Hello, again, you sweet, sweet angel faces. 2016 has been just the worst year ever, but here are some of the few things that made it tolerable.
Joanna Strange, Joanna Strange and The Muffin Bottoms
To call someone a “rock star” is lame, now that our culture applies the term to everyone from data entry programmers to pharmaceutical reps. But then what do we call Joanna Strange? The one-time poster child for teenage rebellion is now 54, yet she still manages to perform to sold out venues all over the world, even with a debilitating case of aquagenic urticaria. Many music critics relegated Strange to desperate has-been status after she left the Muffin Bottoms in 1995 to pursue avant-garde solo projects (including the questionable choice to shave off most of her legendary red armpit hair in a performance art piece called “Bez Rata”), but her true fans never sided with them. Strange rewarded those who waited in 2016 after she reunited with the Muffin Bottoms for a kick-out-the-jams-in-your-face double-album aptly titled Christ On A Fire Truck. Pro tip: get it on vinyl, then record it on Maxell UR-90 cassette tape, dim the lights to invoke moonlight fog, take off one shoe, pour yourself a big glass of gin, and press play. Do that, then get back to me and tell me Joanna Strange is “too old to be a rock star anymore because she can no longer bark like a sea otter during heavy tracks.” Yeah right.
729 Sighs, Francine Saint James
How much self care is too much self-care? Is your brain even necessary to live a full life? Do we actually die if we just stop breathing? These are some of the broader themes asked and answered by daredevil writer Francine Saint James. She’s better known for the insanely popular Y.A. vampire pony series, Darby Dinkles, but if the resonance of 729 Sighs proves anything, it’s that meditative fiction is her true calling. The book was a huge creative undertaking, as Saint James spent 729 straight days in bed to get into the headspace of solipsistic heroine, Margot Van Stolzenhagen, but the cost was steep. One one hand, the author’s sacrifice gave the world its most vibrant literary characters of the past 100 years; on the other hand, Saint James experienced severe muscle atrophy and had to have her left leg amputated. But maybe that was the point all along.
Some Like It Squat
If want to take care of yourself, though, don’t waste time at the gym doing boring hot yoga classes or sprint backwards on treadmills — give Some Like It Squat’s 100-day Butt Pumper challenge a try. Not just another fad gym, SLIS has revolutionized hiney-focused calisthenics by combining bootcamp-level intensity with location services technology. One of SLIS’s notorious and controversial glute-popping exercises is the “Bataan Duck March” where you duck walk 65 miles to a random locale picked by one of its “Squat Generals” who sends your phone a GPS-mapped destination plus daily motivational texts, like “Keep Going!” or “Love Yourself Because No One Else Will, You Flat-Assed Loser!” Seems harsh, but it works.
After the blockbuster success of her debut single, 2014’s “Ding-Dong You Pudding Pop” no one anticipated that Piggy Jango (nee´ Annie Jean McMonagle) was destined for superstardom. Yet here we are at the close of 2016, and Jango’s not just become hip-hop royalty, but an irreproachable iconoclast. Her follow-up effort, the pithy, out-of-this-world masterpiece BaJangos, showed her startling vocal range and prodigious musical IQ. She wrote all the lyrics, produced most of the tracks (although spooky DJ impresario Fatbush Winston left his fingerprints on some of the album’s bouncier songs), and even played a glass harmonica with her elbows on the trip-hop infused ballad “Mercury Made Me Do It.” Yassss, indeed.
This beetle proudly showing off its curves
During her Paris showing in August 2008, Suzette B. said that famed Japanese designer Koko Von pulled her aside and complimented the stitching on her Winter line. “That was the moment I felt like I belonged,” B. said to WWD of the fateful meeting. Cut to December and now you can’t walk down a city street in America without seeing a teenager vamping it up in B.’s signature apparel, which includes knee-high socks, strapless dresses, leather painters caps, blue mittens, and comically oversized shirtsleeves.
The three sections of Simone Lacroix s film—set in cold, drizzly Lisbon during holiday season—received its share of early-screening criticism because of the authentic broomstick fight scenes. A little too authentic for some—mostly Times’ writer A.O. Scott, who declared the scenes “barbaric” and suggested in the paper of record that Lacroix serve prison time over it. Longtime character actor John Van Vieswick said it was the toughest shoot he ever worked on, and this is a man who endured Hiru Hiru Ho-Si’s madness on the set of Zang-Zu’s Choices By The River One Year After His Father Was Killed By Bald Pirates. Simone Lacroix considered Hiru Hiru Ho-Si’s work deeply influential and welcomed the comparison, telling the AP at Le Tit’s red carpet premier, “I would proudly be a wart on Hiru Hiru Ho-Si’s toe.” Own it, girl.
Gabby Lynn Stonebird, Stone Bird Cafe
Once you enter Stone Bird Cafe, prepare yourself for an immersive dining experience like no other in the world, since the only way to consume food at this restaurant is by pecking the ground like a chicken. You read that right: Chef Gabby Lynn Stonebird has radicalized the way we eat out by insisting that all ye who enter Stone Bird Cafe consume the meal the way farm-raised chickens do. The expansive four-acre restaurant is a state of the art outdoor feed pen, equipped with a retractable roof when the weather won’t cooperate. The menu changes daily—one day it’s soybeans from Brazil or India, Australian lucerne, or flax seed from North Dakota. Other days it’s wilted lettuce spiced with turmeric. Why all the theatrics, you ask? Here’s what Chef Stonebird had to say to Garden and Gun early last year: “I want patrons to be as uncomfortable as possible because I think it’s the best way to appreciate a meal. If you want to grow fat, don’t eat here.” Wine pairings are available (I recommend the Torrontes for the more protein-rich grain feeds), but must be consumed through an eyedropper from the sommelier or else don’t even bother asking. If you want a reservation before 2018, good luck, but some Sunday Morning Mob Graze seatings are available on Craig’slist for up to $1,200 a head.
Natalie Ginchzykzouly, Mexican Jew, A Bell Tolls For Tú
Easily the most talked about performances of awards season, it feels like a cheat to include Ginchzykzouly on this list. Tasked with playing Lila Gunt, a 17th century seamstress who just so happened to live in Guadalajara during one of the more intense persecution periods for “Marranos,” we find out hundreds of lives could have been spared torturous deaths had someone like Gunt been there to throw her hands up and yell “BASTA YA! BASTA YA!” at a violent horde of inquisitors. We knew Ginchzykzouly, a former competitive gymnast cast in her first big-budget film, had the physical gifts to do all the demanding stunts, but who could have guessed she possessed such a bright light inside her soul, or as she says during the movie’’s climactic victory march, “Ya no te pueden lavar a cerdos!”
A great, great film.