Dec. 21, 2001-
By By Sean Daly
"Be nice to everyone": That's what Jimmy Stewart once told his teenage daughter when she came asking for a little pre-college worldly guidance. The famous father offered nothing about money or boys or staying away from Hitchcock. No, the Hollywood legend simply delivered those four easy words, hugged his daughter, and continued reading. "Be nice to everyone." Four words, six syllables. As simple as that.
I heard this story on Nov. 30, 2001, at the Jimmy Stewart Museum in downtown Indiana, Pa. (Indiana being his birthplace and all, not to mention the Christmas Tree Capital of the World). The executive director of the museum, Elizabeth Salomé, was giving me a personal tour of the Stewart collection, and she said that the "be nice" bit was her favorite. Reporter's notebook in hand, I smiled like a jackass and tried to stay focused.
But then, just when I thought this year couldn't get any worse, Salomé switched celebrity gears and mentioned George Harrison. A bit confused by the seguedid she mean George Bailey?I proudly said that the Quiet Beatle had always been my favorite. She solemnly said that he was dead.
Good fucking grief.
Truth be told, I had a hard time concentrating on Zuzu's precious petals after that one. In fact, I started to get kinda pissed, a tad irrational. There I was, on assignment in a creepy museum in a creepy town in a creepy state, the broken trunk of my shitty rental car flapping around like a fat lip, the world maybe ending and maybe not, and just like that, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was everywhereand for all the wrong reasons.
Helluva ending to a helluva year.
And then things got weirder: Back at the Holiday Inn, I found something. Something small but significant. A sign, perhaps; a reminder, maybe. And I'm not talking about the 20-year-old Playboy Playmate I'd meet later on that same day, eitheralthough Miss November certainly had something to do with the day's final twist.
No, one of the first songs I listened to on Sept. 12 wound up being one of the first songs I listened to on Nov. 30: Harrison's "Cheer Down," an oddball tune with silly-sinister lyrics"If your dog should be dead/I'm gonna love you instead"and extended doses of that trademark bubbly-woozy guitar. Among the 30 or so CDs I grabbed before heading off for Indiana, Pa., was Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989, although I was more than a little surprised to see the disc at the bottom of my backpack. And although the album's closing track may not be of the same caliber as "Something" or "Here Comes the Sun"my choices for the all-time best Beatles songs"Cheer Down" and its yin-yang message of grinning through the shitstorm was an apt soundtrack to another lousy day in a long line of lousy days.
Sometimes, I figured, life just works that way.
Oh, and about Miss November? Lindsey Vuolo is a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania by day, a semiclad bartender by night. And if I started talking to her at 11:55 p.m., then she was pretty much done with my doughy ass by midnight. But what the hell: By that time, the sheer ridiculous of it allJimmy Stewart and suitcase bombs and two Beatles left and one of the most beautiful women in the world talking about Hef and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valancewas breathtaking. And cheering down seemed like the only reasonable thing to do.
Well, that and be nice to everyone.
So thanks for indulging me, and here we go: The following list comprises the best songs, albums, and musical moments of the past year, a fairly good one for pop music, I believe, if not for most everything else. And whattaya say we stay in Indiana, Pa., and kick things off with a man who's been cheering down his whole deliciously sordid life...
25. "Gets Me Through," Ozzy Osbourne I heard this power-chord grinder while driving that shitty rental car through Blue Spruce Park's gaudy Festival of Lights. "I'm not the Antichrist/Or the Iron Man." An air-guitar special, and the Blizzard's best since "Flying High Again." Ho-ho-ho.
24. Timeless, Various Artists This 12-track tribute to Hank Williams could have been whole lot betterwhat's the deal with Keb' Mo' anyway?but grandson Hank III's "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" proves that blood is thicker than bourbon.
23. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, John Williams Yes, director Chris Columbus slathers a creepy calliopic theme over every scene. But listening to the music during the end credits proves that this is Williams' catchiest soundtrack since Indy chased after the ark.
22. "Can't Cry These Tears," Garbage Producer-drummer Butch Vig's idea to get supervixen Shirley Manson in a swooning Shirelles state of mind was pure genius. Too bad the rest of Beautifulgarbage sounds like a phone job.
21. The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini Intricate cocktail swing from those tinkling highball days of 1964. A classic cleaned up beautifully by Buddha Recordsand a true-blue make-out special. Or so I hear.
20. Can You Dig It? The '70s Soul Experience, Various Artists Six discs of the funkiest all-time sounds gathered by the good people at Rhino. Maybe these shaggy sideburns aren't such a bad idea after all.
19. "Let Me Touch You for Awhile," Alison Krauss + Union Station The bluegrass songbird proves that she gets those dirty urges, too. As good as anything on her brilliant solo album Forget About It. Now, if only she'd ditch those ho-hum boys in her band.
18. "Lady Marmalade," Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink Better than the original. And the buildup to Aguilera's histrionic finale is cheesy-chills spectacular. Oh, and I saw Miss November dance to the song. Which helps.
17. Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records, Various Artists Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' pedal-to-the-metal "Blue Moon of Kentucky" had the trunk of that shitty rental car banging along to the beat. Nice moment: Made me not hate Thrifty so much.
16. & 15. Greatest Hits, Billy Idol and Magic: The Very Best of Olivia Newton-John, Olivia Newton-John Billy for road trips; Olivia for the day after those weird dreams about grade-school crush Julie Rothera. (Yeah, like you're not hankering for a little "Xanadu" right now.)
14. "Get Ur Freak On," Missy Elliott Music for Michael Jordan to score by. Gets the MCI Center shimmying, and when's the last time that happened?
13. "Every Other Time," LFO Julie Rothera's brother Matt once haymakered me so hard that I dropped like a sack of melons and cried all the whole way home. The next day, Julie and I slow-danced to a fast Def Leppard song. We were 11. It was autumn in New England. Life was good.
12. All Things Must Pass, George Harrison "Sunrise doesn't last all morning/A cloudburst doesn't last all day."
11. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, Radiohead No surprise here: Thom Yorke & Co. sound just as good onstage. Previously unreleased weeper "True Love Waits" is a masterpiece.
10. Gorillaz, Gorillaz Tripped-up aural wallpaper from Blur's Damon Albarn and his ragtag crew of beat-mad hooligans. Plus, I really dig cartoons.
9. Missundaztood, Pink Girls still just wanna have fun. "Get the Party Started" is the single of the year, but damn if a good chunk of her second album isn't filled with equally infectious pop goodies. Prediction: She covers "She Bop" in 2002.
8. Today, Raul Malo More salsa-infused than his sterling work with the Mavericks, but the husky singer still indulges in the usual eclectic blend of genres. And the puckish duet "Takes Two to Tango" saves Shelby Lynne from having a completely lame musical year.
7. Amnesiac, Radiohead Still not sure what Yorke is trying to say, but he does a beautiful job of confusing the hell outta me. More accessible than Kid A.
6. The Invisible Band, Travis Fran Healy must have stocked up on Kleenex for the epic one-two punch finish of "Indefinitely" and "The Humpty Dumpty Love Song"the weepy likes of which haven't been seen since Captain Fantastic's "We All Fall in Love Sometimes"–and– "Curtains" close.
5. Gold, Ryan Adams I'm hearing Dylan, the Band, Elton Johnand a whole lotta nifty singalong hooks from the former lead singer of y'allternative band Whiskeytown. Opener and obvious single "New York, New York" is sweet, sentimental road music that avoids being sappy.
4. God Bless the Go-Go's, the Go-Go's "Hello, world/We're here again." Trust me: I couldn't believe it was this good, either. With help from Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, the beauties take the beat back to their punkette roots without losing the candy center. Their show at the 9:30 Club was tops for the yearand zaftig 40-something Belinda Carlisle looked even better than she did in Playboy.
3. Love and Theft, Bob Dylan The album came out on Sept. 11, and we still noticed. Among the knock-knock jokes, the cruise-ship crooning, and the roots-rock rambling, Dylan unloads the apocalyptic call of "High Water (For Charley Patton)"just in time, too.
2. Weezer, Weezer Ten songs, 28 minutes, and the most fuzzed-out fun to be had in pop this year. So cheer-inducing was the guitar hook of "Hash Pipe" that the Baltimore Orioles played the song between innings at Camden Yardsthat is, before they were told what a hash pipe is.
1. The Blueprint, Jay-Z Front to back, not a wasted minute to be found. The flow, the lyrics, the samples: inspired, perfect, unique. On the booty-call shopping list of "Girls, Girls, Girls," the Jigga-Man admits to having "an appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate." This is a man who knows all about cheering down. CP