In Which We Note The 13 Personalities That Mattered The Most in 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 11:00AM


The Top 13 Fascinating People of 2008

by Sarah Lynn Knowles


R.I.P. 10 Things I Hate About You star Heath Ledger, who's now one of those figures that everybody remembers where they were/what they were doing when they learned he'd died. The list goes: JFK, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson (TBD). Me, I was "between projects" at work when my pal Ray e-mailed about an AP text that'd come through marked "Breaking News."  


For me, one huge highlight of 08 was standing up front for a She & Him day performance at SXSW, thus confirming how totally unfair it is that one person gets to be so many different kinds of talented/beautiful.  But despite her obvious singing talent, Zooey Deschanel still swears she didn't have the courage to put an album together until M. Ward encouraged & convinced her she could do it. Isn't that messed up?  Doesn't it make you think, like -  Do *I* have a pursuable hidden talent that someone could call me out on?  You guys, should we make a resolution right now to do that for each other?  Like, let's say Yes Man is our day job, and "Volume One" is our passion. I can be M. Ward to you, and you can be M. Ward to me.  In 2009, let's tackle that scary "Volume One" talent we've considered, but never took seriously.  Fascinate ourselves & such.

"Take It Back" - She & Him (mp3)

"I Was Made For You" - She & Him (mp3)

"Blach Hole" - She & Him (mp3)


In late 2008, browser histories containing instances of PUPPYCAM allowed large conglomerates to simply and fairly lay off barely contributing workers.


At three different points this year, I tried to purchase Bon Iver tickets only to watch them sell out in under a minute. This guy was a virtual unknown a year ago, and now he's charging $25 a pop for huge NYC venues 3 days in a row. Seriously, he's a fantastic testament to how a person can turn a heartwrenching break-up into art so gorgeous and lucrative. We could probably all benefit from a period of forced isolation in middle of nowhere, couldn't we?  In 2009, let's really give ourselves the opportunity to "get it all out there," as it is apparently the key to world renown and mad bling.

"Beach Baby" - Bon Iver (mp3)

"Woods" - Bon Iver (mp3)

"Babys" - Bon Iver (mp3)


I can sum up my "fascination" with Sarah Palin pretty easily: Remember just after her VP nomination, when journalists interviewed her about her reaction to McCain asking her to be on the ticket? They wondered how long she'd mulled the idea over, how long it took her to decide to accept. And Sarah Palin was all, "I did not hesitate.  There was nothing to think about. I said yes immediately." That is precisely why bubbles of hatred for this woman still live inside me.  


Heck yes you did, girlfriend!  That glass ceiling is all kinds of cracked up now.  


2008 was the year I became very "fascinated" with James Franco. I mean, listen, I own a worn-out Freaks and Geeks boxed set just like the rest of you, and I've seen Spiderman, sure. But this year, you guys?  I don't know. I've heard that sometimes it takes people years to truly grow into themselves & become the person they were "meant to be." I think 2008 was that year for James Franco. Especially with him enrolled in a creative writing program now, smoking pineapple weed & writing stories about his feelings. Damn. Wanna read you, James Franco. 


The braniacs behind Olympics coverage generally do a pretty fine job of humanizing athletes, providing back stories so it's not all medals and blowing horns, etc. The cameras focused on Michael Phelps's Mom during his record-breaking laps were a pretty ridiculous instance of that. I mean, can you even imagine being Mrs. Phelps?  What it was like to watch all that record-shattering and be able to think, "That kid, you guys?  Came out of ME. This body right here, these genes." Fascinating. Especially since he's dating that Asian prostitute now.


Oh, hello, Mr. Mad Man, Jon Hamm. Where'd you come from all of a sudden-like?  Take-the-world-by-storm-Land? You're everywhere now, and weren't last year. But hey, listen: I'm pretty OK with it. Group me with the other bajillion Americans who find you charming, handsome, and worth the wait.


If anyone's wondering why "that kinda boring" Fleet Foxes record garnered so much critical acclaim, please just shutup and see them live. Absolutely nuts. Harmonizing voices like angels, honestly. This isn't something I would joke about. I saw them in a giant venue, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Midway through, guy wanted to try singing solo without the microphone, and asked the crowd if that was okay. We shouted back for him to go ahead, but even with a voice so strong and gorgeous, nobody thought he could really pull it off, you know?No one that room moved an inch or made a sound. Those 4 minutes were the most moving of my whole entire year.  

"Drops in the River (live)" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)

"English House (live)" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)

"White Winter Hymnal" - Fleet Foxes (mp3


Tina Fey is the one spot where me & Barbara Walters's fascinating people lists overlap. It's a good, proud feeling when somebody wins an award who has honestly come such a long way & truly deserves it. The Palin stuff was important and fantastic, obviously, but besides & before all that: Tina Fey is damn savvy, works hard, and is nobody to joke about.


Did I get all choked up and cry when Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention? Yes. Yes I did. I'm not ashamed. Her father had multiple sclerosis, and so does my Dad, and hearing her talk about it was like, whoa.  Michelle Obama understands me, my background, and the reasons I work hard.  Michelle Obama understands this kinda thing is what being an American is all about. Michelle Obama also turned down Barack's request for a date like 100x, which is also something I deeply respect.


This is just like in high school when Kurt Cobain died and I'd really only heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and got super into Nirvana only after reading 900 articles about why the loss should/did affect so many. Not that they're directly comparable -- just that I hadn't picked up any of David Foster Wallace's books until after his tragic turn of 900 articles. But now I've read the articles, and have the books sitting here. And there's a particular brand of regret from the viewpoint of a fan who got into the game too late.  

Sarah Lynn Knowles is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. Her blog is here. She last wrote in these pages about summer readings.



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