The Frequent Fliers Who Flew Too Much
In a year when Uber and the idea of having your own private driver entered popular culture, when Uber’s cofounder launched BlackJet, an Uber for private air travel, this is a fascinating look at their cultural predecessor—a time when American Airlines sold lifetime tickets and the unintended consequences of that act. A fascinating study in consumer behavior, the state of air travel, and the adversarial relationship between airlines and their best customers.
Free to Be
I was raised on the quintessential 1970s kids album Free to Be…You and Me, and my parents were far from feminists, or even really that jacked into the culture. That’s what a big deal Free to Be became: It could reach all the way into Atlanta, Georgia and a rather cloistered Jewish cloistered upbringing. Dan Kois does a remarkable job reconstructing the creation of the album, its influence, its controversies, and brings it all home by assessing its relevance today. As the father of a 17 month-old daughter, the story resonated deeply in thinking about my own childhood and the inevitable comparison I continually make to the kind of childhood I hope she has.
Jay McInerney, the New York Fantasy, and Wine
The author confronts the specter of Jay McInerney and his work, particularly his first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, which cast a large shadow over the rest of the 1980s and any New York arriviste. Again, this is personal, provoking memories of my Coming to New York story in 1987 and how I also had to come to terms with McInerney’s canon.
The Cranky Wisdom of Peter Kaplan
This delightful profile of the quintessential New York magazine editor and his seemingly endless collection of quirks is wonderful at every turn, for its narrative derring-do and the ideal pairing of writing style with subject matter.
Ron Conway is a Silicon Valley’s Startup’s Best Friend
In the tech industry, angel investors dominated the conversation this year, and their stars shone as bright as the entrepreneurs they served. No investor strides the world like Colossus than Ron Conway, the man who put the word super in superangels. This smart, sharply observed profile brings the grand poohbah of tech and his bet-on-everything investment strategy to life, and in the process reveals life at the upper echelons of Silicon Valley.
My musical tastes tread a narrow band of interest, from the funk and soul bands of the 1970s, to the funk and neo-soul bands of the early 2000s. So it was both surprising and enthralling that I came to “discover” the trio of singer-songwriters Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Van Dyke Parks through this Pitchfork essay tracing their early careers and shared DNA. Nilsson is really the discovery, and not surprisingly after this Pitchfork coronation, his name and music popped up again and again later in the year as kind of a hipster, music aficionado touchstone. As the piece delineates their “backward-looking, a little goofy, and restlessly clever” music, as well as their conflicted feelings about commercial success, one marvels at their big-label status and the bygone era that could support their weirdness.
The Sound and the Fury
The true soundtrack of my adulthood, if I were being honest, has been sports-talk radio. The 24-hour radio format launched just two months prior to my arrival in New York, and just as it took a little time to find its footing, so too did I not wholly embrace it until it worked out the kinks and got the lineup right. Not long after Mike and the Mad Dog took the afternoon drive slot and made sports radio a thing, I started listening religiously. It is what I think about when I think about my last three semesters in college—an ever-present pre-Internet babbling of half-cocked ideas and breaking news that somehow soothed me deep into my 30s. I rarely listen to WFAN now, but this definitive oral history of its creation and early days brought all those nostalgic feelings rushing to the fore and had enough new juicy nuggets even to satisfy a longtime superfan.
Top 5 Ways Bleacher Report Rules the World!
I am not necessarily one to fret about the future of journalism in the digital age. Yes, business models need to be rethought, but the same could be said of print even before the Internet. And at least the people doing the thinking about digital media tend to be smarter than the old-school publishing side folks. That said, this story about Bleacher Report, the highly trafficked sports-opinion content farm that Time Warner purchased this year for a reported $200 million, is both chilling even for an optimist like me and yet at the same time so patently ridiculous that it’s hard not to laugh. This story also features the single-best kicker I read this year.
Something Close to Madness, Case File #24: The Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure
There have been a lot of stories at the end of the year about the creative resurgence of Hollywood and the original crop of good movies driving viewers back to the multiplex. That’s great, but failure is always more fascinating than success and there’s no greater failure in the history of movies, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, than The Oogieloves. As the AV Club’s essential Nathan Rabin investigates, “How can a film fail so spectacularly? The answer is crazier than anything in The Oogieloves In The Big Balloon Adventure, and considering the film prominently features a seemingly stoned baby pillow, a giant flying sombrero powered by rhythmic movement, and a sentient vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar, that’s really saying something.” The story of Oogieloves creator Kenn Viselman captivates, as does his wrongheaded ambition to reinvent the live moviegoing experience, at least for children, into an active, interactive adventure. As Rabin shifts from relaying backstory to reliving the experience of seeing the film, one can’t help but admire the wrongheadedness of the enterprise, as inspired by massive toy sales as a genuine desire to revivify the live movie theater experience.
Voter Apathy, Ice Cream, and Why I Could Not Be More Excited to Watch the Debates This Month
I read a lot of campaign stories in 2012, and most of them were either kind of dumb or had the shelf life of fresh soy milk (seek it out and see what I mean). Comedian Patton Oswalt writes what should be a disposable piece about why he’s excited about the debates and makes it an epic take on easy cynicism and the emptiness of that pose. And at the same time, Oswalt makes a vigorous case for caring about the political process, and the debates in particular, because of television’s indelible power to make moments. I hope republishes this every four years.