If you like best-of lists, it’s the most wonderful time of the year

Ah, such bliss. The best of 2015 lists are cascading down on us, causing oodles of joy for those of us who eat this stuff up every year.

I used to be a published list-maker myself, expounding at length in the Daily Wildcat and then the Arizona Daily Star about my favorite movies, my favorite concerts or the most memorable moments on Tucson stages.

"Between the World and Me," by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is getting lots of year-end love.
“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is getting lots of year-end love.

Although I would always introduce my lists with the usual caveats about how “favorite” is not the same as “best” and how you probably shouldn’t pay much attention to lists, I secretly regarded my own as sacrosanct. This self-indulgent exercise occupied more of my time (and wasted more newsprint) than I would ever admit.

These days, I’m a bigger consumer of year-end lists than a maker. My heart skips a beat when I see a new one from critics I like — Emily Nussbaum (best television critic alive), Michiko Kakutani (still an unbeatable book critic), Frank Rich (his thoughts on anything are worth reading) — and news outlets I like (Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, the Daily Beast). Some lists, especially those in Rolling Stone, remain musts for me even if they tend to make me apoplectic.

Right about now, you are no doubt wondering about the 10 Best Albums of 1982, according to me. Well, here you go.

Or, better yet, here’s the Washington Post’s 10 Best Books of 2015.



Israel really hates those rockets


Yes, Israel has the right to defend herself. Quit saying that!

It’s only the trapped residents of Gaza, now suffering from Israel’s latest smackdown, who don’t have the right to defend themselves. Sure, Israel kills 32 civilians before breakfast. But that’s what they get for shooting rockets into Israel, right?

Perhaps you’ve read that Hamas has fired more than 2,000 into Israel this time around, killing precisely one person.

The United States helped pay for Israel’s Iron Dome system that shoots down most rockets headed for a place where humans might be.

And If it takes 2,000 rockets to kill one guy, I’d say Israel defends herself quite well.

Still, nobody wants to be that guy. Nobody likes to hear the wail of warning sirens. Nobody likes incoming rockets. But Israel is acting like she has the right to never be frightened or pissed off or annoyed.

Did those boys playing soccer on the beach have to die so Israel can finish just one fucking cup of coffee without a horrible siren going off? Great, now I have to grab my things all of a sudden, put a lid on the latte and scurry off to the shelter. Three blocks in these heels? I’m dying here.

Except she’s not. Israel is inconvenienced.

And Netanyahu ain’t having it. He’s killed more than 500 Palestinians this time around and says he’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, a rocket just landed in a field, severely denting an old truck.


Linda, Gilbert and poor, poor pitiful me

Today’s long, evocative NYT article made me think of an afternoon spent with Gilbert Ronstadt in the Tucson home (near East Prince Road and North Tucson Boulevard) where Linda grew up.

I was a greener-than-Kermit reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, there to talk about Linda Ronstadt’s forthcoming album, “Canciones de Mi Padre.”

Linda_Ronstadt_14I scribbled as fast as I could, cussing myself for not bringing a tape recorder,  while the padre told story after story. He got teary when I asked how the album made him feel.

The 1987 effort, sung entirely in Spanish, became the biggest-selling non-English-language album in U.S. history. It also earned Ronstadt another Grammy Award (her fifth of 11).

“Canciones” was deeply personal for the top-selling female artist of the 1970s.

“It reunited me with my deepest past,” she told the Tucson Citizen’s Daniel Buckley in 2009. “It reunited me with my childhood music. That was really important. It made me feel less homesick in general. That’s a profound thing. I left home when I was pretty young, so I always feel homesick, my whole life. Even when I’m home.”

A few weeks after my afternoon with Gilbert Ronstadt, I found myself sitting next to his famous daughter in Peter Asher’s West Hollywood office.

I was starstruck, nervous and not very skilled. Fred Araiza, the photographer who accompanied me, saved my butt several times by jumping in and asking perfect questions (he knew more than me about her and the music).

My story, which came up short in every way, came out the following Sunday. Bob Cauthorn, my smarty pants colleague, complimented me anyway and then told me a dozen things I should have done. He was right, of course. Cauthorn was always right.

I didn’t win any prizes for the Gilbert Ronstadt feature either.

It certainly wasnlinda-ronstadt-living-in-the-usa-album-cover-1978‘t Mr. Ronstadt’s fault. He was endlessly charming and candid and funny. But it was hard to get into a conversational flow because the Star’s photographer (not Fred) kept interrupting with wildly impertinent observations.

I will never forget the look on the gentle patriarch’s face when our shooter said his favorite album was “Living in the USA” because Linda looked so damn hot in those short shorts and roller skates.

Ah, memories.


‘The Luminaries’ grabs Man Booker Prize

Eleanor Catton, who was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, has won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her novel “The Luminaries.”

The 28-year-old is the youngest author to win the Booker Prize. And her book, at 832 pages, is the longest winner.

The prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, goes to a novelist from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country.

theluminariesBut starting next year, the Booker competition will be open to all novels written in English and published in Britain. The nationality of the author will no longer matter.

The Booker was first awarded in 1969. Winners from the last dozen years include Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi,” Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” John Banville’s “The Sea” and Allan Hollinhurst’s “The Line of Beauty.”

Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” won the Booker last year.

Read the New York Times story about this year’s winner here.


Does this count Kathy? Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingading-ding!

Ran into a former co-worker at Live Theatre Workshop on Friday. She said I needed to post more on the blog and I had no idea what she was talking about. The sweet thing persisted with the compliment and I realized she must be one of this site’s estimated audience of 27.

So I call up mscotskinner.com and, sure as shit, I haven’t “published” in two months and that’s bad, mmkay?

But being underemployed for two years is worse. It’s a constant battle to get anything done when you’ve got too much time to do it. How true it is that if you need something done, ask the busiest person you know.

Busy for me was a dentist appointment and a bike ride to Sonic on the same day. But that changed almost two months ago when I started two new things at once: Teaching Journalism 101 at Pima Community College and writing reviews for the Tucson Weekly.

With any luck, I will get more done this way. It’s not like there’s nothing to write about. If I would have had less time on my hands, I would have written about Linda Ronstadt’s Parkinson’s diagnosis or “The Bridge” or the new crop of crazy people killing it in popular culture and elsewhere.

“The Breaking Bad” finale would have prompted me to tell you about watching the “Seinfeld” finale at sea 15 years ago. The show about nothing ended on a cruise to nowhere (Well, Ensenada — same thing) that took a dark turn when a new pal was raped by a fellow dinner mate. The fat fuck who assaulted Cynthia (and got away with it) looked like Newman, and I have pictures to prove it.

But, like I said, who has time to write when you have nothing but time? Happily, I have less of it these days. Classes to teach, plays to see (oooh, déjà vu), stories to write — and that’s not all, folks.

The NFL is not going to watch itself, and if an underemployed father of none can’t keep up with his New Yorker subscription, well, that’s just sad.

The play that brought me to LTW was “Souvenir,” subtitled “A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.”  It’s about a delusional socialite who found fame as a soprano in the 1930s and ’40s despite or because of the fact that she was a horrendous singer. One critic said she sounded like “a turkey getting gang-raped.”

We know how that would sound because we know how a turkey sounds. But what about the fox? What does the fox say?

I bring this up because the video of “The Fox,” a song intended to be a bomb, has more than 115 million views on YouTube. Is this because it’s a good song or, like the divine Mrs. Jenkins, are people flocking to the fox fantasia because it’s soooo wonderfully bad?

I bet that millions of us just want to live in a world where the fox says wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow! or, you know, jacha-chacha-chacha-chow!

Members of Ylvis, the Norwegian comedy troupe responsible for “The Fox,” are flabbergasted that something meant to entertain an estimated 27 Scandinavians for a few minutes has become so massively popular.

And massive, my friends, is a massive understatement. The video had 115 million views last night. It’s up to 122 million tonight.



Me and Woody go way back

Woody Allen has earned 23 Oscar nominations, including a record 15 for best original screenplay. He’s won four.

For a guy who makes two movies before breakfast, Woody Allen is still one of the filmmakers who matter.

At least to me.

So what if he never makes another “Crimes and Misdemeanors” or “The Purple Rose of Cairo” or “Manhattan” or “Husbands and Wives” or “Zelig” or “Stardust Memories” or “Hannah and her Sisters” or “Alice” or “Deconstructing Harry” or “Annie Hall” (my top 10 in no particular order)?

It’s not that I disagree with those who say Woody Allen peaked long ago, that his movies have become less interesting, that he hasn’t made a really good one since “Match Point” in 2005. And yes, I’m aware that he’s the guilty party behind “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Whatever Works” and “Shadows and Fog.”

Woody Allen is not the best American director still working (he’s not even the best New York filmmaker). But while I couldn’t name 20 Martin Scorsese films, I can pick 10 more winners from Woody Allen without breaking a sweat: “Love and Death,”  “Bananas,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Match Point,” “Interiors,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Sleeper,” “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy”   and “Take the Money and Run.”

Granted, “Goodfellas” tops anything ever made by Woody Allen. But enough about Scorsese.

“Blue Jasmine,” which I’ve yet to see, is Allen’s 48th movie as a director, and he’s now shooting No. 49 in France. The cast includes Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Jackie Weaver and Marcia Gay Harden.

Do I have high hopes for it? Not really. I probably won’t even see it on a big screen. And I suppose that by the time I got around to seeing “Midnight in Paris” I was predisposed to dislike it because it’s the director’s biggest box-office hit by a considerable margin.

In the new Esquire, the 77-year-old shares some thoughts about writing, the Acropolis and why he never watches even a minute of films he’s finished.


‘Skins’ is the new black

I know, I know. Everybody is watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. But a friend stopped by on Saturday and we started streaming “Skins,” the British series about a tight group of teenagers whose lives are crazy complicated and full of drama. After a few episodes, I was sorta in love with Tony, Sid, Cassie, Jal, Chris, Anwar, Maxxie and even Michele.

We watched all of season one, which ended with the cast singing “Wide World,” and then we watched all of season two.

“Skins” gets a thumbs up from Alex.

Alex told me that there were six seasons of this thing, but after the incredibly intense episode 19, I couldn’t imagine how this drama could continue.

By then it was Monday night and our binge continued to episode 20 and then I knew. Almost everyone from the first two seasons was gone. WTF? So I looked up the wiki and learned that the cast changes every two years. We didn’t like the new cast, so we were done with “Skins” and not a moment too soon.

But seriously, have you seen this show? Start from the beginning and see if you don’t get hooked. And if you watch the clip featuring the Cat Stevens song, don’t get it twisted and think this is some kind of “Glee” with a smart accent. This show feels real in ways you just don’t see on American television. In fact, the U.S. version of the show ended after one season, in part because of its frank depiction of teenage sexuality.

As you might know, it’s been a long time since I was a teenager. But this show made me remember the intensity of emotion in those years, plus the confusion, the insecurity, the exhilaration of new experiences. A time when your friends were everything.

But with the original cast gone, “Skins” is dead to me now. Maybe it’s time for “Orange.”


Silving linings two years after Bloody Thursday

On July 21, it will be two years since the Arizona Daily Star put me out to pasture along with more than a dozen others in the newsroom. I won’t bore you with the gruesome details about how tough it’s been for me. Let’s just say that I have new respect for successful independent writers and editors.

Freelancing is the hardest job I’ve had since the summer of 1979, when I worked for three months at the Morenci mine (commuting from Safford daily in a VW bug). My schedule in the mill and later the smelter was 26 and two — 26 days straight then two days off.

Besides the paychecks, which were huge for a recent high school graduate, there were silver linings in the copper-mining playbook: Shoveling concentrate all day was like doing curls for the girls (haven’t had biceps like that since). Plus, the job gave me an appreciation for manual labor that made me study extra hard at Eastern Arizona College that fall and at the University of Arizona a year later.

But freelancing in my comfy home office, Malcolm at my feet and Pandora streaming ’80s new wave and ’90s hip-hop, is much harder work than packing a sack lunch, strapping on a respirator, lacing up the steel-toe boots and working in punishing heat while trying not to tire out and let your shovel slip under the conveyor belt and yank you to your doom.

The uncertainty that comes with freelancing is more exhausting than shoveling, at least for me. The up-and-down compensation and solitary nature of contract writing, made more excruciating by my profound ADD and almost pathological reluctance to ask for help finding work, makes me worry that I’ll soon be living in a van down by the river.

But, like anything, there are good things about being underemployed.

1) I get to watch Rachel Maddow every night, not to mention the NFL, college and pro basketball, Sunday night television and Netflix and Grand Slam tennis. 2) I have time to read novels, nonfiction and even the New Yorker, which is no longer stacked high in sad piles in my bedroom.

Best novel of the year so far. That’s what Kathryn Schulz says.

If you’re likewise a member of the leisure class, willingly or not, here’s something: Critic Kathryn Schulz, writing for Vulture, calls J.M. Ledgard‘s “Submergence” the best novel of the year so far.

I’ll get back to you about the novel, which I have a sick feeling I’ll be reading in the coming months. Meantime, know this: The review is a gorgeous piece of work in itself, easily one of the best I’ve read in the last two years.

And, trust me, I’ve read a lot.


Congrats to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

When first-time visitors to Tucson ask for a few must-sees, natives know we can’t go wrong with 1) San Xavier del Bac, the oldest European structure in Arizona  2) A walk in Sabino Canyon and 3) An early morning visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Our beloved desert museum got some national attention this week when TripAdvisor named it one of the Top 10 museums in the nation. It was listed at No. 5, just below the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Three museums in Washington made the list, including the Holocaust Museum. The world’s biggest travel site put the Art Institute of Chicago in the top spot.

You’ll notice that our museum is the only one not dominated by inert objects or historical events. The exhibits throb with living things, from rattlesnakes to raptors to Russian thistle.

So why isn’t it called a zoo? Well, Merriam-Webster defines museum as “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value,” which sounds about right for ASDM.

And while I have only visited five of the site’s Top 10 museums, I’m willing to bet that the desert museum has the most spectacular approach, besting even a walk on Fifth Avenue from the Plaza Hotel to the Met. The winding drive westward through the Saguaro National Park and Gates Pass is jaw-dropping in its own right.