, I will be posting my Bests Of 2011, and, just for the heck of it, predicting what is going to be the big thing in those categories in 2012, and next year, I'll maybe remember to look back to this year and see if I was right, something I will have to do before December 12 next year, as that's when the world is ending. Live it up!

The Best In Books, 2011:

Best Of The Year: INDIE BOOKS and INDIE Writers.

2011 was the year of the Indie Book!
Rather than focusing on any one particular book for this category, I decided to broaden the scope and point out that for people like me, and the Indie Authors I've begun reviewing, and people who like to write, 2011 was the year people began to realize you can do that.

A recent look at top sellers in books found encouraging and amazing results for people who just like reading or just like writing: Indie books are a majority of top-20 best sellers in every single genre.

That's right: no matter what genre of book you like reading, the top 20 is dominated by self-published writers realizing their dreams. Romance, sci-fi, and fantasy each had 16 or 17 or the top 20 slots taken by indie books, and thrillers, where large publishers have been making a stand of sorts, has become a Helm's Deep: 12 of the top 20 are indie books.

Why is that so good? Not just because I indie publish all my books and serialize them on my blogs and make them available on Scribd for free and otherwise do my best to just enjoy writing without ever bothering to write another query letter again, although that is good for me, but it's also good for reading.

Study after study shows that people who buy e-books buy more books than they would with hard copies, and e-books are the reason that more people can indie publish their books; books are easier to create, easier to sell, and easier to buy and read than ever before in our history.

At the beginning of 2011, e-books outsold paperbacks for the first time in history (on Amazon, at least.) With that, the floodgates were opened. Ebooks were the only area of publishing that saw a growth in income in the first 8 months of the year, and the numbers on top 20 sellers suggest that indie books are driving that growth.

"Traditional" publishing won't die out soon -- not any more than the ability to make a movie with an iPhone keeps Steven Spielberg from blowing $70,000,000 to make a movie about a fictional horse fighting a real war. (The pitch: "It's Saving Private Ryan meets Mr. Ed!") Or no more than the prevalence of mp3s and iTunes led to the demise of Lady Gaga and the Black-Eyed Peas.

What it does mean is that authors can now follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Coulton and Louis C.K. and take control of their creations themselves.

Special note to those who, like Garrison Keillor, would bar themselves in Helm's Deep and keep others out while they die inside: Will indie book sales maybe result in more authors sharing fewer dollars, as Keillor said? Perhaps... but the average wage in 2010 for people working as authors of one sort or another was $65,000. In 2008, half of all full-time writers earned between $38,000 and $75,000. And that's with the full benefit of the publishing industries -- all the publishing push the majors can put into it resulted in half of all writers earning less than $75,000 a year.

Consider this, then. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 40,000 or so people worked full-time as writers in 2010. 24,000 of them earned less than $75,000 per year. (because half earned between $38,000-$75,000 and 10% earned less than that.)

Meanwhile, the top-10 highest paid writers in 2010 earned $269,000,000 between them. That list includes people like Janet Evanovich (who I've never read) John Grisham (who became a parody of himself long ago) Stephen King (whose hit-to-miss ratio is about 1-to-10, now) and Nicholas Sparks (who... enough said.)

There's a lot of money to go around. The Indie Book Revolution could be rephrased as #Occupy Random House: the top 1% of all authors have been sucking the air out of the room for a long time, and Indie Books just cracked a window.

The best books I read this year began as indie books or stayed indie books: Rusty Webb's novella A Dead God's Wrath was amazing and heralds more to come. John Dies At The End began its life as a blog before being picked up by a small publisher. Blood Calling and Lyon's Legacy brought new life to tired genres (vampires, and sci-fi otherworld travel, respectively). I've just finished Eminent Domain by Erin Riordan and Tit Elingtin, and that was good, too (review coming.) If, in 2011, you didn't read an indie book, you missed out.


This category on my blog is technically called "Books, and Other Smarty-Pants Things," and the while Indie Books were clearly The Best in that category in 2011, I'm going to pick poetry as the second best in that category for the year.

Everyone knows I post a poem nearly every Friday on my blog "Thinking The Lions". (You all know that, right?)

I don't want to brag it up too much, but I think poetry's starting to catch on. An author bragged about how he reads a poem a day. NPR's late-October-2010 contest seeking LeBron James poems led to students writing poems about the Packers reaching the Super Bowl which led to a free-verse compilation poem about Albert Haynesworth, as sports sought out the beauty of lyric poetry, and Google started creating poems, or something, and in Madison, Wisconsin, the city stamped some poems right into the earth.

So my favorite poem of the year was: "The Crowds Cheered As Gloom Galloped Away." Go read it. It's incredible. And it's not all poem-y, so don't worry about that.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2012: You know it's going to be something about Indie Publishing, right? Well, here's what I predict for 2012: J.K. Rowling is going to leave her publisher and begin to publish Harry Potter sequels and spin-offs on her own, marketing them through her own website.

Crazy? Or not so much? Radiohead gave up on record labels in early 2011. Louis C.K. began releasing his own comedy specials this year through his website, earning over a million bucks in just over a week. Rowling this year said she might write more Potter books, and Rowling has been hard at work trying to get the Pottermore website up and running, with 1,000,000 members having already signed up for the beta version. It might not be long before we're treated to Ron Weasly and The Winding-Up Wizard, which, having printed that, will probably now get me sued for copyright infringement.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

28 Days Of Christmas, 28.. Make That 23... of the Best Christmas Songs, 9, 10 and 11... plus The 10 Best Santas and Some Stuff... (MiniBest!)

I never quite hit the mark on these, do I? Here's the 2012 Christmas posts, 23 of the Best Xmas songs with some thoughts on Santas, Santa-Like People, and other stuff:

23. Go Tell It On The Mountain, Jim Nabors, Bo The White House Dog.

22. Kung Fu Christmas/ John McClain.

19-21: Another Rock & Roll Christmas, You Are My Joy, Santa Stole My Girlfriend, plus The Santa Clause Claus, Cousin Eddie who I kept calling Cousin Randy, and Yukon Cornelius.

17, 18: Nella Fantasia, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Larry Stewart.

16. You'll Never Find My Christmas, Bishop Allen, and Gizmo the Mogwai

15. The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Bob & Doug McKenzie, plus Bad Santa.

14. When the River Meets The Sea, by John Denver, plus "Doc Bullfrog."

13. All I Want For Christmas, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Santa who helped Superman fight Toyman.

12. We Need A Little Christmas, Glee version, and The Holiday Armadillo.

11, 10, 9: The Little Drummer Boy, Johnny Cash; What Christmas Means To Me, Stevie Wonder; What's This, by Julia Nunes and Ian Axel, and "The Santa From A Nightmare Before Christmas".

8. Taste The Coast, by Admiral Fallow

7. Dringo Bell, Mediaeval Babes

6. Born Is The King (It's Christmas) by Hillside

5: Tijuana Christmas by The Border Brass

4. Christmas Griping, REM

3. A Christmas Waltz, She & Him

2. Don't Shoot Me, Santa, The Killers

1. Snoopy's Christmas, The Royal Guardsmen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

28 Days Of Christmas, 28 of the Best Christmas Songs, 9, 10 and 11... plus The 10 Best Santas and Some Stuff To Fill Out The List!: Song 23, etc.

This morning, when I posted a catch-up on SUPERXmas!, I mentioned that as a kid, I used to listen to Johnny Cash singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain," which I distinctly recall my dad playing on the big white hi-fi in the living room.

That's a cherished Christmas memory: The tree up, by the piano, the fancy dining room table with its Christmas centerpiece, the hi-fi, which was 7' long and had a sliding top that hid the turntable, booming out Johnny Cash's deep, low voice singing about shouting from the mountain side how Jesus was born.

There's just two problems with that cherished Christmas memory:

1. Johnny Cash never sang that song.

2. That song may not even be a Christmas song.

Let's take number two: According to legend, "legend" meaning "a retired professor from Northern Illinois University who is considered the leading expert on Christmas carols," which I kind of take as an affront because up until I read that, I considered myself the world's leading expert on Christmas carols, which means that this professor and I are going to have to have a duel of some kind, perhaps a carol-off in which we march 10 paces and sing Christmas carols at each other?
I'll work on that.

Anyway, Professor Christmas (sounds like a TV movie to me!) William Studwell says:

It is an energetic, inspired carol...It is the greatest of all American folk carols... Most carols of the 20th century are not so enthusiastic. This is more like some of the older carols, like Joy to the World or Come All Ye Faithful in that regard...It shows some real enthusiasm for the Christmas holiday.

That article notes that Studwell (is that really your name?) says that:

Like many carols, the precise history of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a bit fuzzy. Although generally considered an anonymous work, Studwell believes the piece was written by Frederick Jerome Work (1880-1942), a black composer, teacher and scholar. Work was deeply involved in the collection, arrangement and dissemination of black spirituals, so it is possible...that Work only discovered and preserved the song.
So it may or may not be a carol, given that it was recorded by Simon & Garfunkel, among others, not on a Christmas album but on their "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." work.

But it became a Christmas song, in part because guys like Professor Christmas, there, named it the Carol of the Year 2004, and in part because while Johnny Cash didn't sing it, Jim Nabors did, and here's his version:

Which is the version I thought was by Johnny Cash.

And today's Santa/Santa's Helper, Etc.? Let's get political with

Bo the White House Dog.

Bo's kind of a last minute pick for this list, but he's getting the recognition because like everything else Democrats do, Bo is destroying religion/faith/family/Santa/something else you care about. Unlike most Democrats, Bo's not destroying society/God/your sex life by trying to have government maintain a basic social safety net to avoid people from starving to death in the streets or dying of treatable diseases -- you bastards, you Democrats!-- but instead, Bo has taken the more direct route to wrecking everything you hold dear:

Lying in front of a fire peacefully.

Oh, the humanity! That's the FOX News story about the White House Christmas card; the headline is theirs, not mine.

Sure, that may look like a peaceful domestic scene, a silent night at the White House, if you will, but some people aren't fooled by it -- including Sarah Palin, who said:

"It's odd," that the card doesn't celebrate what she said are the traditional Christmas values of "family, faith and freedom."

Palin added:

It's just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House.

Notwithstanding that this:

actually exists, we've sort of reached saturation point with both Christmas means... and patriotism, haven't we? I mean, after this, won't Christmas and patriotism just sort of crystallize into the kind of giant structure formed by supersaturation, until we have lawn ornaments consisting of baby Jesus riding a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer just ahead of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (all shaped like Obama?) (Also: Dibs on that idea.)

Since when is Christmas about freedom? The Fourth Of July is about freedom. Unless Christmas has already absorbed that holiday, too.

Cynics will note that Palin recently floated the idea that she might actually make a run for president, and that back in 2009 she gave a speech entitled "Faith, Family, Freedom: Remembering What Really Matters."

We've all been waiting for a candidate whose platform consists entirely of shopping at Neiman Marcus, getting rich off her daughter's pregnancy, and attacking Christmas cards, haven't we?

Prior Songs/Santas:

Prior songs/Santas:

22. Kung Fu Christmas/ John McClain.

19-21: Another Rock & Roll Christmas, You Are My Joy, Santa Stole My Girlfriend, plus The Santa Clause Claus, Cousin Eddie who I kept calling Cousin Randy, and Yukon Cornelius.

17, 18: Nella Fantasia, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Larry Stewart.

16. You'll Never Find My Christmas, Bishop Allen, and Gizmo the Mogwai

15. The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Bob & Doug McKenzie, plus Bad Santa.

14. When the River Meets The Sea, by John Denver, plus "Doc Bullfrog."

13. All I Want For Christmas, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Santa who helped Superman fight Toyman.

12. We Need A Little Christmas, Glee version, and The Holiday Armadillo.

11, 10, 9: The Little Drummer Boy, Johnny Cash; What Christmas Means To Me, Stevie Wonder; What's This, by Julia Nunes and Ian Axel, and "The Santa From A Nightmare Before Christmas".

8. Taste The Coast, by Admiral Fallow

7. Dringo Bell, Mediaeval Babes

6. Born Is The King (It's Christmas) by Hillside

5: Tijuana Christmas by The Border Brass

4. Christmas Griping, REM

3. A Christmas Waltz, She & Him

2. Don't Shoot Me, Santa, The Killers

1. Snoopy's Christmas, The Royal Guardsmen

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

28 Days Of Christmas, 28 of the Best Christmas Songs, 9, 10 and 11... plus The 10 Best Santas and Some Stuff To Fill Out The List!: Song 22, etc.

For some reason this morning, on my way in to work, I thought of the old arcade game Yie Ar Kung Fu, which I used to ride my bike to play at the strip mall in Delafield, Wisconsin -- about five miles from my house, the strip mall had a book store and an arcade and a Marty's Pizza, and was the most exciting place around once the A&W closed and Rudy The Llama was sent somewhere else.

Which then led me to look up Kung Fu Christmas, by National Lampoon? Or by Saturday Night Live? Or by someone.

I don't know. I think this was on an early SNL skit back when Baby Boomers say SNL was funny. That's how you can tell what generation you're in: by what years you think SNL was funny. If you think the pre-Eddie Murphy ones were uniformly funny, you're a baby boomer and nobody really cares for you anymore because we're sick of your crap. If you liked Eddie Murphy-to-Billy Crystal, you're Gen X. Will Ferrell's years? Gen Y. And if you like today's version, then you're either only watching the Andy Samberg parts or you have no sense of humor.

And today's Best Santa Or Santa's Helper Or Whatever I'm Calling It This Time?

John McClain.

In the line of "Christmas movies that kind of aren't," Die Hard holds a special place as what is supposed to be the manliest of all movies -- manly like "Soda with 10 calories" or "man caves" or whatever is supposed to be manly today. If you don't like Die Hard, you're not much of a man, the thinking seems to be, as this scene from Friends (which I can link to but not embed because that makes sense; your copyright is not in danger if you only post a video in one spot on the web, right?)(Der.) as that scene from Friends accurately suggests is how people view this issue.

I thought Die Hard was okay, so you won't see me ripping telephone books in half or doing whatever it is people who drink beer with a twist of lime in it presume is manly nowadays.

But John McClain, let's not forget (for the purposes of Christmas) saved Christmas even better than the Grinch did, because John McClain did not steal Christmas, first.

Did you ever think about that? The Grinch follows the same pattern as all Christmas movies that aren't A Christmas-Carol-based: Man has life. Man's life gets worse. Man restores life to what it was, and is grateful for it. Merry Christmas!

In the Grinch, the Grinch's life is miserable. So he sneaks into town and steals Christmas, only to realize that he hasn't stopped the Whos from being happy -- so he's worse off than ever. He therefore puts Christmas back and is invited to dinner, and everything's okay.

Die Hard, in that sense, is a typical Christmas movie: John McClain is divorced, or something, and then he's kidnapped by terrorists, or something, and then he walks over broken glass, and at the end, the billionaires who owned that gold (or something) still own the gold, John McClain is back together with that woman who never had much of a career before or after that, and ... Merry Christmas!

(It's been a long time since I watched that movie, as I haven't had time to be a man while I was working and raising kids and stuff.)

Anyway: Here's your 30-Second-Bunny version of Die Hard:

And here is a link to play Yie Ar Kung Fu, free, online, a game which is way better than the last video game I linked you to.

Prior songs/Santas:

19-21: Another Rock & Roll Christmas, You Are My Joy, Santa Stole My Girlfriend, plus The Santa Clause Claus, Cousin Eddie who I kept calling Cousin Randy, and Yukon Cornelius.

17, 18: Nella Fantasia, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Larry Stewart.

16. You'll Never Find My Christmas, Bishop Allen, and Gizmo the Mogwai

15. The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Bob & Doug McKenzie, plus Bad Santa.

14. When the River Meets The Sea, by John Denver, plus "Doc Bullfrog."

13. All I Want For Christmas, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Santa who helped Superman fight Toyman.

12. We Need A Little Christmas, Glee version, and The Holiday Armadillo.

11, 10, 9: The Little Drummer Boy, Johnny Cash; What Christmas Means To Me, Stevie Wonder; What's This, by Julia Nunes and Ian Axel, and "The Santa From A Nightmare Before Christmas".

8. Taste The Coast, by Admiral Fallow

7. Dringo Bell, Mediaeval Babes

6. Born Is The King (It's Christmas) by Hillside

5: Tijuana Christmas by The Border Brass

4. Christmas Griping, REM

3. A Christmas Waltz, She & Him

2. Don't Shoot Me, Santa, The Killers

1. Snoopy's Christmas, The Royal Guardsmen

Monday, December 19, 2011

28 Days Of Christmas, 28 of the Best Christmas Songs, 9, 10 and 11... plus The 10 Best Santas and Some Stuff To Fill Out The List!: Songs 19-21, etc.

I'm really busy, for no apparent reason whatsoever. Lots of work just piled up on my desk over the weekend, and so I'm going to make this fast today. Besides, if you want some EXTRA XMAS, why not check out

"Santa, Godzilla and Jesus Walk Into A Bar", a/k/a The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told over on Thinking The Lions? It's not being overbilled at all: Follow Nick as he picks up a trumpet from the gutter, only to have a dead man drop down from the sky, forcing Nick into the lair of Wenceslas, who has invented XMAS!... part one of the ongoing serialized story is here.

Song 19: Another Rock & Roll Christmas, Gary Glitter:

Are we supposed to like Gary Glitter, or not? I'm so morally confused by celebrities and sports stars and charities and politicians who do bad stuff. Recently, I cancelled my bell-ringing shift at the Salvation Army because they don't support gay rights, only to find out that they do support gay rights. More on that later. Who'd have thought moral questions wouldn't be easy? Anyway, if you like the song, just pretend it's by Billy Vera & The Beaters.

The Santa, etc., to go along with Song 19: Cousin Eddie,* National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Who could forget Cousin Eddie when it comes to Santa's helpers? Destitute, unstylish, metal plate in his head replaced with a plastic one, Cousin Randy still comes through in a crisis by kidnapping Clark's boss and thereby granting Clark's only remaining Christmas wish.

Song 20: You Are My Joy,
The Reindeer Section.

You'd expect them to have a Christmas song, wouldn't you? And the Santa to go with that? Santa "Clause" Claus, Tim Allen's version of Santa:

We watched that last night as we decorated our Christmas tree -- this year's theme, I am finally free to reveal, was Candy Bars! Sweetie tied Christmas ribbons to full-sized and mini candy bars and hung them on the tree and it looks really great, plus it's delicious -- and, I don't know. I kind of like Tim Allen's Santa. Partly because of the part where as he heads out to find a Mrs. Claus, he says something like "I've got a needlepoint sweater, and a minivan. I'll be back in 8 minutes." I found that amusing.

On the moral relativity ground, though, in this movie he falls in love with Juliet from Lost and I was never sold on her being a good guy; I didn't trust her even in the end. So now she's Mrs. Claus in some alternate universe and that's not necessarily good.

And Song 21: Santa Stole My Girlfriend, The Maine:

Which I really just chose for the title. But it's an okay song, right? I mean, you throw an acoustic guitar, some love, and a couple of references together and you're gonna get a pretty good Christmas song. Plus, this song is kind of what happens after Mommy kissed Santa Claus.

And the Santa/helper/etc for this song? Yukon Cornelius, the guy who helped Rudolph do something or other -- I don't even really remember the plot of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, the TV special, at all, as I sit here.

Do you suppose all those people who griped about all the 'back story' being put into Ron Howard's How The Grinch Stole Christmas also would have griped about all the 'back story' being put into Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer? The plot from the song, after all, was pretty thin soup.

Anyway, Yukon Cornelius, you might want to know, wasn't looking for gold or silver or anything like that. He was looking for peppermint. The scene where Yukon finds a peppermint mine was cut from the original film and not put back until 1998, so a generation of kids was left wondering what silver tasted like.

Prior songs/Santas:

17, 18: Nella Fantasia, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Larry Stewart.

16. You'll Never Find My Christmas, Bishop Allen, and Gizmo the Mogwai

15. The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Bob & Doug McKenzie, plus Bad Santa.

14. When the River Meets The Sea, by John Denver, plus "Doc Bullfrog."

13. All I Want For Christmas, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Santa who helped Superman fight Toyman.

12. We Need A Little Christmas, Glee version, and The Holiday Armadillo.

11, 10, 9: The Little Drummer Boy, Johnny Cash; What Christmas Means To Me, Stevie Wonder; What's This, by Julia Nunes and Ian Axel, and "The Santa From A Nightmare Before Christmas".

8. Taste The Coast, by Admiral Fallow

7. Dringo Bell, Mediaeval Babes

6. Born Is The King (It's Christmas) by Hillside

5: Tijuana Christmas by The Border Brass

4. Christmas Griping, REM

3. A Christmas Waltz, She & Him

2. Don't Shoot Me, Santa, The Killers

1. Snoopy's Christmas, The Royal Guardsmen

*Originally, I put Cousin Randy, but Grumpy Bulldog pointed out in the comments that that was wrong. So I corrected it, and did this footnote, which is the kind of stylish thing Slate does.