As has become our custom, here is a wholly individual, utterly personal, completely idiosyncratic list of the top 11 whatevers of 2011.
11. THE MIDNIGHT RAMBLE
On a freezing night last winter, a group of us took a limo to Woodstock to see the great Levon Helm and his amazing band in concert in Levon’s home/recording studio. I loved every minute of it. Well, okay, after a while the wooden benches proved more enduring than my ass, but that’s all right; for much of the time, I was actually on my feet, doing an old white man’s version of dancing. The music was great, the vibe was relaxed and fun, and if I am called to my eternal rest tomorrow, I go knowing that I heard the peerless Levon, backed by twenty-odd other musicians, perform The Weight, and that it was sublime.
10. HURRICANE IRENE
It was no fun being clobbered by a storm (the 1999 Floyd experience was plenty, thanks), but fleeing through this monster bitch of a storm, and being sheltered by the Schmidts were memorable experiences. A long fall of recovery featuring Italian plumbers, an Irish mason, a Brazilian carpenter, and Central American laborers became the ongoing (and as yet unended) theme of the year’s last third.
9. WAR HORSE
The National Theater of Great Britain’s production of this play, adapted by Nick Stafford from the novel by Michael Morpurgo, was simply the most amazing piece of theater I have ever seen. Far better than the film, which had its scenic charms, but not much else.
8. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
We watched all five seasons of the series this year, and admired every episode. Led by a superb cast fronted by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, the show did what great fiction does: held up a mirror to life. The show was about an entire community: the rich and the poor, the lucky and the lost, ordinary people facing the ordinary challenges of love and joy and sadness and loneliness. One of the best parts of the show was its unswerving faith in true conservative virtues—in the belief that hard work, loyalty, dedication, honesty and family may not answer all questions, but are the things that will see us through.
7. OCCUPY WALL STREET
Angry, inchoate, long overdue, the ragged remnant of the American left expressed itself. The terrible, terrible shame is that there is no leader who can speaks for that sweet spot where OWS and the heart of the Tea Party overlap—the anti-money element that wants to put an end to special privilege.
6. THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL REVUE
It was the year in which Sarah Palin mangled the story of Paul Revere, Michelle Bachmann showed real chootz-pah in misremembering how the Founders ended slavery, Herman Cain intoned a simple-minded 9-9-9 (don’t forget becky-becky-beckystan), and Rick Perry couldn’t remember three departments of government he aimed to close. Throw in Ron Paul’s extremism, Newt Gingrich’s astonishing bubble, and most of all, Donald Trump’s oozing cynicism, and you have a vintage year. Sadly, the robotically careful Romney seems poised to seize center stage.
5. THE MILESTONE YANKEES
Moving in tandem into the twilights of astonishing careers, two great Yankees achieved notable milestones. After struggling during the first half of the year, Derek Jeter marked his 3000th hit by hitting a home run, the high point of a singular day at the plate in which he went 5-for-5 and had the game-winning hit. Later in the year, the Great Rivera became MLB’s all-time leader in saves, a tribute to his longevity, excellence, and nerve. In an observation that shows just how the obvious can be overlooked, someone remarked how often many stats in baseball are amassed in both wins and losses alike, but all of Rivera’s saves mean wins.
4. AND THE ANNIVERSARY CAME
The Civil War sesquicentennial was very good to me this year: The Disunion series in the Times; the Cliopatria Award; the trip to Williamsburg; the surprise publication of And the War Came; the dream-like panel discussion with Ken Burns and David Blight; covering The Conspirator and interviewing Robert Redford; speaking at the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York; and the generous remarks of my friends.
The British singer with the dominating voice and the luxurious hair might have made this list solely on the basis of the raucous, stomping, furious Rolling in the Deep, but then she revealed the soulful Someone Like You, an all-time great ballad to lost love. It was wonderful to be reminded of the pure pleasure of a powerful pop song.
2. KENTUCKY CARA
Cara’s success has been an enormous sense of pride and happiness for Ginny and me. She did an extraordinary job getting into a good situation, and, so far, making the most of it. We couldn’t be more delighted.
1. THIS MAGIC MOMENT On the last night of March, a rainy, chilly midweek spring evening, I’m sitting in Dad’s old Buick behind Tazza waiting to pick up Cara. As the very last of the light is about to yield to the night, Ginny pulls up in the Toyota and gives me a big smile. There had been a miscommunication: Cara had forgotten that I was coming and called Ginny, who was coming home from work late. No problem–I went a picked up the pizza I had ordered for dinner. And I left with an unaccountable feeling of happiness–a good day’s work accomplished, Cara collected, a warm pizza in our warm living room on a chilly evening, my wife’s smile.