Okay, with all of these ‘year-end-best-of lists’ blogging us down (get it?), I kind of feel left out. Sure, I write for a blog that deals almost exclusively with popular (new) culture and I (in theory) run a blog about contemporary culture and timeless theology but lets get real: it’s hard to keep up. I don’t discover new stuff like I used to. These days, I discover old stuff. Heck I bought plenty of albums this year but only THREE of them were released in 2012.
So for this year-end list, forget about the trends that are here today, gone tomorrow. Here is a list of stuff that I found to be timeless, or at least proved me to be a cultural laggard.
Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues (2011)
Forget about his new 2012 album (it’s good too, but still), Steve Earle’s possibly more talented son put out what may be my favorite Americana album of the last decade in early 2011. The title track, a well-written piece on ending it all in the Harlem River with the soul of a church choir and a jiving refrain, has been stuck in my head for the better part of a month. And the rest of the album doesn’t get much worse. With some of the best songwriting I have heard since Dock Boggs, and speaking of Boggs his track ‘Working for the MTA’ is New York City’s answer to ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground’. Get this album, even if you won’t score any ‘relevant’ points. It’s stunning
Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music (1952)
This six CD (6 record when it was released) anthology of the best and most authentic of America’s musical history is truly one of the greatest things I have ever heard. Harry Smith, the crazy dude who went around and half-legally bootlegged all of this music in the late forties and early fifties, found music from every corner and crevice of this country. With banjo tunes written by coal miners, and entire CD of church music and original Carter Family recordings, this anthology is somewhere easy to get lost in for 6 to 8 months, as I did. It has changed my understanding for American musical history and given me a deeper respect for the music that shapes the culture. Get this…it’s on Spotify.
Wool Ties (the 1950’s)
Remember those old school wool ties? Not the knit ones, but the ties that look like normal ties that are actually made from thick wool? They are kind of grandpa-esque but I love them to death. I found a few in a thrift store so now if I am wearing a tie to anything other than maybe a job interview, I bust out my old wool ties.
Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace (1978)
Of everything I read this year, this book was hands-down the most spiritual formative and personally helpful. The book, a historical and theological analysis of spiritual revival within Evangelicalism serves as an excellent base for understanding the work of God throughout church history. The theological connections made between revivalism, justification and sanctification by grace alone and obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit are so well stated that it seems almost to be common sense. The way Lovelace (PhD., Princeton) expounds on the historical issues within different church movements and puts together a well-rounded, theologically robust, ecumenical plea for the church unification and revival that is paradigm shifting. I plan to be referring back to this 35 year-old book for the next 35 years.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shrier (1960)
This year, I read the longest book that I have ever tackled cover-to-cover, 1243 pages to be exact. Shriers as-close-as-you-can-get-to comprehensive history of Nazi Germany has given me such a richer understanding of modern history and sparked an interest in European history that annoys my wife to death. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend this masterpiece.
Run Lola Run (1998)
I saw a lot of great films this year and almost all of them were not released in 2012. What a shame to rob them of their continued influence (I mean, really… who will remember The Avengers in ten years?). This German film about a couple in some hot water with a local gangster and twenty minutes to resolve it, to the tune of one million dollars, is one of a kind. It is a wild ride through alternate realities, bizarre characters and a few scenes that make you never want to drive a car again. If you get the chance, see this film (before you see The Master, which is simply depressing)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
I am ashamed of this one. It took me until 2012 to see this Coen Brothers masterpiece and I consider myself a Coen Brothers aficionado. But now I can say that I have seen ‘em all (and I can quote most of them in full). And outside of O Brother Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski, of course, this may be my 3rd favorite. The fast-as-lightning dialogue, literally unpredictable plot and a touch Bruce Campbell make this one of the most memorable films I watch this year.
Burn Notice (2007-2012)
Okay, so this one is still ongoing, but that doesn’t change the fact that my wife and I spent most of the year watching old seasons of what may be cable’s most underrated show. Focusing on a CIA operative who gets blacklisted and stranded in Miami with a ragtag group of pseudo-friends, the writing on this show makes it shine. Working for the better part of 5 seasons within a somewhat typical 70’s TV show outline (big, overarching plot advanced steadily with a less significant storyline created and resolved in one episode), the dialogue and story never got boring or trite. The acting is exceptional and the characters are developed with the utmost of care. It is a show that is easy to get lost in when watched in bulk via Netflix or pick up after months of not watching. And although there was a season this year, I was less impressed by it than I was by the older seasons. And I cannot stand to watch it on TV, the promos for Burn Notice almost make the show worse, they are the cheesiest things ever. EVER.
Did you know that you can listen to music online FOR FREE? What is our world coming to? I thought I could hold out and still buy all of the music I listen to in CD form…but alas, Spotify caught me up this year.
My Wife (1985)
I got married this year! It really was an awesome life event to an awesome woman and whenever I think of 2012 I will think of marrying my wonderful wife Jenna. However, she was not born in 2012, in fact she was born in 1985. Making her unqualified to be on a year-end list. Technicalities, I know. While the event was amazing, the marriage is even more amazing, difficult, beautiful and life changing. I love you honey!