Two Thousand Eleven wasn't a great year (mostly because of Republicans), but there were some bright spots for me. Among them:
Favorite album: Adele's 21. Quick, when was the last time there was such a momentous convergence of talent and mass appeal? Or put it this way: When was the last time the best-selling album of the year was also the best album of the year?
In the 2000s, the best-selling albums, by year, included stuff by Linkin Park, *NSYNC, 50 Cent and Josh Groban. In the 1990s, top sellers included albums by Backstreet Boys, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Spice Girls and (gasp!) Billy Ray Cyrus.
Back in the 1980s, Michael Jackson's Thriller (which was the best-selling album of 1983 and 1984) certainly met the criteria. However, the most-recent example would be 1988's Faith by George Michael. It was hilarious. Music snobs had hated Michael for his teen-pop stuff in Wham! (although "Careless Whisper" was certainly an elegant ballad). But when Faith was released, there was nothing but stunned silence. The album was all over the place, from the rockabilly title tune to the gospel-tinged "Father Figure," and from the Prince-like raunch-funk of "I Want Your Sex" to the smoky jazz of "Kissing a Fool." And besides "Faith" and "Father Figure," the singles "One More Try" and "Monkey" also hit No. 1.
Then Michael discovered public-park bathrooms, and the rest is history.
Now comes another white soul singer from England, following in the tradition of Dusty Springfield and carried on by the likes of Lisa Stansfield, Annie Lennox, Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Adele Adkins sings way beyond her years (she's only 23), with pain and anger, yet there's always this "Screw you!" undertone that tells us she's going to get through it.
With the charts dominated these days by the illegitimate grandchildren of Madonna—Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga—(and yes, Madonna, you are that old), Adele is an absolute revelation. Obviously, "Rolling in the Deep" is a megahit, but the entire album is magnificent. If you want a real treat, try to find a duet she did with Australian soul singer Daniel Merriweather on a song called "Water and a Flame."
When Adele's first album, 19, came out, somebody asked me to describe her. I said that she sings like Aretha and looks like she works at a truck stop.
Favorite song: "A Long Time" by Mayer Hawthorne. Singing with a sweet falsetto in front of a driving beat that's reminiscent of Motown's Funk Brothers, Hawthorne pays homage to his native Detroit, with nods to Henry Ford and Berry Gordy. The lyrics are decidedly bittersweet:
Oh Berry had a record store
Started up a studio,
Oh West Grand Boulevard
Turned it into solid gold ...
Oh Berry was the end of the story
Then everything went wrong.
And we'll return it to its former glory
But it just takes so long ...
Favorite book(s): My clear favorite was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It's the story of Louis Zamperini, a world-class distance runner who spent most of World War II in Japanese prison camps. It's one of the most-uplifting tales of the human spirit I've ever read. I also liked Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard. It's about how James Garfield got shot by a would-be assassin, and then a team of really stupid doctors finished the job.
I'm currently reading Hedy's Folly by Richard Rhodes. Hedy Lamarr, a screen siren of the 1930s and '40s, whom one studio exec called "the most beautiful woman in the world," went on to invent technology that is currently used in cell phones, Bluetooth networks and GPS systems. Weird, but true.
Favorite television: I have tried and tried to get into Mad Men, but I just can't like a show when I want to punch every single male character in the face. Fortunately, AMC has two other shows that are among the best on all of TV. I've never been a gore guy, but I LOVE The Walking Dead. But even that doesn't come close to matching the thrills and chills provided by the best show on TV, Breaking Bad. Giancarlo Esposito's turn as drug-kingpin Gus Fring is the stuff of legend.
Favorite movie: As noted in this space before, the combination of jackasses with cell phones, ridiculous prices and 20 minutes of commercials force-fed to people who have already forked over the aforementioned ridiculous amount of money has pretty much removed me from the moviegoing public. I saw a total of three movies in 2011. One was a not-awful Adam Sandler thing that my basketball team saw when we were at the state tournament in Prescott. I also saw Moneyball, in which Brad Pitt was great. But my favorite was Woody Allen's love song to the City of Light, Midnight in Paris. It was so good that my wife, who despises Woody Allen, liked it. High praise, indeed.
Here's hoping 2012 will be better than this year. And let's all hope that it doesn't end on Dec. 21.