I used to get a teensy bit jealous this time of year. That's when the editors deigned who to invite into the Top 10 list club. You know, the best music or movies or grilled cheese sandwiches of the year. When asked - and as a non-critic, I was honored with an invitation twice in five years - I took my work seriously. I scoured the year's list of releases, sampled the music in question, and tried to come up with a proper list. It's not easy. A great list offers something unexpected without sounding too contrived. (Confession: I did pick Geoff Muldaur's Bix Beiderbecke tribute one year.) It also tries to move beyond the obvious. (Okay, Cat Power. We get it.)
This year, I didn't even attempt to hang with the cool kids. Besides, enough folks are jockeying for Top 10 space in the paper. Out here on the Internets, space is unlimited.
So here's my new idea, with a nod to Greil Marcus, he of Salon's now defunct "Real Life Top 10." I'm offering a series of lists over the next few days. The lists aren't in any particular order, though they're numbered because, well, they're lists. By the end, we should end up with around 40 to 50 things - songs, books, movies, moments - I considered my favorites of 2006. If you're intrigued, feel free to write, or suggest your own ideas.
1. Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.” This created some problems at home, as I grew obsessed with ordering grass-fed beef and then, after slapping down way too much money to a mid-western meat provider whose cooked cuts tasted about as fresh as an Andrew Dice Clay bit, realized I had defeated the purpose by burning fossil fuels. Also, nobody in the house seemed to appreciate my four-day obsession with oyster mushrooms. But if you care about what you eat, this a more literate alternative to “Fast Food Nation.”
2. Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, July 5, Cape Cod Melody Tent. The record they did together would be better if Costello didn't croak his way through so many of the lead vocals. At this show, though, Toussaint took the mic early, and often. He also rearranged Costello’s warhorses, making even that aging slut “Alison” sound fresh.
3. “The Departed.” The only flaw: That rat.
4. James Levine loses 30 pounds. As much as it hurt the Boston Symphony to lose its maestro, Levine’s desire to lose weight - anyone for Pilates? - is the BSO's best bet for a lengthy Levine tenure.
5. Nano. So the shuffle was the size of a pack of gum. But could anything be more aggravating than trying to figure out, without a screen, what song might come next? The Nano is small, less likely to break than a regular iPod – it’s got flash memory, no hard drive – and finally offers a screen.
6. Birth of Exhibitionist. After years of toiling behind the scenes, ink-stained wretch finally gets to post things like this.
7. Pearl Jam. The great forgotten album, the curse of coming out so early in the year. I don’t like Pearl Jam that much. But this one’s a keeper, a lot closer to Green Day’s “American Idiot” than “Jeremy.”
8. Papelbon. Now he’s going to start?
GRASS FED BEEF!