The most significant musical moments of 1997

Salon contributors answer the question: what was your most significant moment of 1997?


Cynthia Joyce
December 25, 1997 12:27AM (UTC)

It's hard to summon feelings of nostalgia for a memory that still
surrounds you, and in a year when music fans lost more heroes than they
found (see: Laura Nyro, Fela
Kuti) and lesser artists gained more credit than they deserved (see: Hanson), a top 10 list seems like an empty and static way to close
it. Sure, it's easy enough to decide what the year's Important Releases
were -- we've been covering them all year -- but what was the music that
kept critics on their feet through too many opening bands, that kept them
writing way past deadline in the hopes that they might convey a little bit
of the passion they felt when they finally heard what they'd been waiting
for?

We asked more than 25 writers and critics -- most of them Salon
contributors, some of them writers whose musical tastes we were curious
about -- what was their most significant musical moment of 1997. And when
it was all said and done -- when the last word was in on the Spice Girls (they're just fun, dammit), and the last chapped hands stopped
wringing over whether or not the Lilith Fair represented real progress for women, and the old
folks
proved they've still got it while the young
folks
screamed that they still wanted it -- the year wasn't remembered
by these writers for its new releases, but for the personal epiphanies
they inspired. For Gavin McNett, it was seeing Sleater-Kinney precursor
Joan Jett dyked out in a New Jersey dive. For "Naked" author David Sedaris,
it was watching doctors perform an autopsy of a 72-year-old while listening
to heavy metal music. For Michelle Goldberg, it was
attending the Lilith Fair -- and liking it. And for "High Fidelity" author
Nick Hornby, it was appreciating how hard it is for good music to get any
attention at all.

Advertisement:

Reading through this collection of anecdotes, perhaps what is most
interesting is that all of these writers -- some of whom, by their own
admission, have grown a little jaded and weary at year's end -- still have
heroes and idols who they're willing to stand behind. And not just because
they're Important, but because their music moved them.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MUSICALLY SIGNIFICANT MOMENT OF 1997?

David Sedaris, author of "Naked" and "Holidays on Ice" (Little Brown):

I was at a medical examiner's office doing research for a magazine article I was working on, and they let me put on scrubs and watch an autopsy. What struck me was the music. The only fights the medical examiners ever have is over the radio -- it's just
this little clock radio that's covered with blood. A 72-year-old man came in,
and he was autopsied during a heavy metal mini-set, which included songs by
Jethro Tull, Lez Zeppelin and Suzi Quatro. And then another doctor came in
and changed the radio station. His case was a 22-year-old kid who had heavy
metal tatooed all over what was left of his face. And he was autopsied to
Kenny G and Toni Braxton. It just didn't seem fair.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Advertisement:

Gavin McNett, Salon contributor:

Think of it: With the riches of two cities spread before me -- with
New
York's great, grimy treasure pit lying northwards and all the
attractions of Philadelphia glittering on the southern horizon -- the
closest I came this year to living the rock moment was in a steaming
armpit of a Jersey stringtown bar.

If you're from here, you'll know the place I mean. It's a roadhouse
off
the legendary Highway 9 -- the one that's decorated with bad frescoes of
Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper and a bunch of other, similar personages.
Even if you're not from here, you probably know this
place pretty well. It's the sort of heavy metal dive where crowds of
blue-collar white kids used to go to be flattened by mass consumer
culture -- just like blue-collar kids of all races now go to hip-hop
shows. It's the club from Wayne's World, gone to seed.

So Joan Jett comes out. She's dyked-out like mad, with a blonde Eddie
Cochrane 'do and a latex tank-top. She roars through some hits. Her band
is an oiled, black machine -- tighter than anything I've seen in months,
and louder than hell. They plow into the Replacements' "Androgynous."
The crowd -- 40ish, mustachioed Jersey dudes, the occasional biker,
big-hair chicks, people like that; not a queer-positive kinda crowd at
all -- is CHEERING at all of this, like it's a huge, liberating relief
for them to see a girl kicking ass and messing with gender boundaries
and being all tough and assertive and all those things. And I'm
thinking: Someone like Sleater-Kinney could never have pulled that off.
'Cause Sleater-Kinney (and Sexpod, the show's openers) have a
certain archness about them. They'd sooner laugh at an ugly, mustachioed
Jersey schmuck than laugh with him. But we're all schmucks of some
variety or another, and if a seedy Jersey metal-bar crowd can put out
for Joan Jett in a latex baby-dyke outfit, singing about queer power
with a "The Goddess is Dancing" sticker on her guitar, then I have
nothing arch to say this time, 'cause they were a worthier audience
than I've ever been in my life.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jim DeRogatis, author of "Kaleidescope Eyes: Psychedelic Rock from the '60s to the '90s" (Citadel Underground Series, 1996):

I am sitting on the floor with my wife and two musically obsessed buddies,
who've been kind enough to traipse over one snowy evening bearing a couple of
CD boomboxes and a 12-pack of Sam Adams (special Christmas brew, naturally)
in order to experience the multi-disc set "Zaireeka" as its authors, the Flaming Lips, intended: the four CDs playing simultaneously, roughly synchronized by my count of "1-2-3-play!" blasting at us at a suitably rocking volume from four corners of the living room. The music is weird and
wonderful, slippery and silly (no surprise, this being the Lips), and while
I'm not altogether convinced that this is the radically different audio
experience that the band has hyped it as, I do have to laugh at the hoops
we've jumped through just to listen to a damn record. Who the hell listens to
recorded music with friends anymore, post-Walkman and Discman? But the Lips
have made us do it this way (even if you owned four CD players, you couldn't
start 'em all at once); they've made us feel a little bit of community
stemming from a tiny piece of plastic. Fun? Sure. Significant? Seems like a
mighty high-falutin' word for it, but then I can't recall the last album
that's done that for me.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sarah Vowell, Salon's "Sound Salvation" columnist:

In 1997, I considered changing my answering machine message from it's usual banal greeting, "Hi. This is Sarah." to the more appropriate "Frank Sinatra Deathwatch. Leave your hearsay at the beep." Write one story in which you implore your broadcast media colleagues to avoid playing the second-rate "My Way" when Old Blue Eyes finally calls it quits (as I did), and your answering machine becomes a kind of Psychic Friends Network for doomy swingers nationwide. Let's just say that if Frank was in the hospital as often as the messages proclaimed, he wouldn't need a house anymore.

Advertisement:

There was the flurry of messages when the editor of a certain New York-ish magazine was so convinced the man was at death's door she required her employees to wear beepers one weekend in order to hurry back to the office to put together a tribute rush-job if needed. There's the story of the Sinatra impersonator who became increasingly irate when his CBS profile didn't air because the show's producers wanted to air the segment post-mortem. But I wasn't totally convinced of the power of the media death wish until the online version of the Chicago Tribune posted Sinatra's obit for a full two hours with the date o' death marked, "Fill in the Blank." Well. Unless Sinatra's as unfortunate as his old pal Dean Martin (who died last year between Christmas and New Year's, after every year-end issue had gone to press), it was all for naught. Fill this in the blank: The man's a rock. A rock, I tell ya.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nick Hornby, author, "High Fidelity," Salon contributor:

A lot of pleasure -- Ben Folds with strings at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, the Ron Sexsmith and Teenage Fanclub albums -- but significance is hard to come by in row G or a browser rack. The most beautiful piece of music I heard this year was a two-minute cue for "Our Boy," a harrowing BBC film starring Ray Winstone about a couple who lose a kid in a hit-and-run accident. Shortly after the funeral, Winstone's character, still wearing his suit, sees a group of kids playing football; he offers to go in goal, and spends an oblivious few minutes rolling round in the mud. It's an exquisite scene, and over the top of it my friends Neill McColl and Boo Hewerdine produced a correspondingly exquisite and bottomlessly empathetic piece of piano music. Here's the significance: The BBC executives didn't like the score, and they removed it, and no one will ever hear it. Another reminder, if you needed one, that great music has to fight its way through a lot of cloth ears before it reaches us, and that we should be eternally grateful that we ever get to listen to anything which is delicate and oblique and
doesn't come wearing a Union Jack bikini.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rennie Sparks, member of the Chicago band the Handsome Family, Salon contributor:

What was my most musically significant moment of 1997? Discovering Elton John on three TV channels at once and realizing that nobody gives a damn that "English Rose" and "Candle in the Wind" were penned by another man -- Bernie Taupin. At year's end, Elton John (who used a TelePrompTer to sing the lyrics to "Candle in the Wind 1997" at Diana's funeral) has been busy selling out London's Wembley Arena, shooting a cameo for the Spice Girls movie and preparing for knighthood. Meanwhile, Taupin is scheduled to play New Year's Eve with his side band, the Farmdogs, at an
Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. Somebody send him a teddy bear, please.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Advertisement:

Roni Sarig, Salon contributor:

I hate the thought that I'm turning
into one of those boring "things-just-aren't-what-they-used-to-be" kind of
people. I don't think I am, really, but this year's hip-hop repeatedly had me
tempted to fall into that kind of nostalgia: First, there was the sound of Redman lagging behind the beat on his cover of "Rapper's Delight." The man sounds like he just can't keep up. A sign of our current skills-deficient era in rap? (A significant aside: Flipping through CDs at the local record store, I heard a teenage girl ask the guy behind the
counter if they carry "Rapper's Delight." He asks if she wants the original or
the cover. A bit thrown off, she says, "Oh, um, the original. You know, the
one with Redman.")

And then comes Rakim, back from the '80s, with a great album that rubs his
superior rhyme skills in the face of most younger rappers. And then it all starts to make sense when I see Puff Daddy reminiscing about "the good old days" on an MTV promo. He's talking about way back ... in 1989!? But then I hear an album like "Latyrx," by young Bay Area rappers Lateef and Lyrics Born, and I realize great rapping still exists -- just not on the pop charts.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Advertisement:

Sean Elder, Salon contributor, editor of Total NY:

About eight years ago, I was visiting my friend Randall Koral in Paris; he
wanted to have a dinner party to introduce me to his expat friends, music
writers mostly. There was Jill Pearlman, a rock writer who split her time
between there and New York; Mike Schwerin, the jazz critic from the
International Herald-Tribune; and Nick Kent, the legendary NME writer who
had played bass with the Sex Pistols (before being assaulted by Sid
Vicious), inspired the opening to Elvis Costello's "Waiting for the End of
the World" and had finally left London to avoid the drug life of his evil
companions (read: Keith Richards and company). Problem was, Randy didn't
cook, and after foolishly offering to make Mexican food (you find the
fixings for enchiladas in Paris), I spent the evening rolling tortillas as
he paraded the writers past me. I saw Nick -- a big-beaked Brit of very
unParisian height -- for a nanosecond, and never got to hear any of those
great stories.

Until now. Kent's best work is collected in "The Dark Stuff" (Da Capo
Press, 1995) and is the single best volume of rock writing I've seen since
"Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung." Kent, in fact, was a disciple of
Lester Bangs, and learned from him the art of going deeper and yes, darker:
Profiled within are the dark princes of rock, mad dogs and anguish-men:
Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett, Brian Jones -- the list goes on. Best
of all, Kent revises his own work and revisits his old subjects (Costello,
for one, admits his songs didn't make sense because he was hiding his
marital infidelities in his lyrics -- shades of "Norwegian Wood"!). It also
contains the best description of Shane McGowan I've ever seen: "He has a
rare talent for mixing the Byronic with the moronic." How like rock.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Advertisement:

David Bowman, author, "Bunny Modern," Salon contributor:

One of my absolutely killer favorite albums of the '90s is Chris Whitley's
death-guitar laden "Din of Ecstasy" (I am perhaps one of only a handful who
felt this way). Last winter I had the opportunity to interview Whitley in
conjunction with his third release, "Terra Incognita," and afterward, the guitarist
did what I'm sure every interviewer of a musician dreams of: He made me my
own personal cassette of outtakes and demos. I believe I am the only
listener in America whose ears have been graced by Whitley songs such as "Die
in Your Mouth" and "Complex Sex Ritual."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Greil Marcus, author, "Invisible Republic" (Henry Holt) and "Dead Elvis" (Anchor):

The thing that continues to fascinate me is the way that all these Elvis
non sequiturs continue to appear in news stories. I've detected over the past
few years a hidden theme that always has to do with malevolence, with evil,
with some murderous act. Elvis appears as a joke, as a predator, as a demon. Here, for example, is something I recently found in the New York Times, this from the prosecutor who was giving the summation at the Terry Nichols trial:

[Beth] Wilkinson attacked the defense presentation of witnesses who swore
they saw others who might have helped in the bombing, including the suspect
who was first identified as John Doe No. 2, a man who was later found to have
had nothing to do with the plot.
"As a result of the media frenzy, sightings of John Doe 2 were about as
common and credible as sightings of Elvis," Ms. Wilkinson said. "No one is
telling you Tim McVeigh was never with anyone else. The issue here is, who
is on trial? John Doe 2 is not on trial. Tim McVeigh is not on trial. This
is the trial of Terry Nichols."

There is an implication here that Tim McVeigh was at one time seen with
Elvis. This is what I don't think I'm ever going to get over -- I had a lot
of trouble with this idea when it first occurred to me. I first noticed it
quite a long time ago when I came across all these inexplicable pairings of
Elvis and Hitler, which are not as common as Elvis and Jesus or Elvis and
Clinton. I was baffled by Elvis and Hitler, until I received a letter from a
girl I knew in fourth grade. In fourth grade, she was this insane Elvis fan.
She had the nerve to actually go to an Elvis concert in 1956, for which we
teased her mercilessly. She led a very tragic life -- both her parents were
killed when she was 13, she got married young, had kids and then divorced.

She wrote me when "Dead Elvis" came out. She said that it wasn't until
just a few years before that she had been able to throw off the mantle of
Elvis, that he had dominated her life like a demon until her mid-40s. He
had been an all-consuming, all-powerful force representing all that was
beautiful, all that was powerful, all that was unattainable. He had a life
force that cast other people into the shadows and made her feel less alive.
And she made that very explicit. There's something of that behind all these
references where Elvis represents something fascistic, something about
domination. It has to do with his continued sovereignty over ordinary people.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Will Hermes, Salon contributor:

I moved around a lot in 1997, and what struck me most was how many alternative
nations one nation can hold. I saw techno pioneer Carl Craig drop beats for a
beautifully deranged crowd of old-school, martini-slurping, black and white
30-somethings in Detroit; jumped around with a bunch of white teens to U.K.
jungle DJ SS and MC Warren G in a crumbling Minneapolis warehouse basement;
watched more white teens ripping out rows of seats during Korn's set at
Lollapalooza in Palm Springs, Fla.; chilled with bourgeois lesbians and
their children at a sold-out Lilith Fair in the Minnesota 'burbs; saw
Christian punk rockers MXPX thrash it out in San Jose and East Indian smooth
boys in turbans bumping to bhangra at a club in New York City. But I suppose
the most memorable scene was seeing the great Colombian rock band
Aterciopelados at a little San Francisco club called Slim's. I'd never heard
of them (a friend insisted I go), and I watched the packed house of expats and
rock en Espaqol fans go bonkers, moshing, stage-diving and
singing along. It reminded me that the breadth of our country is immeasurable
and unknowable, a notion that always makes me feel patriotic.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mark Athitakis, Salon contributor:

For a genre that's caused so much contention among critics and listeners,
"electronica" has become assimilated into the mainstream with impressive
speed -- Aphex Twin's "Boy/Girl Song" in a Bank of America ad? But while I
never really questioned electronic music's validity, I distrusted the "new
punk" tag that followed close behind. Sure it's art, but can it rock?
Hearing German knob-twiddlers Mouse on Mars perform "Super-Electric" live
with Stereolab erased every doubt: For 20 minutes (40 minutes? an hour?),
the music brilliantly swirled, swelled, closed in on itself and climbed
back out again, the whirrs and buzzes more than keeping pace with the
guitars. "Musical revolution" is all media hype, but the overwhelming
revelation I heard there was pure. Forgetting about Next Big Things, I'm
content to simply accept that moment at face value -- and look forward to
discovering it again in 1998.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Charles Taylor, Salon contributor:

What hit hardest for me this year was four of five moments in movies that offered the elation of hearing the perfect song at the perfect moment: the Emotions' "Best of My Love" accompanying the exhilarating tracking shot that opens "Boogie Nights"; Pam Grier holding herself tall and true in "Jackie Brown" to the tune of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street"; Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do" heard in the opening credits of "Welcome to Sarajevo" and sounding like a wail from a lost paradise; Luna's version of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's duet "Bonnie and Clyde" heard in the closing credits of "Irma Vep," a lament not just for outlaws but for the way movies we love turn us into outlaws when they end, searching for the next temporary place to call home; and most of all, the few seconds MTV's "Week in Rock" showed of a 1962 promotional film of Francoise Hardy singing "Tous les garons et les filles." It looked as if Jacques Demy had been asked to shoot a scene for "Masculine-Feminine," and Hardy's face -- fresh, cool and ready for whatever was coming -- summed up the beauty of youth on the verge of endless possibilities.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DJ Spooky, techno artist and Paper columnist:

It seems so bizarre -- we stand at a precipice of our own imagination in
the American pre-millennial cultural landscape, and finally electronic
music hits the American pysche in a way that most people can deal with.
This little ditty is pretty much straight off the dome -- thoughts
floating with no temporal reference Mir station-style -- while the
planetary culture (and the government that put you in space) slowly
vanishes beneath you. Princess Di's media death, Elton John's
capitalizing on same, Biggie Smalls' rhyming the hip-hop equivalent of
Walt Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric," Sublime's vocals from
beyond the grave, etc., etc., etc., etc. Aside from the "electronica" of the Chemical Bros and Prodigy, we had moments like Alec Empire and his Atari
Teenage Riot
crew opening for one of my favorite rock bands, Rage
Against the Machine, or the Invisible Scratch Picklz and the
X-Men finally getting their props from a much much much larger audience,
or for that matter, people like me being able to jam with a whole
orchestra to create a musique concrete collage with one of my favorite
composers, Iannis Xenakis, or seeing one of my jazz heroes, Butch
Morris, cooling out at my party, Abstrakt, every Tuesday checking the
vibe ... I could go on, but you gotta admit: In a period where
movies like "Titanic" seem to reflect the rigid hierarchies of a society
adrift on a cold icy sea, and the barriers between different cultures seem to
be our invisible iceberg that could sink the "American Dream," I gotta fess up: Damn,
multi-culturalism feels good. What next? Tribe Called Quest does a
collaboration with Boris Yeltsin? Anyway, people are a lot more open to
musical diversity right now than they have been in years. And for me, that's
the best moment of '97.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Michelle Goldberg, Salon contributor:

Though a fierce backlash has arisen against the Lilith Fair, it was easily the most significant musical moment for me in 1997. Not the artists, necessarily -- I've seen loads
of better bands this year -- but the vibe. It was the mellowest, friendliest, least bitchy atmosphere I've ever felt at a concert. To me, that makes all the difference
between trying to look like I'm having a good time (or trying to look coolly
disaffected, depending on the venue) and actually being able to forget myself
for a few hours. I actually got weepy when Tracy Chapman sang "Fast Car" --
that song was huge during my hideous high school years. Whenever I was in the car of some loser guy who was driving me and my friends around our loathsome town with bottles of Jack Daniel's and hopes of statutory rape, and I'd hear that song, I'd close my eyes and plot my escape to New York City, which finally happened when I turned 16. Looking around at the Lilith Fair, I could see it meant just as much to the thrilled girls holding their lighters in the air with a sweet kind of ridiculous earnestness.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Stanley Booth, author of "The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones" (Random House, 1984), Salon contributor:

My most musically significant moment of 1997 was first hearing the loudspeakers
in Ray Charles' outer office and then spending an hour or so talking with
him. Having listened to him since I was 12 (he's 12 years my
senior), I was reassured to discover that, like me, he values most highly
Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr, Jo Stafford, Lester Young, Johnny
Hodges, Willie Smith, Hank Crawford, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Parker, Clark
Terry, Milt Jackson and a large but still limited number of other artists
who have what we call "a distinctive sound." Sad to say, but neither of us hear many today who possess such a sound. He gave me this line: "Next time you talk to a rap artist, ask them to hum you the melody."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Joe Heim, Salon contributor

Every once in a while I lose faith in music. Nothing sounds new. Nothing sounds interesting. I look through my stacks of CDs and find nothing I want to listen to. It's always temporary, but enduring these bleak periods I question the possibility of
pop salvation. Ron Sexsmith saved my music soul this year. Last July, in the midst of a full-on musical meltdown, I headed to Seattle's now-defunct Backstage to catch Sexsmith's set. With his first melancholy note, the 33-year-old Canadian delivered a healing punch usually reserved for Sunday morning televangelists. Singing
his dreamlike stories -- "Pretty Little Cemetery," "Thinking Out Loud,"
"Average Joe" -- Sexsmith reminds me of a wounded Roy Orbison. The voice
isn't as pretty, but the hurt is raw, and when he sings, "She was not the
girl next door, but the girl from 'round the corner," I am lost in its
inexplicable perfectness. And, once again, I believe.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sean Callahan, Salon contributor:

For me, the musical moment of the year was hearing Cornershop's wonderfully jangly "Brimful of Asha" (from the album "When I Was Born for the 7th Time") on my Japanese-built radio in my American-made, Mexican-assembled car. This ode to Indian pop culture by the English sons of Indian immigrants is proof that pop music, like capitalism, will only grow stronger as it continues to plunder foreign lands.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brett Campbell, Salon contributor:

Last summer, Oregon's National Public Radio outlet, without surveying its
members, tried to eliminate all its music programming -- mostly classical,
jazz and world music. But outraged music fans struck back, organizing a
letter-writing campaign to newspapers and the station board of directors.
The protest culminated in a downtown rally at which a thousand music lovers, playing classical music through loudspeakers, demanded the changes be rescinded. Alarmed, the station's board met in a special session and decided to keep the most popular would-be victim, NPR's "Performance Today," the best classical music show on the air today. The proposed program changes reflect our increasingly bottom line-oriented culture's disdain for history, art and meaning, even in one of the last bastions of public spirit, public broadcasting -- but the response showed that people really do still care about great music.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Carla DeSantis, editor and publisher, ROCKRGRL:

I think the Lilith Fair was really important -- it proved that there's another way of doing festivals. So many women had been excluded from the major festivals the year before. I traveled with the first four shows on the West Coast, and it was exhilarating for me to be a part of that, to have some continuity. It was interesting to watch people become more comfortable with each other, and to see the acts becoming more comfortable on stage.

Another thing was the speculation as to whether or not there was going
to be another Hole record. As Courtney Love becomes more of a
mainstream artist instead of an alternative rock artist, what will
the future of Hole be? It will be interesting to see next year, if her record
does come out, how she's able to balance her mainstream image with expectations of her musically. Then again, this year there seemed to be a backlash against the angst-ridden alternative music of the early '90s -- we saw a lot of happy rock as personified by Hanson and the Spice Girls. There's less suffering in the music. It's just a totally different vibe.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete Golkin, Salon contributor:

I covered this year's Kennedy Center Honors in Washington. After a
ceremony in the White House, reporters were led out to keep them from
participating in the reception that followed. That unlikely honoree Bob
Dylan
apparently wasn't up for mingling, and he too headed out. With one
shot at a question under the North Portico, I asked him whether he had
ever been to the White House before. Dylan smiled, pointed at the
building and, in his famously elliptical fashion, said simply "That's
it, it's right there."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Steve Erickson, author of "American Nomad" (Henry Holt, 1997):

My musical moment of the year is a song called "There You Go," by Katell Keineg. I don't really know who Katell Keineg is -- six months ago I had never heard of her -- but I assume she's one of these Celtic witches in the Kate Bush/Enya/Sinead O'Connor vein. This particular song is the last track on an album called "Jet," and in the song, she's watching the man she loves disappear -- down the boulevard, the avenue, the runway, the white lines. And the first thing that strikes you about the track is its nakedness -- her voice is extraordinary, her desperation verges on the ecstatic, she's completely in the thrall of the moment -- and it's the most emotionally devastating song I've heard all year.

But then the more you hear it, the more mysterious the song gets. You're not really sure how long these two people in the song have known each other -- maybe it's been years, or maybe it was for just a single night, or maybe the singer's never really known him at all -- the performance is so intense in such a hushed way that it's completely possible she's mad. Toward the end of the song, she sings, "I don't why I did it but I did" over and over again -- but you don't know what she's done -- and then, "Now I must return to the underworld." The structural openness of the track, the freeflowing dreaminess of it and the passion of the singing and the stream-of-conscious words, remind me of the song "Madame George" from Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" album, about a young soldier who goes to visit a brothel before leaving Dublin. There's that long, amazing fade-out where the soldier is singing, "Goodbye goodbye ..." to Madame George, to Dublin, but really to his youth. A couple of months ago, playing it back to back with the Van Morrison song, I got it in my head that the Katell Keineg song was Madame George's answer to the soldier, and that in fact she's fallen in love with him in a way he'll never know or deserve. In the end, the more you hear "There You Go," the more you hear someone's whole world in the song. There's a whole story in the song that we'll never know. It's a song full of secrets, and it takes us someplace else.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Joshua Klein, Salon contributor:

Stuck in the car with nothing to listen to but the radio, I settled for the
local rock provider. As anonymous bands competed for the award of
Most Vapid Performer, I tuned out. But a bleak, RZA-inspired beat and coarse
rapper perked my ears. The puzzled DJ came back on the air a minute
later and, in a weird "what-was-that?" tone, explained that the preceding rap
music was just a Nike commercial -- wouldn't want their demographic to
get confused, I figured. After a return to the regularly scheduled program of
pap, I tuned out again, then turned off the radio entirely. Programming gaffe
or not, I don't think I've ever heard hip-hop sound more revolutionary than it
did just then, or rock 'n' roll sound paler than it did in the moments that followed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas McLennan, Salon contributor

Why'd you have to ask me this year? Last year it might have been finally
getting to hear Etta James in person (I'm a huge fan and she'd canceled the
last five times I'd arranged to see her). I was almost the only person in the
audience for a late Tuesday night show in New York and she was really
lingering through her songs. The year before it might have been Dutch sound
artist Paul Panhuysen who "tuned" a giant abandoned warehouse with piano
wire, using pillars as tuning pegs. Or getting seriously caught in a mosh pit
at a Barenaked Ladies concert in Seattle.

But this year's choice seems so utterly conventional and ordinary. Here's
to the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, who at a concert at the Metropolitan Museum
last May played with such commitment, such astonishing technical and musical
skill and understanding of what they were trying to communicate, they renewed
my faith that such concerts can be transforming musical experiences. Would
that they only happened more often.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Milo Miles, Salon contributor:

Well, even if it sounds more like an advertisement for myself than
an epiphany about art, the phone call I got in the depth of Montana this
summer informing me that years of freelance writing were over and that I
would be full-time Music Features Editor for SoundStone Entertainment was music to my ears unlike any other in 1997.
(This may not be appropriate, but man, it is from the heart.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dawn Eden, Salon contributor:

It's a tie between two events from when I went to London for the Zombies'
first-ever reunion and record release party: 1) watching Rod Argent's
fingers on the keys as he played note-perfect solos on "She's Not There"
and "Time of the Season," and 2) meeting my idol, the multitalented John
Carter (co-writer of "Beach Baby," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" and many
more) at a Soho coffee bar. The most unforgettable moment was when he
mentioned, off the cuff, that he was the mystery lead singer on one of my
longtime faves, the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral." Now, I
tend to get rather excited when confronted with revelations such as this. I
won't say how excited, but I wouldn't have been surprised if some of the other
patrons demanded some of whatever it was that I was having.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

j. poet, Salon contributor:

At La Peqa in Berkeley, Calif., last September, Vocal Sampling, an a cappella sextet from Cuba that replicates the sound of a salsa band using nothing but their mouths and a few well-placed hand claps, rocked the house with their vocal pyrotechnics. My ears told me there was a conjunto backing them up on stage, but everything I heard, including the fat, swooping tones of a fretless bass, came from the six singers. Despite the mouth music "gimmick," Vocal Sampling writes solid original material; if they were singing with a band, they'd still be impressive. The fact that they do it all without one is nothing short of amazing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Joe Rosenthal, editorial director of THE HUB Music, Salon contributor:

One of my best musical moments of '97 was gazing down through a haze of marijuana smoke from the third balcony of Lincoln Center's stuffy Alice Tully Hall as a wave of teenagers pogoed and slammed their way to the stage at Sonic Youth's mind-altering music marathon
this November. Added bonus: opener Tom Verlaine serving up shimmering waves of spaghetti western guitar work accompanied by a stark acoustic guitar. And "Pup Tent" may make my year's top 10 list by a hair off Justin Harwood's bald head, but damn if Luna hasn't become one of rock's most exciting live acts: At their December show at New York's Irving Plaza, Dean Wareham was at his witty best, the rhythm section was as tight as a wet snare and the whole band was downright fearless.

(Musical lowpoint: Forgetting to call ahead for Radiohead tickets at the
Hammerstein Ballroom this fall. I battled with scalpers for an hour as market
forces drove prices up to more than $100. 1998 Resolution: Call ahead for Radiohead tickets.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Alex Abramovich, Salon contributor:

It was early fall, and my friend and I had spent the entire day driving down old Highway 61 with a broken air conditioner and Johnny Cash on the tape deck. We got to New Orleans, dusty, dirty and dead tired. By the time we caught up to the college students and conventioneers clogging the streets of the French Quarter, we felt like we'd joined the ranks of an invading army. The Quarter was lovely and smelly and so noisy that we didn't notice the singing at first. It took a minute to locate the source: a middle-aged woman singing the opening bars of some old American spiritual. She'd mounted the steps in front of an old music hall and stood there now, in an orange sun dress, singing. There was something sure about her voice, a commanding lilt to her phrasing.

After a few moments, I looked around and noticed a crowd had gathered around the woman in the orange dress. To my left was a tall, gray-haired man with a straw hat and a camera. He was smiling at his wife -- an elderly woman with a mole on her cheek and a beehive hairdo -- and there was such love, such admiration in that look. So much more, I thought, than I'd ever felt for anyone. And as I stood looking at them, she opened her mouth to sing. And someone in front of her started singing, and another, and another, and soon everyone there was singing. The crowd had become a choir -- we had been drawn completely outside of ourselves. It's stayed with me somewhat, that feeling. And now, every time I listen to music, it's an effort to recapture it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas Wolk, Salon contributor:

In November, I drove 100 miles or so to a dorm basement in Connecticut to
see the Ex, a brilliant anarchist Dutch art-punk band now in their
20th year of existence, who release their own records. Others in the
audience had driven farther. The Ex played a staggering set of new
material, and as their drummer, Katrin, yelled the chorus of one of her
songs, her voice was the most joyful thing I heard all year. This, I
thought, is the point of indie rock and its culture: that you can make your
music entirely on your own terms, and the people to whom it matters will do
what it takes to find it; that there's a true reward for devoting your life
to your art.


Cynthia Joyce

Cynthia Joyce has been a writer, editor and Web producer for 20 years. A former Arts and Entertainment editor for Salon, she lives in Oxford, Mississippi, and teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi.

MORE FROM Cynthia Joyce

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Courtney Love Johnny Cash Music Nick Hornby




Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •