What I Got For Christmas

Like I learned from Santa Claus: The Movie, Santa Claus is some Dutch guy who gets all magical for some reason I don’t remember. Dudley Moore was there, and there was a homeless kid maybe? OK, it’s been a while since I saw Santa Claus: The Movie. And it’s something that Santa has forgiven me for, because he brought me some amazing shit this year – shit I specifically told my wife I wanted. Isn’t that amazing?

886979214927Sam Cooke – The Man Who Invented Soul

Speaking of getting all magical, Sam Cooke made music that sounded like it came straight from heaven. With a voice effortless in its beauty, lyrics that treat true love like it’s oxygen, and arrangements that blend gospel, pop, vocal jazz and calypso with startling efficiency, Cooke’s catalog is a sonic argument for the innate goodness of human beings. After years of compiling random collections of his work, my CD collection has finally been blessed with the big kahuna – this accurately titled, four-disc retrospective, a desert island item for sure

a7b2521a515dc36ea56d181cada01ce0a27bbbb4James Brown – Star Time

The Man Who Invented Soul would’ve been enough to sustain me through 2013. (What’s that, food? You think I need your vitamins? Fuck you!) So upon receiving this, yet another four-disc box set of one of the 20th century’s otherworldly talents, I understood what it feels like to be a spoiled bitch. And to paraphrase the Godfather of Soul himself – the man whose grooves were so combustible they’d inspire Mitt Romney to put down his milk and get on up – it feels good.

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic GospelsElaine Pagels – The Gnostic Gospels

Once you say that a book contains the word of God, you’re setting yourself up for some problems down the road. Like, say, if ancient texts were discovered that were written around the same time as your God book, using similar source material. And those texts directly contradicted aspects of your God book, which you’ve been using to guilt-trip people for centuries – such as your claim that Jesus had no interest in gettin’ it on. Pagels’ book is the most renowned study of these “heretic” gospels, and the bitter Catholic school kid in me can’t wait to absorb it.


3788568165_b926c4acfeRichard Russo – That Old Cape Magic

You don’t dive into a Richard Russo novel; you slip into one, like an old sweater that provides comfort beyond its fabric. Sure, his protagonists are slightly different versions of the same soft-spoken middle-aged guy who needs to come to terms with his past. But his lazy suburban worlds are so realistically rendered, and his prose is so casually profound, I’m quite sure I don’t care. That Old Cape Magic might not have the narrative heft of Empire Falls or Bridge of Sighs, but merely an echo of those wonders will suit me just fine.


mystery_train_5th_edGreil Marcus – Mystery Train

I claim to be a critic of music. Whose favorite songwriter of all time is Randy Newman. And I have never read this, the Citizen Kane (or, I guess Vertigo now?) of rock criticism, which follows the stories of several artists (including my beloved Randy) to make grand comparisons between rock n’ roll and Herman Melville. Shameful.

What I Got For Christmas

Once again this Christmas, Santa had an uncanny ability to know precisely what I wanted. I mean, I told my wife, but how could she have gotten a hold of him on such short notice? While I’m trying to unravel the mystery, I have some amazing things to read, listen to, and consume.

Raymond Carver – Collected Stories

Every story from this master of direct, muscular language, in one beautiful volume (complete with fabric book marker thingy!). Carver’s stories are snapshots of people forging through the thickets of American life, and they’re littered with beautiful loose ends.



Randy Newman – Live In London

The greatest songwriter of all time in my book, performing a career-spanning set with a London orchestra, all of it pristinely recorded – from spot-on renditions of “Marie” and “It’s Money That I Love” to jealous rants about Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. Never have his talents as a composer, lyricist and bitter rich guy been so lovingly presented.

T.H. White – The Once And Future King

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read this, the mother of all re-imaginings of the Arthurian legend. While it hard to imagine any book being better than Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy – fantasy or otherwise – this is sure to please the weirdo Anglophile side of me. Which is most of me.



Saga Of The Swamp Thing: Book Four

If you remember my Christmas gift post from last year (which of course you do), you know that I received Book Three of Alan Moore’s lyrical, crushingly romantic, existentialist horror comic Swamp Thing. I’m going to try to not plow through this volume in one sitting like I did last year, savoring it like the gourmet meal it is. But once I’m under Moore’s spell again, I’m most likely going to stuff my face.


Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

Kate Bush has toned things down as she’s aged. Gone are the operatic screams and guttural growls that marked The Dreaming and Hounds of Love. 50 Words For Snow is a more meditative listen, with sprawling running times, gentle piano chords and haunting backup singers. But Bush is as fantastically weird as ever – the snowman erotica song “Misty” and the Yeti sympathizer tale “Wild Man” make for a one-two punch you won’t find anywhere else. On this planet, at least.

A Ton of Beer

Santa also gave me a gorgeous collection of various microbrews, which I’m trying to preserve along with Swamp Thing. A Belgian beer called “Delirium Noel” has been the best one so far. (After checking out Delirium’s website, I’m an even bigger fan.) Not to mention the sweet-ass Duvel snifter that came with everything, which I now believe could turn Keystone Light into something lovely. Thank you so much, Jennifer. Um, I mean, Santa.