Gonna fly now! A knockout, ”Rocky”-inspired book
1. Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps
(Paul Dry Books)
Every day for a year in 2004, two Philadelphia Inquirer staffers — reporter Michael Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish — went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and waited for people to run up the steps and throw their hands in the air in triumph, re-creating the famous climactic scene in the original 1976 Rocky. Somewhat amazingly, someone — often many — did, every day. The result is a delight, a thrill, a gas: a kind of art experiment completed by ordinary people. The range is impressive: from cancer survivors to two former Vegas showgirls who are now English teachers in that town; from an Iranian immigrant who traveled from his home in California to Philly just to emulate his can-do inspiration Rocky, to the guy who surprises his girlfriend by proposing marriage at the top of the steps, shortly after she’d said warily, ”Oh, we’re not going to run [up], are we?” Turned out, she’s glad they did.
2. The best rock album of 2005: Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin Team
‘Tis the season to catch up on things — in my case, a 2005 release I’d never even heard of until recently (and if I had, it would have made my Top 10 music list). Anderson would be in my hall of fame if all he ever did was write Dan Baird’s terrific, semi-hit single ”I Love You, Period,” but this raucous rock album — the ”team” includes no-relation, former NRBQ-er Al Anderson — starts out with unrequited love (”Can’t Git the One You Want”) and ends in ”Rehab,” managing to make it all sound like the most chipper, inviting trip you’d ever want to take.
3. Best clear-the-room post-holiday DVD: The Descent
Is Granny monopolizing the sofa watching the Weather Channel? Is your stuffy brother-in-law insisting on catching up with the umpteenth Teddy Roosevelt documentary on the History Channel? Slip the year’s best horror movie into the DVD player and watch ’em scramble. For me, what distinguishes The Descent from other recent gore celebrations is that its characters — a group of women exploring underground passages — are adults with distinguishable characteristics, rather than vapid teens waiting to be picked off because of stupid behavior; and the movie’s monsters, by the conventions of the genre, are interesting, almost realistic adversaries, not superhumanly strong and therefore capable of being killed. Director-writer Neil Marshall shoots the film so that you can follow everyone’s movements in the dank dark, and the ending — well, there are multiple ones on the DVD; you’ll enjoy arguing over which one works best. If there’s anyone left in the room to argue with.
4. Anne Waldman, Outrider
(La Alameda Press)
The latter-day work of Waldman — the muse/siren/feminist leader of the New York School of poetry and co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics — contains the force of authority, as in this new collection of poems, essays, and manifestoes. But there’s an ebullience even in her dead-serious moments, a glancing wit that enables even her most experimental, marginalizing creations to draw you in. The title is pointed — she sees herself and her colleagues as explorers of uncharted literary territory, and has been working these outer edges for decades with strikingly consistent energy and inventiveness.
5. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, ”Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That”
I’d almost forgotten this song from the Randolph band’s Colorblind album from earlier this year, but then I caught them doing the tune on Letterman about a week ago, where they brought down the house with this ferocious, joyous slice of, as the lyrics have it, ”rock and roll and old soul.” If Sly Stone had followed up 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On with an about-face, ”up” single, it might have sounded like this.