Goodbye to all that

I remember writing this sentence last year at around this time:

Thank God that's over.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, or maybe it has something to do with the fact I am writing this soon after returning from a long and relaxing vacation, but my opinion of 2010 is decidedly low, low, low.

For the record, 2008 was also crappy — beginning of the recession, which is starting to feel like a Mobius strip in its endlessness — and 2009 was so forgettable that I can't recall anything of import that occurred during its 365 meaningless days.

On a personal note, this past year is memorable for no other reason than the marriages of many of my friends and several family members disintegrated at around the same time.

The timing was key. Near the end of 2009, I started to think insane thoughts such as, "You know, maybe Mom is right. I should consider settling down and starting the family ball rolling."

The universe, in its wisdom, swooped in to remind me of the dangers inherent in casting your lot with others of your own species so early in life.

My brother is the latest victim in the year of the Marriage Massacre. His wedded bliss has dissolved into confusion and petty recriminations just as his kids are starting their school careers.

We were discussing his coming divorce the other day on the phone and he made an apt comparison between marriage and the Great Pit of Carkoon, made famous in "Return of the Jedi."

If you recall, the pit housed a deadly sarlacc, the terrible monster that is all teeth and tentacles that lives in the sand and serves as Jabba the Hutt's outdoor execution chamber on Tatooine.

"OK," I said to my brother once he connected marriage and the pit monster. "Clarify that statement."

"You see, the sarlacc is basically this gaping hole in an endless desert that does nothing but consume anything that comes near it," he explained. "No matter how much you dump in there, no matter how many lives the sarlacc destroys, it will never, ever be satisfied."

"OK," I said.

"Well, that's marriage," he said. "No matter how hard you try, no matter the effort you put into it, the pit will keep eating everything as fast as you can put it in. First it takes your freedom. And sooner or later it comes after your love and friendships. And once they're gone, they're gone, forever to be digested over the course of 1,000 years, as Jabba says."

"My God."

"Yeah," he said. "Tell me about it."

I have an idea in mind that would serve as an antidote to this barren existence, but I will spare you my belief that mail-order brides are the key to happiness until a future column.

Until then, let's take a minute to point out a few good developments of the past year and hope they build some momentum coming into 2011.

Here are some things I dug:

Not a bad (meaning: worthless like usual) year in movies

The summer flick season was a wash as always, but the last few months have kept me buying tickets and keeping wealthy Hollywood studio blockheads fat and happy.

"True Grit" and "Black Swan" were go-getters that struck at my heart and head, but the film that I've not been able to shake since seeing it earlier this fall was the Facebook epic "The Social Network."

If there was a true horror film made this year, "Network" was it. Mark Zuckerberg scares me. And he should terrify you, too, because he's shaping our futures whether we like it or not. Write it off as "that Facebook movie" at your own peril, but David Fincher's take on where we've recently been in terms of the Internet Age and where we're likely heading is as dark and deep as any Philip K. Dick novel — and just as funny.

Special mention to Trent Reznor's score. If Ennio Morricone and Aphex Twin ever met, took residence on one of Saturn's moons, downed some mescaline and produced an album together, "The Social Network" soundtrack would be it.

Mavis Staples with Jeff Tweedy

A Chicago legend, Mavis Staples has dodged the national spotlight in recent decades after burning it up with the Stax/Volt crew in the late '60s with the Staples Singers ("Respect Yourself"). Since then, she's stayed mostly in the Chicago area, performing gospel music that would make the hardest atheist start to question his lifestyle.

Tweedy, the brain and voice behind Wilco and a dedicated Chicago dweller, produced Staples' "You Are Not Alone," and since then it's been nominated for a Grammy for best album of the year.

The album is groovy and noirish and comes together as a unified piece in an age of single downloads. And Mavis' voice is as devastating now as it was in 1969. Maybe more so.

Just when I needed an angel's voice to remind me that it all isn't hopeless, along came Mavis Staples this fall with a new album of material that should make today's talented but timid R&B singers such as Rihanna sprint to the nearest studio and try harder. Which is something we are all going to need to do to survive 2011.

Reach Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail

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