10 Great Profiles

Here are the best 10 portraits of the politicians, performers and provocateurs, living and dead, published in the newspapers and magazines of the past year:

Steve Erickson on George W. Bush, "George Bush and the Treacherous Country," L.A. Weekly (February 13). The American nomad turns traitor in a personal and historical exploration into the theocratic psyche of a president and a country at once identified and paralyzed by its own schisms between Cotton Mather and Thomas Paine, traditionalists and secularists, doubt and belief. www.laweekly.com/ink/04/12/features-erickson.php

Sasha Frere-Jones on Arthur Russell, "Let’s Go Swimming," The New Yorker (March 8). A review of The World of Arthur Russell is also the story of the world of the cellist and composer who died of AIDS at age 40 in 1992, a story that incorporates classical music, the avant-garde, disco and the other emerging sounds of New York’s downtown scene. www.newyorker.com/critics/music/?040308crmu_music

Jeffrey Rosen on John Ashcroft, "John Ashcroft’s Permanent Campaign," The Atlantic Monthly (April). In a year when the word patriot (as an acronym) appeared most often in front of the word act, Rosen, the New Republic’s legal-affairs editor, takes the most extensive and incisive look at the most controversial figure of Bush’s first term. www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200404/rosen

Tom Carson on Ronald Reagan, "Death of a Salesman," The Village Voice (June 7). As powerful as he was preposterous, Reagan is, for Carson, the "man who destroyed America’s sense of reality — a paltry target, all in all, given our predilections." www.villagevoice.com/issues/0423/carson.php

Robert Stone on Ken Kesey, "The Prince of Possibility," The New Yorker (June 14 & 21). In his always-rapturous prose, Stone tells the tale of the writer, teacher, prankster and "libertarian shaman" who altered the mindset of the ’60s, in an account that attempts to correct the record as well as preserve the lore of the counterculture. www.talkaboutabook.com/group/alt.books.beatgeneration/mes

Dave Hickey on Waylon Jennings, "His Mickey Mouse Ways," Texas Monthly (June). This beautiful appreciation of the late country musician encapsulates all of Hickey’s best subjects: making art and making trouble, surviving and being screwed up, the nature of the pact between a performer and his audience. www.texasmonthly.com/mag/issues/authors/davehickey.php

Stanley Kauffmann on Marlon Brando, "Brando’s Lives," The New Republic (August). Not a formal obituary but a provocative reflection on the brilliant, troubled actor whose struggle with his own gifts made him the theatrical and cinematic incarnation of Edgar Allan Poe’s "imp of the perverse." www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040802&s=kauffmann080204

Rachel Cohen on William Dean Howells, "August 1860," Omnivore. (Prototype Issue, Autumn). In a seven-page excerpt from Cohen’s forthcoming book of historical sketches, A Chance Meeting, an American author whom most of us left behind in the classroom springs vividly to life as he comes into contact with Whitman’s poems and Lincoln’s politics.

Alec Wilkinson on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, "The Ghostly Ones," The New Yorker (September 20). In this exploration of the pleasures of music making and storytelling, Wilkinson’s physical and musical descriptions play against the words of guitarist David Rawlings as he volunteers to relate the biography of his partner and musical collaborator, singer-songwriter Gillian Welch. www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?040920fa_fact3

Greil Marcus on the death of George W. Bush (dateline: October 5, 2018), "Obituaries: Former President George W. Bush Dead at 72," Minneapolis City Pages (November 3). In the most unexpected response to November’s election results, Marcus reports from a speculative future where, among other events, three Supreme Court justices have been appointed to the "Bush Court" by 2005, Philip Roth is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008, and, after attempting to run for a third term, Bush is defeated by a Clinton — not Hillary, but Bill. www.citypages.com/databank/25/1248/article12626.asp


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