Recorded Conversations: New Favorites from 2012

To ring in the New Year on the Recorder, we look to our recent past and ask “What new thing (or things) that you discovered in 2012 has become one of your favorites?”


Like Alex, it is nigh but impossible to limit myself to just one thing. But it becomes even trickier in my case because I’ve already written at length on the Recorder about many of the greatest experiences I had this year, including developing my obsession with the Grateful Dead (and by the way, the concerts in the Spring 1990 box, all of which are available online for free, contain some of the most inspired, heartfelt, and really damn fun rock/country/blues/folk music you will ever hear, much the same way Alex feels about bluegrass), and the 31st/5th season of Doctor Who (although this too may be surpassed by the current 33rd/7th season and the pairing of Matt Smith with Jenna-Louise Coleman, if “The Snowmen” is any indication). But besides having to use so many parentheses, who wants to hear my repeat myself, especially when I do so a lot in real life?


But in looking back, I found that the sheer limit of time and space kept me from celebrating everything which made 2012 such a delightful cultural year, more so than 2011 even, and I found three things in particular.


No jokes about the name, please.

Even more nineteenth-century novels

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“Jesus, it’s amazing how it grows!” The Addison Recorder’s Adventures with “Les Miserables,” Part I

In his remarkably informative and entertaining book Pictures at a Revolution, the story of the 1967 Oscar nominees for Best Picture, Mark Harris devotes several pages to one of the most disastrous gambles Hollywood ever made. After watching West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and the bonanza-grossing The Sound of Music take home the most coveted of Academy Awards, executives at every major studio decided that the public wanted giant, extravagant musicals, films which ran for three hours or so and filled up the Cinemascope screen. The final years of the sixties were littered with big-budget song-and-dance marvels which lost millions upon millions: Doctor Dolittle, Star!, Hello, Dolly!, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, stretching into the supreme debacle of Lost Horizon.

Would you rather watch these guys in a musical…

Or Liv Ullmann and Peter Finch?

Since then, Hollywood and Broadway, which once went hand in hand, have been very wary of each other.

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The War and Peace Post

Right now, we live in a tumultuous nation, filled with internal strife emanating from Washington and, though ostensibly at peace, always kept on a footing for war thanks to both all of the international actions undertaken by our awe-inspiring military and the national security mindset of a post-9/11 world. To say that it can be difficult sometimes determining how to live our lives in this climate is an understatement.

But as 2012 comes to a close, again, it is good to think about another country similarly torn by crises on a grand scale. 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee invaded Russia with a goal of conquering the superpower and got as far as laying waste to Moscow…only Napoleon had suffered his most staggering military action yet before reaching Moscow, at Borodino, and unprepared to face Russia’s winter and vastness, he was forced into a retreat which slashed his forces and laid the groundwork for his two great defeats and total loss of power.

Remember, you never get involved in a land war in Asia, and Russia stretches all the way through…

Fifty-seven years later, a veteran of another Russian war—the Crimean—who had fought in the endless and draining siege of Sevastopol wrote a book about the before, during, and after of Napoleon’s assault on Russia. That veteran’s name was Leo Tolstoy, and his book was War and Peace. [Read more…]

Christmas Is All Around: Highlights and Oddities from the UK Holiday Chart

Here’s one of my cardinal rules, one which comes into great effect during my favorite month of the year, December—it is impossible to watch the movie Love Actually and not feel better about life by the end of the running time. I watch this film every Christmas and am always left in a mix of hysterics and eyes welling up all over, and so many of my friends and family feel the same. Not a bad reaction in America for a movie as thoroughly British in its own way as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classics. It’s that characteristic which I’m using as the jumping-off point for my Christmas contribution to the Addison Recorder, one which fulfills our mission of bringing cultural singularity to your attention, for something not many people may realize is that one of the multiple plots in Love Actually involves a long-standing British holiday tradition.

The most purely fun section of the film, in my humble opinion, is near-forgotten, legend-in-his-own-mind rock star Billy Mack’s (the transcendent Bill Nighy) attempt to get back to the top of the pop charts with his cloying “Christmas Is All Around” single. Throughout the storyline, much is made of how Mack is dueling the real-life boy band Blue to have the number-one single in Britain on Christmas Day itself—which is a point lost on most Americans. We don’t particularly care what song is #1 in Billboard on Christmas week; it’s the same as every other week. But in the United Kingdom, having the #1 song on Christmas is akin to winning a Grammy award for Record of the Year or selling ten million singles and downloads of a song. Whatever song is #1 on Christmas is usually the biggest-selling single in the country that year, and small fortunes are won and lost as people actually wager on what song will take the top spot; not the usual subject for Las Vegas bookmaking.

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Andrew’s Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Guide to Doctor Who, Part II

Mentioning Mr. Smith at the conclusion of Part I makes me ponder the differences between the three doctors since the resurrection. All of them were and are marvelous, all for different reasons.

Christopher Eccleston, a rugged, intense actor who could play big-budget movie supervillains, Jude the Obscure opposite Kate Winslet, and the most modern of troubled men in Our Friends in the North, was a great 9th Doctor, interpreting his character as that of the loneliest battle-scarred man in the world, a condition magnified by his Spartan ensemble of a leather jacket and all black clothing. The 9th Doctor’s whole modus operandi, in my opinion, was that he wanted to put the recent past behind him in some way despite thinking it was impossible: in his attempt to forget the horrors of war, he sought out adventure, excitement, and eventually when he didn’t think it would hurt his heart, friendship and love, and embraced them a little too eagerly but always with brio.  And when he found all of the above in his travels with Rose Tyler, Season 27 was the story of a man coming back to life.

But then came David Tennant.

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Andrew’s Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Guide to Doctor Who, Part I

Warning in advance: this article will contain plenty of River Song’s favorite things.


I am about to make a statement which will probably surprise a lot of sci-fi devotees, maybe even shock them.

Due to the caprices of PBS pledge drive scheduling, the first story I ever saw was “The Mysterious Planet,” the first four installments of The Trial of a Time Lord, the season-long story featuring the horrendously dressed, loudmouth, and usually really damn annoying 6th Doctor of Colin Baker.

And yet, I kept watching, and falling all the more in love with, Doctor Who.

(“The Mysterious Planet” is actually a pretty good story, and Tony Selby’s Sabalon Glitz was an excellent forerunner of characters like Jack Harkness.)

Doctor Who is now in the midst of its 33rd season, about to celebrate 50 years on the air. And yes, I said 33rd. Most Americans call it season 7. Netflix and the DVD industry and fans call it season 7. But the Guardian, and at least a few people who hope they don’t sound too pretentious (present company included) think of it as season 33. Because it really is.

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Why Strachey Matters

Lytton Strachey.


I would imagine that few people could tell exactly who Lytton Strachey was and what he did, even those who recognize his name; with a few exceptions in scholars, academics, and devotees of Bloomsbury and Strachey’s close friend/ex-fiancee Virginia Woolf. This is a mistake. It is more than that Strachey was, by the time of his death in 1932, something of an international celebrity, cutting a distinctive profile with his massive but gaunt body, long beard, and reedy voice. For at the same time Woolf was revolutionizing fiction alongside Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and other contemporaries, Strachey was reinventing full-length non-fiction almost overnight.

He also knew how to rock a beard.

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A Day at Riot Fest 2012

The most amazing thing about the day may have been how I purchased one of 200 limited edition posters for $10, and, despite being right up against the stage for two separate shows, did not see it get creased or smushed. It now hangs proudly up on my wall.

All of the above speaks a lot to the wonderful time which was had by those at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park last Sunday. With four stages and carnival rides spread out over the athletic grounds on Division next to the very nice garden with the buffalo statues, people had plenty of room to enjoy the music without feeling like sardines in oil. Moreover, the festival was stunningly clean; volunteers spent the day traversing the fields picking up cigarette butts and such, and everyone helped out when somebody lost a wallet or cell phone in the midst of a raging dance party. Even the concessions and souvenirs were—GASP—reasonably priced!

It was an ideal environment for enjoying a very punk-and-indie-geared show. And the thousands of people in Humboldt Park that sunny, not too hot day were so glad to be there. Unlike my experience with Springsteen, there were few middle-aged people and no recognizable hipsters: jeans, goofy T-shirts, and metal and piercings were the order of the day. Indeed, I saw more flesh plugs and tunnels than I’ve ever seen in my life, including two pairs which were twice the size of the ears they adorned. (I’ve seen ones which doubled the size of the ear before but never a triple. The human body is an amazing thing.)

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I Bless the Rains Down in Indianapolis: Andrew’s NCAA Non-Preview

Here at the Addison Recorder, we all love sports, but our loves were not created equal. Forget just me and my two cohorts; almost no one I know outside this site has an emotion to match Alex Bean’s magnificent obsession with football, NCAA more than the NFL. Far more. I’d swear that not just the blood but every fluid which comes out of his body is Michigan blue and maize.

And I’ll stop right there.

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