Favorite music of 2019

There being so little popular consensus or even popular awareness of what music is released compared to the more limited number of movies each year, we won’t get much of a debate going here on my annual favorite-CDs list. Still, I’ve been doing these lists since 2012, and they serve as personal markers on what I listened to and liked the previous years.

As I type this I was tempted to juggle titles around on the list, except that I already put them in order for the photo. So, consider the list below a rough guide to my (why not?) Top 13, placed in descending order below and the opposite in the photo above:

13. Bob Dylan: “Travelin’ Thru, 1967 to 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15”

12. Bruce Springsteen: “Western Stars”

11. Adia Victoria: “Silences”

10. Lizzo: “Cuz I Love You”

9. Various Artists: “The Daisy Age”

8. The National: “I Am Easy to Find”

7. L7: “Scatter the Rats”

6. Chuck Cleaver: “Send Aid”

5. Kim Gordon: “No Home Record”

4. Weyes Blood: “Titanic Rising”

3. Sleater-Kinney: “The Center Won’t Hold”

2. Todd Snider: “The Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3”

and my No. 1 pick:

Billie Eilish: “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”

Your turn: Did you listen to any of the above, or to anything new this year that you liked?

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Favorite films of 2019

In an annual exercise, done since 2007, I count down my favorite films of the previous year. Here’s my 2018 list.

I can’t call myself an avid moviegoer, as I saw only 15 movies last year — about half of them in November and December. For much of the year the idea of giving up a scarce afternoon for a movie was not enticing. Then late in the year I got into it again. Who knows why, although seeing a very good movie can give you a lift, one that makes you want to see another. And I saw one good movie after another.

The handful of releases I saw that didn’t make the Top 10, in descending order of interest: Maiden, Captain Marvel, Amazing Grace, Us and Avengers: Endgame. So if there’s a title not listed above or below, I didn’t see it. Got it? Then, as Casey Kasem used to say, on with the countdown.

10. Motherless Brooklyn

9. Apollo 11

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

7. Pain and Glory

6. Ford v Ferrari

5. Richard Jewell

4. Parasite

3. Uncut Gems

2. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

and my No. 1 movie:

Little Women

I saw it Jan. 1, but as it’s a 2019 movie and it vaulted into my No. 1 spot, I’m counting it. Anything I see after this will just have to wait until my 2020 list.

What movies did you see and like, or hate, in 2019?

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Favorite music of 2018

As a music buff, and one who still buys CDs, I like to pick my favorite new releases of the year. I pulled all my 2018 CDs, played them, ranked them, photographed them on Jan. 1…and promptly forgot the whole thing. Hey, it was a holiday. Then I saw my photo on my camera roll the other day, thought “yikes” and am now writing this post a bit belatedly.

I am not up on pop currents and at my age have no need to be. Features in the LA Times on their critics’ Top 10 picks left me bemused as I had not heard any of the songs or albums. Ditto for the Coachella lineup; I recognize only three or four of the names and don’t know ANY of the music. I don’t think that’s ever been the case before.

So I don’t know that this list of mine is going to prove useful to anyone, containing as it does some indie rock, world music, folk, country, Bob Dylan covers (No. 3) and tributes to English music hall (No. 2) and the co-leader of the Fugs (No. 1). Nevertheless, I persisted.

10. Wussy: “What Heaven is Like”

9. Ry Cooder: “The Prodigal Son”

8. Bombino: “Deran”

7. Ellen Harper: “Light Has a Life of Its Own”

6. Rolling Blackouts CF: “Hope Downs”

5. Willie Nelson: “Last Man Standing”

4. Parquet Courts: “Wide Awaaaaake!”

3. Bettye Lavette: “Things Have Changed”

2. Linda Thompson and various: “Linda Thompson Presents: My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage”

1. Jeffrey Lewis and the Deposit Returners: “Works by Tuli Kupferberg”

Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. If by chance you liked any 2018 music yourself, feel free to comment.

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Favorite films of 2018

Critics are saying 2018 was the best year for film in years, maybe even in this century. That may well be true. They get paid to see a lot of films. As a private citizen with a busy life that included turning out a book, I saw fewer films than ever.

Also, a few of them stunk.

“Ocean’s 8” gave me a sinking feeling, ha ha.

I made a point of seeing “Let the Sunshine In” after strong reviews and a fizzy trailer. I disliked it and its confused and annoying lead character, and was in disbelief when in the final few minutes 1) Gerard Depardieu showed up out of nowhere and 2) the scene just kept going, with the credits on one side of the screen and more yakking taking place on the other. (The SF Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle put this movie in his Top 10. Even the great are allowed to falter.)

As if this hadn’t put me off enough from spending two hours in a theater, I came back from a vacation to find the well-reviewed, right-up-my-alley “Hearts Beat Loud” already on its way out of theaters. I drove to Brea to catch a matinee. What a disappointment. Somehow the main character was selling vinyl records in hipster Brooklyn — and failing? But he was. In all the scenes in the shop, there was rarely even one customer, which may have said more about the low budget for extras than about record selling.

This sourness is what happens when you feel pressed for time and see a dud: It’s harder to take it in stride. It puts you off the whole enterprise of moviegoing. Still, “Green Book” cheered me at Thanksgiving, and I rallied for three strong movies in the waning days of 2018.

This is all to say that this year’s Favorite Films list is a bit wan and underdeveloped. But here it is. Take a look and then tell me in the comments what you saw and liked, or hated.

Incidentally, and for posterity, I wish I’d seen the October 2017 release “Faces, Places” in time to include it on my 2017 list. It would have been No. 1. It may have been the best movie I saw in 2018, but I don’t list it below since I can’t credibly call it a 2018 movie.

10. Black Panther

9. Death of Stalin

8. The Post

7. Vice

6. RBG

5. Green Book

4. Leave No Trace

3. Roma

2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

1. Shoplifters

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Column: These horror films are silent except for organ music, screams

“The Phantom of the Opera” and “Nosferatu,” both from the 1920s, will screen at local churches in Claremont and Pomona, respectively, with live organ accompaniment in the days before Halloween. I preview those in Friday’s column, as well as update my list of book tour stops (come see me!), present a bunch of Culture Corner items and offer up a Valley Vignette.

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Column: Mysterious noise as rocker tangles with John Cage

I attended an unusual concert last Friday at Claremont’s Little Bridges, an experimental music event involving a minimal John Cage score and contributions by former Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. I write about it in Wednesday’s column.

For a little backstory, I had not initially planned to write about the show, only attend for fun (although I did bring a notepad and took notes, just in case).

But then I was told the LA Times was covering the event. That got my competitive instincts going. While it wasn’t like I was going to out-write or out-think the LAT’s classical music critic, it seemed a shame to have a Claremont piece in the Times and yet ignore the event myself.

Monday afternoon, I decided to try writing a blog post about the show. After a few paragraphs, I thought, this is getting kind of long; let me cut and paste this into our article software and see HOW long. Well, it was around 500 words, which is verging on the length of a short column. Huh. Seemed like a waste to just post it here, so instead I decided to give myself a break and turn it into a column.

Possibly of interest, my blog style and my column style are slightly different, and so I adjusted the writing a bit and added a few paragraphs, with the finished result coming in at around 750 words, shorter than usual but long enough — especially for a column about a rather arcane musical happening.

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Column: Home Savings financier banked on beauty

Painter Millard Sheets was also the designer of the classic Home Savings thrift branches, a career that is explored in a new book, “Banking on Beauty.” I write about that book and that work in Friday’s column. Above, the former Home Savings at Second and Garey in downtown Pomona, now owned by Western University of Health Sciences with Chase Bank on the lower level.

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