"What's the point of even sleeping?"
Let it be noted that although 2014 was the year I achieved near-total omniscience over all media, I saw St. Vincent sing that line only three times in the past 12 months. I apologize for that. It was a regretful failing on my part. Possibly I was sleeping through the other times she sang it. I am 43 and that is very old! Near-total omniscience is no walk in the park! But then, I already knew that. I was just telling you — who, likely, knew that, too. Congratulations. Whoop-de-do. You mine data and stream content as if born to the Matrix; you not only know everything but you know how everyone will react to everything and can react to their reactions.
So do I.
So does everyone.
If we must hang a theme on the year in culture (and the folks over at the A.V. Club have already reacted to the inevitable reductive year-end reductions and helpfully posted "14 Reductive Ways to Define 2014"), it was The Year Everyone Finally Knew Everything About Everyone and Everything. The year of Edward Snowden, everyday drones, elevator surveillance and privacy hacks. The year, standing in Union Park during the Pitchfork Music Festival, I found myself listening to St. Vincent, listening to a guy beside me listening to St. Vincent, listening to him comment on St. Vincent ("So crazy!"), noting to myself how naive he was, noting to myself how snobbish I was, and checking my phone for email while noting he was also tweeting.
It was the year I found myself seated on a flight beside a woman who was simultaneously half-watching "Gravity" on her iPad, reading email, flipping through her Kindle and fiddling with music on her iPhone. Then, once the film was over, she turned and asked if I liked "Gravity" because she did not see the appeal at all.
And yet, funny thing is, I sympathize with that woman: Who has time to absorb complete works anymore? If I'm honest, when I think back on the stuff I liked in 2014, it's not a list of the 10 films/books/games/songs I admired, but a montage, a flutter of images, sounds, sensations and — what is the point of even sleeping?
In 2014, culturally, I liked (in no particular order) …
Comedian Tig Notaro's unhurried storytelling at the Athenaeum Theatre … Standing in the back of a partly empty Empty Bottle on a quiet Saturday night as Montreal's Ought killed it … Christopher Walken's pronunciation of "lagoon" on NBC's "Peter Pan Live!" … Watching the sausage get made (so to speak) at "Peep Show," Links Hall's fascinating fresh-choreography-while-you-wait dance series … The woman on my bus who sings a little song each morning ("Oh, Ventra, you keep me waiting, anticipating") when her card doesn't read … The clever montage of antique sea maps and classified documents that opened the latest "Godzilla" movie … All of the living-mannequin scenes in Theater Wit's "Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England" … The couples outing between clandestine Soviet sleeper cell participants that quickly goes south in the FX series "The Americans" … The unpretentious, Peppermint Patty scratchiness of WBEZ reporter Lauren Chooljian's voice … John Oliver's rousing, angry tirade against the FCC's handling of net neutrality, on "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" (resulting in more than 45,000 comments on the agency's website) … The charming light touch of Disney XD's improbably great "Star Wars Rebels" series … The sincerely uplifting impromptu party at Cloud Gate in June to mark the life of house-music legend Frankie Knuckles … President Obama's comedic timing on "Between Two Ferns."
Reading comedy writer Adam Resnick's merciless, beautiful memoir "Will Not Attend" out loud in the car … The enormous child beside me at Pitchfork who would not stop happily screaming "Kendrick had a dream!" throughout Kendrick Lamar's set … The rare example of tasteful opulence (courtesy of Chicago design firm 555) that is the look of new Gold Coast restaurant Nico Osteria … And the clever repurposing of thrift-store stereo speakers for the dining room of Parachute in Avondale … All of Chris Rock's incisive interviews during the past few months, and the out-of-the-blue prison serenade of "Smile" by DMX that steals the show in Rock's warm but uneven comedy "Top Five" … This line in Lorrie Moore's "Bark": "Although Kit and Rafe had met in a peace movement, marching, organizing, making no nuke signs, now they wanted to kill each other." … Courtney Barnett's Crazy Horse-like stomp in an overflowing Schuba's … "The Beygency" skit on "Saturday Night Live," about a secret police that carries you away for mere indifference toward Beyonce.
The ballet of office chairs in the Elevator Repair Service's MCA performance of "Arguendo" … Watching 74-year-old jazz great Roy Ayers bask in applause at Hyde Park's The Promontory … The grade-school-assembly-hall-like space at Promontory isn't so bad, either … Chicago actress Carrie Coons coming into her own on "The Leftovers." and former Chicago stand-up denizen (and perpetual next-big-thing) T.J. Miller finding his calling on "Silicon Valley" … The jaw-dropping mingling of light, clouds and landscape that occupies Mike Leigh's British-master biopic "Mr. Turner" … This passage in Evanston essayist Eula Biss' instant classic "On Immunity": "Diversity is essential to the health of any ecosystem. But the language we use around racial diversity, particularly the word tolerance, tends to imply that other people are essentially a nuisance" … The audience-participation segment of Jay Z's January show at the United Center, as sweet as it was contrived, when Jay pulled a young woman from the crowd to rap alongside him … Stumbling across the welcome randomness of the Chicago Loop Alliance's ACTIVATE project, which featured everything from animated art installations to high-kicking chorus lines appearing in Loop alleyways … Likewise, the wholly unexpected pothole patch jobs of Chicago tile artist Jim Bachor … And the even less-expected yet fun performance by Tyler Perry as a superstar defender in "Gone Girl."
Watching an audience member at a performance of Writers Theatre's "Hedda Gabler" dodge an arcing piece of spittle with the casual grace of James Bond … The brief, hilarious moment in Kevin Lee's "Transformers: The Premake" — a video essay of behind-the-scenes "Transformers" footage — where a fed-up, just-wanna-get-home Chicagoan carries his dry cleaning through the production barricades … The title, "Shaq Loves People," that Shaquille O'Neal gave his contribution to Expo Chicago … The scene in "Boyhood" when Ethan Hawke pulls his car over and forces his kids to have a conversation … The shameless (but historically compelling) nostalgia of listening to Casey Kasem's old "American Top 40" shows on satellite radio … The goose pimple-inducing, unamplified singalong that The National ended with each night of its four nights at the Chicago Theatre … Lena Dunham allowing me to squeeze the spongy scuba material of her dress before a reading during the Chicago Humanities Festival.
The way "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" opened and closed with tight close-ups of ape eyes, a subtle milestone in believably rendered make-believe … J.K. Simmons' excited eyes at the end of "Whiplash" … Douglas Kearney and Val Jeanty's moving Poetry Foundation tribute to conceptual artist Terry Adkins, who died in February, just as Kearney and Adkins were beginning to collaborate … The cheerful dime-store anarchy of Comedy Central's "Broad City," my vote for best TV series of the year … And my vote for best episode of a TV show, the "Louie" that co-starred a very class-conscious Jerry Seinfeld … The perfectly incongruous Opera on Tap series at the perfectly crunchy Rogers Park staple Heartland Cafe … The Edith Wharton-level passive aggression of every Lucas Museum debate on "Chicago Tonight."
This line from Matthew McConaughey in "True Detective": "This place is like someone's memory of a town, and that memory is fading" … This product description on every bag of "Black Blood," Chicago coffee maker Dark Matter's team-up with metal band Mastodon: "The year is 2420, techno-organic life forms rule the earth, the cyborg Mastodon seeks vengeance against the Clovis people for the genocide of his kind. The terrestrial leviathan fuels himself with Black Blood." … Lorde at Lollapalooza … Marvel's brilliant "Ms. Marvel" comic, starring a female Pakistani-American Muslim hero … Sculptor Josiah McElheny's abstract, stark exhibition and joint salute to artist H.C. Westermann and Ukrainian Village record story Dusty Groove at the Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery … The inspired absurdity of the Kickstarter potato-salad project that raised $55,492 ("Basically I'm just making potato salad. I haven't decide what kind yet") … The unpretentious B-movie grit of CW's "Arrow" and Fox's "Gotham," the best superwatching all year … Lockport's lovely and troubled art installation on the Illinois & Michigan Canal … And finally, the bright, terrific Maleficent graffiti from artist Stef Skills that went up on the side of Crawford Steel in Brighton Park (with permission). Which is just another reminder to stay awake.