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, "Lets 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 Yorks downtown scene. www.newyorker.com/critics/music/?040308crmu_music
Jeffrey Rosen on John Ashcroft, "John Ashcrofts 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 Republics legal-affairs editor, takes the most extensive and incisive look at the most controversial figure of Bushs 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 Americas 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 Hickeys 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
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Stanley Kauffmann on Marlon Brando, "Brandos 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 Poes "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 Cohens 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 Whitmans poems and Lincolns 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, Wilkinsons 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 Novembers 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