Best Of :: People & Places
This year, the Gladiator, Bull Flat, Elwood, and Sunflower fires burned more than 3,000 acres throughout Arizona, and no one was watching more closely than Dr. Stephen Pyne. Pyne's spent 15 years as a wildland firefighter and now is an expert on the history and management of fire, which he teaches at Arizona State University. He also recognizes the irony in his name and what he loves to do — chase, study, and write about fires. Pyne grew up in Phoenix. He went to Brophy Prep and left right after graduation to join the forest fire crew at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; he says he returned for 15 seasons between studying at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin and completing MacArthur, Fulbright, and two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.And after all the awards and interviews, book releases, and recognition, he still answers phone calls and e-mails from around the world to explain wildfire phenomena. This year, over one recent weekend, he shared the reasoning behind names of certain fires, which typically are determined by either the Forest Service, whose employees only name fires after nearby geographic places, or the National Park Service (where Pyne worked), whose employees name them after natural landmarks, popular culture, and particularly memorable girlfriends.
We'll admit to being influenced by repeated viewings of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox on Blu-Ray, but still, we swear we've seen the mythic "Tempe Fox" prancing around the Broadmor neighborhood. He's usually spotted just out of the corner of our eye, always leading to the distinct possibility that we're imagining him completely. But forget reason — of all Arizona's fabled creatures (chupacabra, hoof-man, the Bigfoot in the Apache/Sitgreaves Forest), the fox seems the friendliest (not to mention most plausible). His bushy tail catches the eye, but he's quickly gone before you can whip out your camera phone. It sounds crazy, but we've even heard of one intrepid photographer who snapped off a couple shots, only to have the mysterious fox not show up in the pictures at all. A spirit vision, perhaps? The best part of this "legend," of course, is that it's absolutely true. The old neighborhoods near the ASU Tempe campus really have become home in recent years to several foxes. Residents theorize that they feed on roof rats and hang out near the George Ditch off College Avenue and 14th Street. Tempe officials confirm they're there, and no one knows how it happened. We're glad to know the Tempe Fox is real. (And that we're not crazy!)
Know any good jokes about Arizona State University? The folks in Hollywood certainly do, as Tinsel Town has dispensed a few zingers at ASU's expense over the years, all of which have been dead-on and absolutely hilarious. After all, there's plenty about the school to poke fun at, including its oft-ridiculed status as one of America's top party schools and its student body's reputation for preferring slamming beers to hitting the books. For instance, 30 Rock's resident blowhard Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) stated in a 2010 episode that "a parent is the one person who thinks their [kids are] smart, even when they go to Arizona State." Zing. Such a diss was child's play to the sort of lampooning that took place last fall when Daniel Tosh filmed an entire episode of his popular Comedy Central show at ASU.It was part of his Tosh.0 College Campus Invasion and featured segments in which the acerbic comedian satirized frat boys and their tendency to hit on drunk girls (at Casey Moore's, no less), encouraged Sun Devil hotties to consume peppers and other spicy substances, and got naked in front of a biology class. Probably the most hilarious (or embarrassing) bit for ASU students was a highlight reel of a "Tweet and Greet," in which an endless stream of student traded insults with the Tosh, who got a choice quip about how "There's a lot of chlamydia here, apparently." At least he didn't refer to the university as "the Harvard of date rape," like those rascals over at The Daily Show.
In 2012, Frank Ocean made waves by coming out on his Tumblr page, gently shattering the glass ceiling in the notoriously homophobic circles of hip-hop and R&B. But he did more than that with the song "Thinking Bout You." He finally let the rest of the country know that it doesn't rain much here. "It usually doesn't rain in Southern California / Much like Arizona / My eyes don't shed tears/ But, boy, they bawl when I'm thinking 'bout you," Ocean sings with achingly gorgeous tone. In all seriousness, Channel Orange, Ocean's full-length, major label debut is one of the year's finest, and "Thinking Bout You," which effortlessly recalls the perfection of Prince and D'Angelo, is one of the record's most affecting moments. With a cracked falsetto, Ocean croons, "Do you think about me still? Or do you not think so far ahead? 'Cause I've been thinking about forever." It's crushing, a moment of pure soul-rending, and even if Arizona feels like a default rhyme, it's nice to be a part of such an astonishing pop song.
Coming up with a decent band name has never required particular brilliance. Just ask the "greats" — The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Smashing Pumpkins. But in the Internet age, there seems to be some sort of "WTF band name" arms race, with bands like fun., oOoOO, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, and Friends all competing to cram in enough punctuation and inscrutable capitalization to make it impossible to find the band in any given search engine. North Dakota — the Tempe-based trio of Michelle Blades, Mo Neuharth, and Emily Hobeheidar — don't have a hard moniker to spell, but it's still tough to find their web presence without a little Facebooking first. The geographical connections to the Midwest aren't made explicit on the trio's debut (there's a song called "Fargo," but also one called "China/Japan") but like their namesake state — so close to Canada that it's almost there — they blur the lines between borders and sounds, toeing the line between righteous indie rock and riot grrl screeds.
The Compound Grill — the music hall/eatery/bar launched by the people behind the annual The McDowell Mountain Music Festival (and the site of the festival since 2010) — may have closed, but there's good news: Its owners plan to continue the festival, which unites indie rockers, local bands, and some of the granola-crunchiest jam bands this side of Bonnaroo for three days of sun and noodling guitar solos. Bully for them — beyond the fact that the festival has hosted bands like Ozomatli, The Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Fields, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops, it's maintained a spirit of community activism, donating to charities like Ear Candy and institutions like Phoenix Children's Hospital.