I toyed with the idea of doing a couple of “Best of…” lists in these waning days of MMX, much as I did last year. But in the course of trying to pull together some worthy candidates from the realms of filmdom, books, and booze, I got to thinking about the criteria I was employing—at least for the works of art. (The judging of beer, wine, and whiskey is fairly straightforward.) Why, exactly, do I find some narratives more praiseworthy than others?
As I pondered that question on Boxing Day, I started in on a New Yorker piece that I’d missed: Burhard Bilger’s tale of underground foodies and their affection for Dumpster diving, rotten meat, and pungent fermentation. The story’s main character is a bloke named Sandor Katz, who’s created quite a career out of preaching the virutes of fermented victuals. Like most pundits, Katz has attracted his fair share of virulent critics, never more so than after he once advocated for the ethical production of meat. Bilger turns the response to this revelation into the article’s absurdist pinnacle:
Needless to say, this argument didn’t fly with much of [Katz’s] audience. Last year, the Canadian vegan punk band Propagandhi released a song called “Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz).” Flensing is an archaic locution of the sort beloved by metal bands: it means to strip the blubber from a whale. “I swear I did my best to insure that his final moments were swift and free from fear,” the singer yelps. “But consideration should be made for the fact that Sandor Katz was my first kill.” He goes on to describe searing every hair on Katz’s body, boiling his head in a stockpot, and turning it into a spreadable headcheese. “It’s a horrible song,” Katz told me. “When it came out, I was not amused. I had a little fear that some lost vegan youth would try to find meaning by carrying out this fantasy. But it’s grown on me.”
Why do I love this passage so? Not necessarily for the use of the word “flensing,” though that’s certainly a bonus. Rather, it’s because it leaves me wanting to read a whole ‘nother piece, about the vegan punk rock scene in Manitoba and the “lost youths” who gravitate toward its rules, messages, and camaraderie. What I would give for Bilger or some other great reporter to spend the next few months in Winnipeg, checking out hardcore shows in an effort to understand the peculiar sort of angst that makes the musical culture so enticing.
And that, I’ve decided, is the measure of a great yarn: It has to leave me thirsty for a tale about the various minor players who cross the stage. Winter’s Bone achieved this, too—as soon as it ended, I lamented the fact that I’d never find out more about laconic meth lord Thump Milton. So, too, did Big Fan—I, for one, would love to see an HBO series about the life of star linebacker/coked-out asshole Quantrell Bishop.
Rather than go through a list of books and movies I dug this year, I’d like to hear from y’all about stories that left you hungering for spin-offs featuring minor characters. But, please, no Joanie Loves Chachi jokes.