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icon Novel December 31, 1999
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Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly
1977

Dick's novel of drug abuse and paranoia feeds on itself like a serpent swallowing its own tail: an undercover cop maintains surveillance on himself; a rehab program funds its operations by distributing narcotics. In an author's note Dick writes "Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car."

icon Music December 29, 1999
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Various Artists
20 Centuries Of Hits
1999

A millennium gimmick, but in a good way: The fine folks at Rhino dug through the archives and turned up a song for each of the past 20 centuries, plus one from the BCE vaults and a couple extras from the last 200 years. Better than a semester's worth of music-appreciation classes. Only Rhino would offer a collection in which "Te Deum" stands cheek-by-jowl with "Louie Louie."

icon Music December 27, 1999
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Chet Baker
The Best of Chet Baker Sings
1953-56

It's a toss-up between this disc and the similarly titled Chet Baker Sings!. Both handily capture Chet's inimitable vocal style. Both contain the Baker essentials "But Not For Me," "My Funny Valentine," and "Like Someone in Love." In the final equation, the determining factor may be that the compilation offers a half-dozen more tracks, allowing you to go for quality and quantity.

icon Biography December 24, 1999
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Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman
1998

Subtitled "A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary," Winchester's book follows the story of two very different men, yet each with a passion for order and an obsessive love of words. Scotsman James Murray, a self-taught professor, was the OED's editor for more than forty years. W.C. Minor was an American Civil War veteran serving a life sentence for murder at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, as well as one of the OED's most brilliant off-site contributors. A fascinating read for one and all, even if you've never been part of a collaborative effort to catalog a vast, evolving web of knowledge.

icon Film December 22, 1999
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Stephen Frears
The Grifters
1990

Martin Scorsese produces, Anjelica Huston seethes, Annette Bening smolders, and John Cusack latches onto a role so electric it shorted out his movie-choosing abilities for at least three years. As suprising and stylish as any classic noir film, The Grifters has a darkness at its center with something unspeakable lurking within it.

icon Game December 20, 1999
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Nicholson NY
Snowcraft
Shockwave

It's not as bloody as Warcraft or Starcraft, but this pint-sized snowball shootout would make Sergio Leone proud. Your desperate band of red kids faces off against wave after wave of cold-blooded green kids. They'll knock you out of your little boots and knit cap, and then they'll laugh about it.

icon Film December 17, 1999
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Jean Shepherd
A Christmas Story
1983

Face it: You can only sit through so many versions of A Christmas Carol. You never really cared for Miracle on 34th Street in the first place. And it's tough to shake the horrible memories of a colorized It's a Wonderful Life. Thankfully, we still have Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, the latest de rigeur holiday film. It's a wonderful modern fable: Sometimes you get what you really want, and sometimes, weird as they may be, your family isn't all that bad.

icon Music December 15, 1999
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R.L. Burnside
Too Bad Jim
1994

By the early '90s, mainstream blues had essentially become a pile of overproduced, Jeri-Curled, Dan-Aykroyd-endorsed crap. The owners of Fat Possum Records mean to change all that, and they may just succeed (if they can stay in business). Too Bad Jim is an excellent example of North Mississippi Blues, described by the late music critic Robert Palmer as "a churning, jamming one-chord exercise in stamina and mass hypnosis." Buy it now, before Fat Possum sues their distributor again.

icon Audio Book December 13, 1999
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George Orwell
Down and Out in Paris and London
1933

Here is a grim, first-person account of poverty, hunger, and ennui, read perfectly by narrator Patrick Tull. In sometimes humorous, sometimes sickening detail, Orwell describes his life as a dishwasher in the bowels of a grimy/elegant Paris hotel, and as a half-starved tramp making the rounds of homeless shelters in greater London. Using powerful, yet seemingly effortless prose, Orwell argues that the poor are no different than anyone else.

icon Music December 10, 1999
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Tanner
Ill-Gotten Gains
1995

In 1995, Tanner was San Diego's favorite son, following in the giant footsteps of shrilluminati kingpins Drive Like Jehu. With vocals craning into the upper register and guitar tones designed more for tearing sheet metal than massaging eardrums, it's no wonder they were universally loved. Best experienced while clad in goggles, gas mask, rubber gloves, and boots.

icon Children's Book December 8, 1999
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Maira Kalman
Max Makes a Million
1990

"This book is about dreamers. Wishful thinkers. Dreamy blinkers. Crazy nuts." So says Max. Max is a poet and a dog -- and a dreamer. He dreams of living in Paris. "Dreams are very important," says Max. He also talks about having roots and wanting wings. He seems unusually wise, even for a dog. Despite the fact that Maira Kalman claims to be allergic to dogs, she and Max have created a delightful book for dreamers of all ages.

icon TV Show December 6, 1999
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Jennifer Saunders
Absolutely Fabulous
1992-96

Edina's a twice-divorced PR maven who got dragged sideways through every fad of the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Patsy's a sometime fashion director who never met a drink, drug, or date she didn't like. The there-are-no-heroes-here humor leaves no excess unmocked, yet the relationship at the core of the series -- between Edina and her long-suffering, tightly wound daughter Saffron -- is surprisingly complex.

icon Music December 3, 1999
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Drive Like Jehu
Yank Crime
1994

DLJ offers orchestral guitar-mashing reminiscent of Glenn Branca, just without the atonality. Yank Crime showcases Jehu at their best, before they drifted off into Rocket from the Crypt and other less satisfying bands.

Do You Compute

Do you compute?
I think you do
Don't need it proven
Don't wanna listen
Don't need a tour of the pieces I'm missing
As if you were put here to straighten us out
And everything you said was being written down
You weren't and it isn't and nobody's listening,
And nobody gives a fuck
     what you go do with your life.

[Editor's note: Bill Boggs adds, "Dude, Steve's high. This is the Jehu album you really want." Of course, we only let him chime in on the matter because he has spent some quality time in San Diego, in a punk band, engaging in orchestral guitar-mashing.]

icon Film December 1, 1999
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Ernest Borgnine
Marty
1955

Ernest Borgnine portrays Marty, a lonely butcher constantly harangued about his bachelorhood by family and friends. When he finally finds love, everyone disapproves. Instead of taking the advice of discontented husbands and burlesque-show-frequenting friends, Marty follows his heart. It may sound trite, but director Delbert Mann, writer Paddy Chayefsky, and actor Borgnine work skillfully together to produce a truly charming film.



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