1. Gary Wilson at Market Hotel and Shea Stadium
In April I went to a James Chance and the Contortions show at the Market Hotel and Gary Wilson was the middle act. I'd never heard of him (though have since realized I uttered his name as a teenage Beck fan singing along to "Where It's At") and had no idea what to expect. While the Contortions were excellent (Chance still has all the moves), Gary Wilson was the highlight. At the start of the set, about a dozen fresh-faced musicians took the stage, kind of resembling a high school music class. After a minute or so of instrumentals, Gary made his entrance, parting the seas through the audience. Wearing a giant ratty wig, rubber gloves, and shades, his face smeared with lipstick, he carried a trash bag filled with doll heads, jars of baby powder, and other objects that were utilized throughout the show.
Wilson grew up listening to '50s doo wop and Frank Sinatra, then discovered John Cage and Sun Ra—which really explains a lot when you hear his music, a mix of lounge, synth, funk, and atonal noise. As a 63-year-old man, he still sings about such topics as making out, groovy girls, small-town alienation, and a Daniel Johnston-esque character named Linda.
2016 brought one more Gary Wilson show, at Shea Stadium in September, and that might have been even better than the first. Here's hoping for even more Gary in 2017!
2. Books by and about Cookie Mueller
I first became aware of Cookie Mueller from watching early John Waters movies—you may recall her as the Marbles' spy who had to fuck a chicken in Pink Flamingos — but she was much more than that. Edgewise weaves together oral history with Cookie's own writing, spanning late 1960s Baltimore, 1970s Provincetown, the downtown scene in New York, and 1980s Berlin and Positano, Italy. She led a fascinating and complicated life that was cut short when she died of AIDS at the age of 40.
Cookie was a great writer—I read and loved Ask Dr. Mueller, a collection of her columns for the East Village Eye, and not long after finishing Edgewise, spotted a reissue of Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, a memoir comprised of short essays about how she almost joined the Manson family, escaped from would-be redneck rapists while hitchhiking with Mink Stole, and so on. It's a great read, but far too short. I wish her books were more readily available—most are out of print and hard to find. (As I write this I've just lost two eBay auctions for her earlier collections. Can someone just reissue them really quickly??)
3. The Rozz Tox Effect: Publications by Gary Panter, 1972-2016 at Printed Matter
Two Garys in one top ten! This was a great show at one of the best New York business establishments still standing, compiling Panter's books, zines, paintings, screenprints, T-shirts, and tons of Pee Wee Herman memorabilia. I scored an incredible dead stock Chairy sweatshirt that actually fits, though I don't have the heart to remove the circa 1986 tag so it goes on the wall instead. Other top wants from the show include Facetasm, a collaboration with Charles Burns, and a handmade stuffed Jimbo doll (labeled "Lifelike punk rocker").
4. The Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum
The fitting location of this exhibit, a stone's throw from the Ramones' birthplace, was a large part of the appeal—hometown pride, not to mention that the museum is inside Flushing Meadows Park, former site of the 1963 World's Fair and one of my favorite places in the city.
For me the focal point of this exhibit was a large drawing by Joey Ramone, featuring dozens of characters such as Snoopy, the Hells Angels, and Meatloaf (aka "Mr. Loaf"), interspersed with a mishmash of phrases scrawled across it—"Disco Sucks, Buy Punk Magazine," "I got this great idea for a t-shirt," "Wanna buy some blow!!", "This drawing sucks," "No you can't come in!", "Who ya calling Johnny Rotten!!", "Ludes!! Wanna buy some ludes!!"—which almost reads like a stream-of-consciousness peak inside Joey's head. Other memorable objects include a souvenir bat ("Ramones – a hit on Sire records"), family photos of Joey's mom (who looks pretty damn cool), handwritten lyrics and yearbook photos, high school report cards, a Ramones/Runaways gig T-shirt from 1978, and a poster for Joey Ramone's 4th of July Blitzkrieg Bash at Coney Island High from 1997, which I am still kicking myself for not attending (flashing back to sitting in my friend's bedroom that afternoon, hemming and hawing: "should we go??").
While admittedly cheesy, I couldn't resist buying a Forest Hills High T-shirt in the gift shop.
5. Sun Ra Arkestra at Union Pool and Nublu
I skipped out on Crazy Spirit at ABC No Rio—one of the last shows in the original building—for an avant garde jazz show. I was a bit reluctant because I wanted to say goodbye to my early '20s, but I think I made the right choice (ah, symbolism).
It was outdoors on a beautiful summer day, with tons of room for the various members of the Arkestra to dance, the sun shining and reflecting off their gold and sequined attire—the perfect setting for enjoying jazz from outer space. Hey, I even sat next to Ira Kaplan for a bit.
In contrast, I also saw the Arkestra in December in a cramped but cozy-feeling club, frigid temperatures awaiting outside. The band played on various levels of a tiered stage, some of them forced to stand on the stairs for lack of space. I managed to bum out one member who tried to get me to dance, which I was having none of. (Some things don't change, jazz or not.) They played far into the night, way past my bedtime, but if 93 year-old Marshall Allen can stay up late, so can I.
6. Jayfish at Lokifest
In August I made the pilgrimage to Columbus for Lokifest, which was a fun time, but I was most excited to see Ohio legends Tommy Jay and Nudge Squidfish, performing as Jayfish. With the surprise addition of Mike Rep, they played first, and the soundcheck alone was worth the 500 mile trek, let alone the price of admission. Transcendent moment.
7. Bruce Conner: It's All True at MoMA
The first complete retrospective of Conner's career, it was awesome to see all of his assemblages, paintings, and early SF punk photos, but the highlight was the films. I got to see "Report," which edits together archival news coverage of the JFK assassination with stock footage; "Looking for Mushrooms," a psychedelic series of images shot while they, you guessed it, looked for mushrooms (Timothy Leary makes a brief appearance); "Breakaway," featuring Toni Basil frenetically dancing to her song of the same title (her scant attire caused several families to flee, which gets a thumbs up in my book); and "A Movie," a found footage collage and one of Conner's more well-known films. Unless I missed it though, the exhibit did not include Conner's video for Devo's "Mongoloid," which is a cryin' shame.
8. Multiple Maniacs theatrical release
I love that this insane movie received a theatrical release 46 years after the fact, and will soon be reissued on DVD by Criterion (what a world we live in). It was great watching this in a theater—nothing like witnessing the madness of Lobstora in high-def, though it also makes me want to break out my VHS copy and pine for Kim's Video (RIP). This is probably the first John Waters movie that truly had a plot—one of the best of his early films.
9. The evolving David Bowie memorial
David Bowie's death was not exactly a high point of 2016, so maybe it's weird to include this in my top ten (…doing it anyway!). On my way home on the evening of Bowie's death, I passed by a large group of people gathered around singing, which is how I learned that I'd been temping mere blocks from the home of a legend, and had walked past it on a daily basis for months. In the days following, there amassed a large pile of flowers, candles, fan art, posters, records, letters, and feather boas. Every day it was different. I'd stop by to check it out and in the freezing cold, another bouquet would be thrown into the mix. It was fascinating to watch the evolution of the memorial, like a living entity. Then I got another job and stopped my daily visit, but in April I happened to pass by and found that it still lived on, only smaller. I like to think it will never completely disappear.
10. The Best Show with Tom Scharpling
I suppose I have no specific reason for including this here, other than that it is indeed the best. I highly recommend the brand-new 24/7 archives for many hours of hilarity and entertainment.