AS AN ERSTWHILE ASTROLOGER I AM EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO GIVE ADVICE. THE BAD NEWS IS, MERCURY IS IN RETROGRADE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY. THE GOOD NEWS? THERE ISN’T ANY.
We met during COVID, talked/texted for a few months and finally decided to just meet in person last September. She’s great, my age (mid-40s), goth (like me, although I might be more of a mod), smart, funny, likes good music, all the things. But she’s cripplingly insecure, in a way that I don’t know how to deal with? I’m divorced, was married 10 years. She’s the first person I’ve dated since getting divorced in 2018. I’m not a “rebound” kinda guy, I like real relationships. But due to her own bad experiences with past relationships, she has so many trust issues, even though it should be obvious that I don’t have a wandering eye and am totally into her. What can I do? How do I make her see that I’m not like her exes? — TVPs Fan SM: WOMEN CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT TRUST MEN. GET USED TO IT. ALSO, IF YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’RE A GOTH OR A MOD, YOU SHOULD BE SEEING A COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPIST.
I met someone online during COVID and we’ve never met in person. Should I propose? — Lockdown Princess SM: NO! PEOPLE ONLINE AREN’T REAL. GO TO A BAR, LIKE AN ADULT. MOST HAVE OUTDOOR SEATING. WEAR A UNION SUIT.
I have a Valentine’s Day date but the forecast is going to be 28º and cloudy so a bit chilly to eat outdoors. Should I invite them back to mine? Should I risk being exposed to someone else’s droplets and bodily fluids so we can have sex indoors? — Sweetheart of the Rodeo SM: WEAR A UNION SUIT. DO NOT MAKE A PLAN FOR AFTER DINNER, IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS AND GAUCHE.
My BF is addicted to Facebook. Even when we’re in bed he’s gazing into some left-wing FBK group and making snarky comments. Is there any hope for us? — Device addict’s BF SM: ONLY HAVE SEX OUT OF BED, ALWAYS, AND THEN YOU WON’T CARE WHAT HE DOES IN BED.
Is perfume passé? —Unscented SM: YES, IT’S HORRIBLE. ANYONE WEARING PERFUME IN AN ELEVATOR SHOULD BE ASKED TO LEAVE AT THE NEXT FLOOR.
We are stuck in our house with three children this Valentine’s Day. Do you have any advice on how we can find romance in spite of them? How can we keep them away from us so we can be intimate? — Spouse House SM: HAVE SEX OUTSIDE, LIKE ADULTS. PARKS ARE GOOD, CARS ARE GREAT. PUBLIC BATHROOMS ARE GOOD FOR A QUICKIE. GARAGES ARE AWESOME. I want to make my beloved a meal full of aphrodisiacs. What should I make? (We’re vegan) —Hungry for Love SM: CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE, AND MORE CHOCOLATE.
I’m a lifelong commitment-phobe who seems to attract other commitment-phobes. How can I stop the madness? —Pattern Breaker SM: YOU MAY NEED TO DECLINE TO DISCUSS YOUR RELATIONSHIP HISTORY, SAYING YOU’RE NOT PROUD OF IT BUT YOU HAVE CHANGED YOUR PRIORITIES.
I have a crush on someone whose musical taste could be improved. How can I “help” them improve it? Should I make a mixtape? What should I put on it? —Ear Candy SM: MIXTAPES ARE GREAT, BUT MAKE SURE YOUR CRUSH KNOWS THAT THE LYRICS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE LITERAL MESSAGES. (OTHERWISE IT WOULD TAKE FIVE YEARS TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES.) ALSO, BE OPEN TO LEARNING WHY THEY LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE…WITHIN REASON! I ONCE DECLINED TO DATE AN OTHERWISE WONDERFUL GUY BECAUSE HE WAS INTO JAMIROQUAI, AND I DO NOT REGRET THAT DECISION.
I’ve basically been living in slankets and shackets for a year. What should I wear on V-day? —Athleisure Annie SM: NOTHING!
When I got the text, like so many of my friends, I didn’t actually believe it.
I was instantly back in my apartment above Drees, hearing him call up, “Pat! Pat!” to the open window, holding a 12-pack of whatever was on sale at Safeway. “I’ll come down and open the door, just a minute.”
“Oh, you brought us beer,” I say to him, smiling, as I push open the heavy glass door open and let him in.
He looks at me, sheepishly and fully Vern-ly, with that smile he had where his jaw would clench a little and his cheek lift, “oh, um, this is just for me.”
Vern meant so much to so many people, and as I think now about never seeing him again, I realize completely how much me meant to me.
I am crying, playing the Long Hind Legs self-titled, thinking about how easy he was to just sit next to for hours. How good of a dude he was. How we could keep pace drinking cheap beers and working on album covers, talking about the everything and the nothing of our lives.
I think about seeing him play music a million times.
I think about visiting him out on the farm, pulling up in the dart after following his directions and wondering “where the hell am I?”
I think about the life he lived and all the people who’s lives he touched. I feel for the ones who loved him more and closer than I was ever able to.
Vern wasn’t without faults, he’d be the first to admit it, but that was the Olympia in him — that is that bit of Olympia in all of us who were there.
We were an incredible cast of misfits and outcasts, living under the constant grey clouds of the ’90s. Living with a constant drizzle and dampness of the same three square blocks that circled from the Reef, to the Capitol Theater, to our walk-up apartments or punk-named houses.
The magic of Olympia was never the place — it was the people we knew then. It didn’t matter if you were friends or enemies or eventually both; all of us where an alchemy for each other, something that permanently touched and changed each and every one of us; that turned us from teenagers to adults, with a lot of stops and starts in-between.
I can feel it in me, the Olympia, even twelve years after I moved away.
We lost a part of Olympia today. Vern took it with him.
Vern Rumsey was best known for being the bassist in the Tumwater, Washington post-hardcore (we still called it grunge back then) band Unwound. He passed away August 2020. Proud to call him a friend, I helped do several album covers of bands he was in. He will be missed.
What I normally remember about touring: great crowds (Detroit dance party! Edgar & Rogilio at Rice University! Fireside Bowl every time!) and the disaster nights with hosts who had 14 cats and creepy collectibles. But one night on tour burns brightest to me for being so exhilarating and fun. Lois and Lync were touring together, and the first leg was pretty grim: $11 at the door in Missoula and maybe those 14 cats in North Dakota. And, even when we got to Minneapolis, the club (NOT the Fireside Bowl!) said Lync couldn’t play because Sam Jayne wasn’t 21 yet.
So Sam and James and Dave sat outside, looking in the picture window to watch Lois & The Hang Ups and then after the show we were all invited to Julie Butterfield’s house for a party. (She had lots of epic parties in Minneapolis and Olympia. I hope she writes her memoir some day.)
Anyhow, it was a fun party and it went on late and nobody left. At some point, several revelers noticed that they had run out of cigarettes and I volunteered to march down to the all-night convenience store, collecting three dollars from each of the smokers-in-need. The real reason I wanted to check out this little market was something I had noticed on the drive to Julie’s—there was a lit sign that advertised Fresh Cotton Candy. I was about to start out when Sam Jayne offered to walk there with me. Sam Jayne was not just a gallant buddy, I’m pretty sure he wanted in on the cotton candy too.
And the convenience market was open and they fired up the cylindrical cotton candy machine and we bought four packs of cigs and three cotton candies that looked like sparkling pink turbans atop long paper cones. We paid up and Sam asked for the change in quarters. I thought he might need them for parking meter change.
And did I mention that this convenience market was located next to a self-service car wash? The kind that has the long jet hoses in holsters in each of four concrete stalls? That was where those quarters were headed. Sam flashed his notorious, snaggle-toothed grin and ran for the nearest jet wand. I knew that I was in for a soaking, so I took up a position in the next stall and I fished a quarter out of my pocket. We ran the hoses out to their ends and sprayed water at each other and cackled and tried to avoid getting hit with water and mostly failed. Then we walked back to Julie’s, utterly drenched, with soggy packages of cigarettes and three wet paper cones. The cotton candy had disintegrated in the first blast of spray.
The party had mostly evaporated by the time we walked back and the smokers had given up on us and gone home, sparing us the contrition of delivering damaged goods. The last guest was about to leave, lacing up his roller skates for the roll home.
It’s a golden memory. I think about it regularly and when I heard Sam Jayne was gone, I knew he would always be with me. Going for cotton candy.
One year ago on January 4, 2020, chickfactor put together a show at bunk bar in Portland, Oregon, called Bike Chain Rain where friends and fans could remember David Cloud Berman on what would have been his 53rd birthday. today (January 4, 2021) he would have been 54, and he probably would be pretty horrified at the state of things. here are some photographs and videos of our event at bunk last year. We also gave all the proceeds (save for a few expenses) in support of Moms Demand Action and Write Around Portland. On the TV during the show the Titans stunned the Patriots.
• Jon Raymond read “A Letter From Isaac Asimov to his Wife Janet, Written on his Deathbed?”
• Lance Bangs read “Hieroglyphics, Notebook # 5”
• Sophia Shalmiyev and Kevin Sampsell read “Self-Portrait at 28”
• Chelsey Johnson read “Cassette County”
• Portland guitarist Marisa Anderson played her own instrumental song
• Portland band A Certain Smile played “Wild Kindness”
• Franklin Bruno played “The Frontier Index”
• Oed Ronne (the Ocean Blue) performed “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” with Nancy Novotny and HK Kahng
• William Tyler performed “Tennessee”
• Clay Cole performed “We Might Be Looking for the Same Thing” and “Only One for Me” with Rebecca Gates WATCH HERE
• Rebecca Gates performed “Snow Is Falling on Manhattan” (WATCH) with William Tyler; and “Albemarle Station” (WATCH)
• Stephen Malkmus & Bob Nastanovich performed… “Secret Knowledge of Back Roads” “Buckingham Rabbit” “Advice to the Graduate” “Random Rules” “Welcome To The House of the Bats” “Trains Across the Sea” WATCH THE FULL SET HERE
Philippe Auclair (Louis Philippe) reflects on the year
This truly has been the strangest of years for me, a year which started in uncertainty and ended with my adopted country’s final act of severance of its links with the European Union, something which has been a source of deep, in fact life-changing sorrow for me and so many of the people I call my friends here in London and elsewhere in England. I daren’t say more on the subject.
But then, sorrow and grief have been all-present throughout these twelve awful months. I said goodbye to far too many people who were dear to me. My beautiful friend Ken Brake finally succumbed to the cancer which had plagued him for several years, long before his time. I still find it very difficult to use the past time to talk about the musical accomplice of nearly three decades, the man with whom I shared more jokes and cups of Darjeeling tea than I did with anyone else during this time.
We made so much music together in his immaculate studio in Primrose Hill—just the two of us, or with Alasdair, Lupe and The Clientele, or Louise Le May, or Mari Persen, or Jonathan Coe, or, especially, our beloved friend Stuart Moxham. A small consolation is that Ken lived long enough to see the release of the album the three of us recorded over a period of years, The Devil Laughs, which, at times, I’d feared would never see the light of day—or not soon enough. Thank goodness—and thanks to John Henderson of tinyGLOBAL—The Devil Laughs was released in June, immediately earning the kind of critical acclaim that Ken so richly deserved to be associated with. Small mercies. Very small mercies.
So The Devil Laughs has to be on top of this list. Sadness tinged with hope and joy—that was 2020 to me, as to so many others. The joy came from music, first and foremost. Without it…
But there was joy too.
In music, to start with. It was a time of discovery and re-discovery.
The discovery of Igor Levit, for example, thanks to his astonishing interpretation—all eleven hours of it—of Erik Satie’s Vexations, which was streamed live on YouTube and was one of the most transcendent musical performances I’ve ever witnessed. A single page of music, which must be played 840 times in succession, was transformed into a genuine voyage of exploration, tender, angry, hypnotic, magical.
Christophe Chassol, a composer and instrumentist who inhabits a universe in which classical music, minimalism, retro-futurism and sunshine pop coexist in (beautiful) harmony, gave us his Message of Xmas (on Bertrand Burgalat’s label Tricatel), a musical UFO of the kind I wish visited our sorry planet more often.
I know absolutely nothing about another Frenchman, another Christophe too, called MOTTRON, whom I came across thanks to the recommendation of Chris Evans, the presenter of “The Curve Ball,” a show which plays the kind of music you won’t hear anywhere else, but which, in a better world, should be our lives’ sonic landscape. It is totally original. It also completely disappeared under the radar, and I get the feeling Mottron himself doesn’t mind it that much. Give it a chance. It’s on Bandcamp. “Indecent,” the third track on his debut album, Giants, is breathtaking.
I had no idea that Petter Herbertsson of Testbild! had another parallel project, Sternpost, or that he’d released Statues Asleep on the Kalligramofon label. This is Petter at his most cinematic and melodic best, with vocal textures which are unmistakably his and his alone. He has a way with harmony which is also entirely personal—now how many musicians can you say that of?
The song I listened to more often than any other in 2020 was Lô Borges’s composition “O Trem Azul,” as sung by Milton Nascimento on their Clube de Esquina double album, a record that will soon be fifty years old, and is yet unsurpassed. It is the song that the Pale Fountains, Everything But the Girl, Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, every Sarah band (and myself) have been trying to “find” throughout, the absolute matrix of perfect pop. Paddy did. It’s only taken me something like twenty years to realise this.
I’ve still got four spots to fill. I’ll put the lid back on the record player, then, and go to the bookshelves, where four Japanese authors are waiting for me, all of whom I discovered in this shit year. All of them are women. One of the many wonderful things about late 20th-century and 21st-century Japanese literature (and manga) is that so much of it is— recognisibly—the work of women. I wish so much more in this fucked-up world were the work of women. There’s Natsuo Kiriko, whose brutal Out shook me to the core (Grotesque and The Goddess Chronicle popped in the post this morning). Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings is another genuine shocker. There’s Yoko Tawada’s dreamlike, strangely tender, dystopic novel The Lost Children of Tokyo. And, more than anything else, there is Yoko Ogawa, whose The Professor and the Housekeeper I would place alongside Tanizaki’s Makioka Sisters and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy at the top of my literary pantheon. Its last chapter (and so much beforehand) moved me to tears.
This is the pain that does us good, as Léo Ferré put it. How we needed it in 2020.
Noise in hallway: can now identify every person in building by sound of their footsteps
Noise in car: alternator/ serpentine belt
Noise in toilet: fill valve
Noise from outside #4: fireworks (all summer, every night)
Noise from outside #3: maskless rich drunk asshole neighbors partying and blasting music in their well-appointed backyards at 2am (May–September)
Noise from outside #2: sirens (March–June: ambulances; June–December: cops)
Noise from outside #1: one minute of applause/noisemaking at 7pm daily, in appreciation of essential workers; said appreciation ended promptly June 1. More than one person within earshot has (= shouldn’t have) a trombone.
Stephen McRobbie (Pastels, Geographic, Monorail)
1. One of the best best things about 2020 for me was starting to see Glasgow in a slightly different way, one in which the river is the essential part. In May I started cycling to work on a daily basis along the Clyde, rediscovering landmarks that I had loved and forgotten and new ones too. It was a time of dramatic change and sometimes cycling slowly home or stopping off to examine something was the best way to find some perspective on what was going on and to feel hopeful that in the end there would be a way through.
2. Music was incredible in 2020. Not us so much us, in fact we didn’t play together at all. At the start of the year I thought I had three strong ideas for new songs. At the end of the year I had what I still felt were three strong ideas for new songs. So it was more a year of archive things. It was really nice to finally release two songs from a 1997 John Peel Session – “Advice To The Graduate” and “Ship To Shore” on a 7”. “Advice To The Graduate” is of course a David Berman song – thought about him often.
3. Music was incredible in 2020. Really fell for the Cindy album, Free Advice. It just had real confidence about playing softly and being there but not fighting for your attention or anything. And it opened up a scene of other groups via a mix cd… Present Electric, Reds, Pinks & Purples, Hectorine. It felt new but also existed in the spaces between Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, Movietone and various Flying Nun groups. There are always spaces, you can always make something new.
4. So many other great records came out. Amazingly Plone came back with Puzzlewood for Ghost Box, and by now more or less working from home, I’d lots of time to write about it for Monorail. It was a really fabulous return, so unexpected, I was often smiling their tunes as I cycled along.
5. The Jarv Is record was amazing too – he somehow managed to make it of the times but above or at least to the side of them too. I interviewed him on the day it came out. He said that when he was researching stories for This Day In History on his Sunday Service he realised that most news stories at any time are bad news and this had given him a bit of perspective on things. His group just now is dynamite.
6. As if that wasn’t enough he ran his Domestic Disco on Saturday nights for a large part of the year. These were magical (Jarvis is a great dj) and ok, maybe a little drunken at certain points. Along with Tim Burgess’s Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties and various BBC6 shows especially Gideon Coe, something similar to going out to shows was always there. We always felt we were part of a great community.
7. Great songs belatedly dropped out of the seeming nowhere. That Dump single, “Feelings 1 & 2” is so special. I got a preview of a new Johnny record (all Joe Meek songs) performed with a super lightness of touch and sheer pop joy by Norman Blake and Euros Childs. People are going to love this record.
8. I was working on various archival projects I thought I could close out but didn’t – Strawberry Switchblade, Pastels, a Glasgow music comp. I did manage to make a fanzine called Yesterday Was Another Day, Glasgow 1979-82 to coincide with the reissue of The Bluebells Sisters album. It was a collaboration with the group and my friend, Musho Fernandez, who is a great graphic designer. Felt a real sense of pride about how it turned out.
9. The more I think about it the more I realise that music more or less got me through 2020. It seemed deeper than ever with so much music – Jon Brooks, Robert Lippok, Andrew Wasylyk, Tenniscoats, Bridget St John, Stereolab, Broadcast, Movietone, Brian Eno. In the kitchen Katrina and I listened to lots of mix cds, probably the most played being one that Gerard made for the Monorail Film Club night we used to have at the Glasgow Film Theatre.
10. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series was important and righteous. It was beautifully made too. Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” from the Lovers Rock episode became an absolute obsession. There are so many Janet Kay Top Of The Pops appearances on Youtube (a couple even with the great Dennis Bovell who wrote and produced it). Still not enough, song of the year, music of the year. Fight on.
Like many of us, I’m sure, I needed a mental break from the horrors of 2020, and books have always served as a trusty escape hatch. So, here’s a random sampling of ten that I happened to read last year. Just to be clear, this isn’t a list of “Best Books of 2020” or even my personal “Top Ten.” As you’ll see below, several of them didn’t even come out this year, and one of them I didn’t even really like! Just ten random books. Here ya go.
• When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (2020, Harper Collins) Described in the press release as “Rear Window meets Get Out” — and I legit thought “this is so Hitchcock-ian” while reading it — When No One is Watching is the gripping tale of a fictional Brooklyn neighborhood on the brink of gentrification… but there seems to be something even more insidious at play. I found this book breathtaking, and I consumed it in less than two days. And during a year of relentless (and disheartening) racial unrest, this book was even more powerful and unsettling.
• Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (2020, Grove Press) I loved Murata’s 2016 novel Convenience Store Woman, so I was excited to get my hands on her latest. That said, WHOA, this was nothing like that charming tale of a small store clerk; Earthlings has abuse, violence, incest, cannibalism, and more, all crammed into less than 300 pages. This was another one of those books that was just exhilaratingly engrossing, and the ending was such a smart surprise. I can’t say I “recommend it,” per se, but I’ll just say, it sure as heck was a page-turner.
• Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby (2020, Vintage) Discovering comedic essayist Samantha Irby was one of the very few bright spots of 2020. I somehow stumbled across her 2017 collection titled We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and felt an instant kinship. I then went on to inhale everything she’s ever written. Like me, she recently moved from a big city (for her, Chicago; for me, Seattle) to sleepy Southwest Michigan. And, like me, she loves Sassy magazine, receiving mail, and being indoors. I feel like she and I need to be friends, but I am also slightly afraid of her.
• Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (2020, Gallery Books) I bought Brosh’s 2016 book Hyperbole and a Half at the airport ages ago — I mean, just the fact that I wrote “airport” tells you it wasn’t in 2020 — and proceeded to annoy my fellow passengers because it was literally laugh-out-loud funny. But shortly after the book’s release, she mysteriously disappeared. There were Reddit threads of readers wondering if she was okay. The concern slowly died down as fans seemed to assume and accept that she had chosen the unpublished life after all. But, in 2020, she returned with her first new book in seven years! I’ll admit, I didn’t “LOL” as much as I did with her first one, but maybe that’s ‘cause 2020 just wasn’t a real “LOL” type year. But I liked it a lot.
• My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (2016, Quirk Books) This year’s season of the podcast Conviction sent me down a “Satanic Panic” wormhole. I wanted to read, listen, and learn everything I could about this weird ‘80s phenomenon, even culminating in an article for my day job (gratuitous self link here). I scrolled past this book on the library app while doing research, and the funny VHS-style book cover inspired me to check it out. It’s a fictional story of two best friends, one of whom seems to have been possessed by an evil spirit. It’s somehow both funny and creepy. Hendrix has also written a story about a haunted IKEA titled Horrorstör that I have definitely added to my “must read” list.
• The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019, Hachette) I’ve been a fan of West’s since back in the days when she wrote for Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger. It’s been rad to see her writing get such national attention, and she even has a TV show on Hulu titled Shrill. (The aforementioned Irby is a staff writer.) The Witches Are Coming is a much-appreciated attack of “Tr*mp’s America” (sorry, I can’t even type it without throwing up in my mouth a little). She somehow released a new book toward the end of 2020 titled Shit, Actually that I’m currently reading.
• A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (2020, Crown Publishing Group) I don’t know why I like Saturday Night Live. It’s not even that funny most of the time. But, it’s something that’s been in my life since I was a kid. I still remember my best friend and I sharing Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts on the playground during recess, or going to see Wayne’s World at the dollar theatre. So, I’ve read a lot of cast member memoirs, and this one was pretty entertaining. (I still enjoy Tina Fey’s Bossypants the most.)
• Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness (2019, HarperCollins) The release of season 5 of Netflix’s Queer Eye was an all-too brief spark of sunshine during the dark summer of quarantine. I checked out Ness’s auto-bio audiobook to fill the void and found myself appreciating the grooming expert even more. He shares how he overcame childhood sexual abuse and drug addiction — stuff he can’t really address during the hour-long episodes, which are mostly focused on the nominees. (Do they still call them “heroes”? I can’t remember if that’s a throwback to the original series.)
• Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy (2018, Dutton) This book came out a couple of years ago, but, as I’m not really a fan of Wilco, I never bothered with it. But then, in April, a podcast I listen to (Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds) did an episode detailing the conflict between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar during their Uncle Tupelo days, and I was so intrigued I wanted to learn more. What I learned is, Tweedy is a very funny writer. (Either that, or he has a good ghostwriter/editor.)
• Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina by Chris Frantz (2020, St. Martin’s Press) I’ll be honest, this isn’t a very good book. Frantz isn’t the most engaging writer, and many of the chapters just blur into each other. (“We played a concert and got an encore. We ate fish for dinner. Some random lady was good-looking.”) But the David Byrne barbs are both relentless and hilarious, and you can tell from his writing how much he still really loves Tina, which is so sweet after 40+ years of marriage.
Rob Pursey (Catenary Wires, European Sun, Heavenly, Tender Trap)
I’ve been running an online poetry-reading event during 2020. Basically, I choose a collection, everyone gathers on a zoom call, and then we take it in turns to read out loud. Sometime the poetry is canonical and old, sometimes it’s contemporary (and on most of those occasions the real-life poet has joined us on the zoom call). It works better than I can have expected. Hearing 30 people’s voices, taking it in turns to read, is very moving and a good antidote to loneliness and isolation. So my top ten readings were
PARADISE REGAINED by John Milton. An old, blind man finds himself on the losing side of the English Civil War and tries to come to terms with the restoration of the hated monarchy by re-telling the story of Christ in the wilderness.
DIVISION STREET by Helen Mort. Legacies of the Miners’ Strike, passionately re-imagined by someone too young to have been there.
SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE by William Blake. Apocalyptic poems for children.
RECKLESS PAPER BIRDS by John McCullough. The excitement and fear of living in London when you are young and gay.
BRIGGFLATTS by Basil Bunting. On a par with ‘The Wasteland’, but less celebrated because rooted in the landscape and dialect of the North-East.
ISN’T FOREVER by Amy Key. Funny, fragile, sometimes self-lacerating poems by a really great new writer.
SONNETS by William Shakespeare. He couldn’t put his plays on because of a pandemic, so wrote lots of these instead. Lucky us.
HAPPINESS by Jack Underwood. Beautiful, funny, very self-aware poems on straight male identity and anxieties.
VENUS AND ADONIS by William Shakespeare. Him again. A little epic, where his medieval roots are audible.
SMOOTHIE by Claudine Toutoungi. Another really great new poet; spiky, witty, dramatic and energetic.
Bridget St John, Vashti Bunyan, Sandy Denny, Rodriguez
The Clientele, Oh everything. Musical anti-anxiety remedy and life-affirming soul boost. More please!
Yo La Tengo’s very sad but very necessary Hanukkah show. Please music gods, don’t make them go through that again. Shoutout to Amy Rigby (my friend Shawn called her “a female Jonathan Richman, but funnier”) and Ira’s sweet mom, slaying us.
All the best to everyone in 2021. Keep fighting evil.
Broken Greek by Pete Paphides – lovely, just lovely, but you all know this, right?… you no doubt all have it already, and have been similarly enjoying it (both physically, and as an audiobook) throughout lockdown, listening to the accompanying playlist, thinking about your own childhood, remembering your own teen music obsessions… also, not bragging, but the last gig I went to was the book launch (Chrissie Hynde! David Arnold! Mike Batt! – basically, a better lineup than Live Aid) and the last non-partner hug I had was from Pete!
Jackie Mittoo – working from home has meant listening to more music during the day, and after a few weeks of trying different playlists to see what was easiest to work with (I went through a lot of Dungeon Synth, ’60s soundtracks, and ambient tracks), I settled on instrumental reggae, ska, rocksteady and dub, which in turn has led to a minor obsession with Jackie Mittoo records… solid gold…
Spun Out of Control – a cassette label that went vinyl during 2020 – broadly they release creepy electronic not-soundtracks to nonexistent horror films that have become the actual soundtrack to a LOT of walks through empty West London streets this year… treat yourself to the Sleepers by Hattie Cooke:
Double Deckers – “The chocolate bar is structured in two layers; a lightly whipped nougat layer, with a lower layer of cereal “crispies,” these are then coated in milk chocolate”… need I say more?
Disaster films – this year I’ve been watching a LOT of worlds ending, buildings collapsing, planes crashing, volcanoes erupting, diseases spreading, boats sinking and SHARKS… the Poseidon Adventure is the best one
Singing Streets app – I tend to walk the same streets for my daily exercise, it’s just easier not having to think… the Singing Streets app was launched at the start of September, and I found out, among other things, that Bryan Ferry’s Studio (where Prince recorded!), the house where Freddie wrote BoRap and the caff off the front of Common People were all on my daily route… I branched out to walks from where Dan Treacy went to school to where Syd Barrett lived (via the Troubadour, David Gilmour’s old flat, the Nashville Rooms and the Beggars Banquet shop) and from the studio where Buzzcocks recorded “What Do I Get?” and “Orgasm Addict” on 9 Sept 1977 to the place Bolan died one week later.
Discogs – Finally catching up with adding all my records to Discogs, realising how much utter rubbish I have, having a clear out, and using the money from any sales to treat myself to deluxe versions of Saint Etienne albums, and…
Paul Collins– I Don’t Fit In, the Paul Collins autobiography was announced over the summer, copies came with a 7-inch but postage from the states was crippling… a discogs sale for exactly the value of the book, record and postage, came in and I bought the book, all in a couple of minutes… I listened to a LOT of the Nerves this year too…
Joy Division – I’ve always dismissed them as a not-as-good OMD, with a good song I’m a bit bored of (you know the one) and a great song that keeps getting better (Atmosphere), but a combination of the Stephen Morris book (excellent, really funny, tragic) and the Transmissions podcast narrated by Maxine Peake has led to a reappraisal, and finally listening to a pair of 40-year-old albums… turns out they’re pretty good (not as good as OMD though)…
Very early pre-orders – ordering records, forgetting about them, and getting them in the post months later is great… in 2020 new ones from Taylor Swift and Kelly Lee Owens arrived as a surprise, as well as the reissue of Sisters by the Bluebells, and Forever by the Spice Girls… I’ve just checked, and there is still a Pye Corner Audio box set, the new Insides LP and another from Taylor Swift in the pipeline… roll on 2021
Nikki McClure (artist)
10 people I want to hug as tight as I can and I’m not much of a hugger
1. Lois Maffeo and I will eat tamales with her
2. My sisters who are quite far away
3. Oscar Soule, my college botany teacher who just dropped off raspberry jam
4. Amber Bell because she would then pass it on for me to everyone in Portland
5. My Mailman Craig who I repeated his name all day to remember it.
6. Marena at the Farmers Market who sells me bread every week and I put it in my basket that her Father made
7. Tina Herschelman and hopefully she is wearing cashmere
8. Aaron Tuller at Buyolympia because he’s not a hugger either
9. My Mother because she’s my Mother
10. Doctors and Nurses and Teachers and Grocers and Delivery Drivers. I think I heard another van pull up at my neighbor’s. I will hug my neighbor too and we will dance in the street.
Ten records I’ve been listening to obsessively this year, in descending order of repeats:
6 Women I’d Like to Personally Thank (I Was Trying for 10, but I Am Nearing Deadline)
Marcy Mays I’d like to thank you for your cowboy boots and for always being full-on ready to rock. Scrawl Forever!
Heather Lewis Thank you for coming up with my favorite drumbeat. Interested listeners may refer to “Midnight A Go Go” by Beat Happening to hear it.
Sara Lund The best drummers in the world have an idiosyncratic system of timing. Is it in their head, their hands or their feet? Wherever it stems from, Sara Lund’s drumming in Unwound not only withstood the art-damaged time signatures of Justin Trosper and Vern Rumsey—she elevated it. 100% fucking genius musician.
Stella Marrs Since we’re on the subject of drummers, has any performance more radically changed my views on and understanding of performance than Stella playing a snare drum with hands holding stiletto pumps? Her voluminous influence on visual and graphic art is well known, but she also resides in my life as a continual handmaiden to my blown mind.
Kathleen In 1984, I lived in Portland, Oregon, and walked across downtown to Satyricon once a week for a poetry night organized by Walt Curtis (who was inspiration for the older protagonist of Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche.) It was more or less an open mic in which self-serious poets from Reed College would recite their verse and aging gay men would yell at them. (“You are an abortion!” was a favorite taunt I heard there.) One consistent feature of this weekly event was the pre-intermission arrival to the stage of a late-middle-aged woman named Kathleen, who would sing (a capella) the 1961 hit “Norman” and then return to her seat next to her ever-changing (yet gentlemanly) elderly date. Each of the 7 or 8 times I heard her sing it, it was so pure. And never once was it not entirely cheered on and welcomed by the otherwise vicious crowd. She is unforgettable to me and I wish I’d had the good fortune to get to know her.
Gilmore Tamny A friend had a copy of Wiglet in his apartment and I picked it up to scan the contents, thinking it was a music zine. In it, there was a cartoon about having a job where you had to drive around all over the place and knock on people’s doors. But the panels ended before the actual job was named. So I wrote a letter to the zine address in Columbus, Ohio, and asked if the job had been delivering flowers or pizzas. I received a note in return that said, “I was a process server.” That brief letter of reply (in 1985?) brought Gilmore Tamny into my life and from then on she has been a total heroine to me. Who else can make a shitty job into a thrilling zine cliff-hanger? Who else can convince me to go on a 1-show tour, in order to drive to Columbus, OH and play at an All Girl All Star Hoedown? (With Scrawl! See above!) And who has combined metal chops and chutzpah in bands the Yips, Weather Weapon and in her side gig as a spokesmodel for the Mystery? And who follows their idle thoughts of, “Hmmm…maybe it would be interesting to become an expert in art theft and forgery?” into REALITY??? Musician, artist, novelist, poet, promoter and Bostonian Gilmore Tamny, that’s who. All hail.
Thank you, brilliant women.
Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket)
Books of Poetry I found especially useful this year:
Gwendolyn Brooks – Blacks
Anslem Hollo – Sojourner Microcosms
Robert Fernandez – Scarecrow
Samuel Amadon – Listener
Louis MacNeice – Autumn Journal
Caroline Bird – The Hat Stand Union
Ada Limon – The Carrying
Atsuro Riley – Romey’s Order
Elizabeth Bishop – Questions of Travel
whoever wrote Gilgamesh – Gilgamesh
Rachel Blumberg and Jeffrey Underhill (artists, musicians)
Top ten favorite foods we made in 2020 that gave us some slivers of happiness.
1. enchilada lasagna
2. cullen skink
3. bacalao gommes
4. vegetable shepherds pie
6. grilled scallops
7. pan con tomate with garden tomatoes
8. sourdough discard biscuits with fig jam
9. eggplant parmesan
10. gingerbread pancakes
Gilmore Tamny (Weather Weapon)
10 Things That Happened, I Noticed, Were Important to Me, or Were Merely Novel
This list does not include my shock, horror, and despair of the wider world. Take that as writ.
1. passed a dear friend on the street without recognizing her due to masks and fogged-up glasses
2. drew chinchilla plotting to destroy a Chihuly
3. thought New England spring 2020 tulip game absolutely outstanding
4. discovered the way I express love to my petfriend is to continually fret about their wellbeing and contentment, and the way I experience work anxiety is a tiny tasered sensation everytime I hear that arriving email bingbong
6. started a taut psychological thriller
7. took a class on Sea Monsters
8. thought about hypocrisy all the time—mine, yours, the world
9. FOOD: a) tried to bring iceberg lettuce back into my life b) bought a croissant crust frozen pizza, made a big deal about it, thought about doing a Zoom roundtable where we try/discuss en masse, but it still lays in my freezer withering c) discovered there is no room at the adjective inn for Snickerdoodle-flavored popcorn
10. had a fling with nonfiction: The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: The Amazing Story of How America Lost Its Mind Over a Plush Toy—and the Eccentric Genius Behind It, My Friend Anna, and Children of Ash and Elm. All highly recommend (not necessarily pub this year BTW).
Oed Ronne (The Ocean Blue)
Top Ten Episodes of The Rockford Files
1. The Farnsworth Stratagem
2. Quickie Nirvana
3. In Pursuit of Carol Thorne
4. The Girl in the Bay City Boys Club
5. The Mayor’s Committee from Deer Lick Falls
6. The Oracle Wore a Cashmere Suit
7. The Becker Connection
8. Requiem for a Funny Box
9. Dwarf in a Helium Hat
10. If the French Heel is Back, Can the Nehru Jacket Be Far Behind?
Chickfactor editor in chief Gail O’Hara
Top Ten Things I Miss About Portland
1. Eating! Especially at Back to Eden Café (RIP), Harlow, Kati Thai, Luc Lac, Maruti, the Sudra, Supernova, Cedo’s, Eb & Bean, Tarai Thai, Modern Times, including delicious big bowls at Bye & Bye and Sweet Hereafter, the best falafel and hummus and pickled veggies in the entire world at Cedo’s, the vegan pizza at Red Sauce, Pizza Jerk and Virtuous Pie, the hummus at Aviv, the breakfast, reubens and burgers from Off the Griddle, oh so many things! I’ve probably already lost a stone by being gone (not really). I wish I could order takeout of everything and have it delivered. Vegan heaven. Comfort food capital of the world.
2. Playing indoor futbol with my team The Crusty Punks. They are the best! After 9 months of not playing, I feel sad and less powerful.
3. Chanting my head off at Portland Thorns games (also so sad that I won’t be seeing Crystal Dunn play a bunch of home games; also sad that Tobin Heath is technically no longer a Thorn; I will miss seeing Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan play a ton) I am starting a covert Rose City Riveters supporters group in my current home town if anyone wants to join. #BAONPDX
4. Screaming like a banshee and jumping up and down and swinging my scarf at Portland Timbers games; I never truly understood the meaning of sports until I became a fan of this team in 2011. My love for them; their love for the fans; the love affair between the Timbers Army and the players, so pure, so magical. The Magic Is Real. #RCTID
5. Karaoke!! Especially at Voicebox with like 8 of my friends. My standards: “99 Red Balloons,” “Buffalo Stance,” and I miss the group scream-along to any B-52s tune.
6. Beulahland: my footie-watching local, where I wasn’t crazy about the food but I dug the atmosphere, the people, the vending machine and the left-wing history. (sings) “Where everybody knows your name…”
7. Toffee Club! It was such a fun place to watch women’s futbol, like the Thorns and the USWNT, plus the cider selection and the people were so great. We all used to DJ there a few years ago. I guess I miss living in SCUSA (Soccer City USA): ya think?
8. Walking in parks with friends! Especially in Laurelhurst and Mt Tabor, the general overwhelming blossoming fertile bucolic pastoral beauty of the Pacific NW, the elephants and seals at the zoo, and the Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden. So much beauty.
9. Venues! There were three venues that I treasured the most: Doug Fir, which is ideal in terms of size, sightlines, coziness, sound, and everything. It’s underground and looks like a softly furnished log cabin. Mississippi Studios, which is just a wonderful space in every way, though I never was able to set up shows at either sadly. And of course Bunk Bar, which is the greatest in terms of working with them on events, they feed the bands fancy tater tots and big sandwiches, they pay artists properly and are easy to work with. The shows we did set up there were epic.
10. Record stores! Bookshops! Powell’s. Old movie theaters! Dive bars. Bridges and rivers.
11. My friends! Their dogs! Their yards. Their support and company and conversation. Still can’t quite accept that I’m not going back. (I know I’ll fall in love with my new home but I feel like life is in limbo so…)
Jen Sbragia (The Softies, All Girl Summer Fun Band, chickfactor designer)
1. Feeding and viewing hummingbirds on my porch 2. Walking through deep puddles in old rainboots that I have mended with goo I bought from the internet 3. Listening to podcasts about crimes and/or terrifying stories and then podcasts about self-help and mindfulness whilst cooking. 4. Coffee 5. Avoiding sugar long enough that a consuming a small chunk of dark chocolate feels like snorting a line of something 6. Fashion Plates and colored pencils 7. Potatoes in all forms 8. Snuggling with calm children 9. Not putting on jeans for almost a year and also witnessing the death of the skinny jeans trend and being like, “cool… bye” 10. Porch dates
What I did in 2020
Switched off the news.
Followed Peter Terzian on Instagram as he shared and contemplated photographs of himself. One a year up until the present. (He’s a very handsome 52.)
Wiggled around in the kitchen while listening to Jarvis Cocker’s Saturday-night Domestic Disco DJ sets in the spring.
Caught up with The World At War. All 26 episodes and 47 years after it was made.
Cheered on Sander Bos and Esther Perbandt in the first series of Making The Cut. Mittel-European fashion designers really do trump American ones.
Went to Germany, embraced lido culture, and took up cycling.
Missed drinking through the night with strangers at Milano’s on New York’s East Houston Street.
Bought lots of records from Monorail in Glasgow and Discreet (a.k.a. ‘New Sounds of Swedish Underground’) in Gothenburg.
Listened to Mikey Kirkpatrick’s daily live flute improvisations on Wild Lakes Radio.
Wandered through forests looking for deer and pondering the past and the future.
Watched lots of ski jumping and took up sledding.
Sent Christmas cards for the first time in three decades.
Dawn Sutter Madell (Agoraphone)
I found it hard to concentrate on much besides music, but here is a top 10 list of things that distracted me from 2020
1. ancestry deep dives 2. schitt’s creek (which I had never watched) 3. true crime (podcasts, doc-series) 4. gardening for myself 5. gardening for others 6. freaks and geeks re-watch 7. running 8. Cassi Namoda art 9. His Dark Materials (the show) 10. cbd
13 Highlights in a Low-Life Year
1 Gonsalves Portuguese Seasoning (an indispensable part of our pantry) 2 Open E Tuning (courtesy of Johnny Marr’s “Headmaster Ritual” guitar tutorial on YouTube. Now I use it on everything, just like the Portuguese seasoning) 3 Arch Cape, Oregon 4 Kamala Harris 5 John was Trying to Contact Aliens doc. on Netflix 6 Anarchist Jurisdictions (There were no delays getting our Holiday packages either to or from Portland—go figure.) 7 Michael Galinsky’s photo archives 8 KMUN Coast Community Radio, Astoria, Oregon (especially the rockin’ Backbeat program, and the ship report) 9 Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983–1987 compilation (Captured Tracks) 10 City of Dreams: a tasty unfiltered/citrusy pale ale from Ft. George Brewery in Astoria, OR. 11 Takeout Cocktails: an idea whose time has come, and hopefully outlasts the pandemic. 12 O & H Bakery’s Almond Kringle: Maybe the sweetest thing to ever come out of Racine, WI 13 Cawston Press’s Rhubarb soda (hard to pick a favorite flavor—their Elderflower Lemonade is also right up there.)
Evelyn Hurley (Cotton Candy)
Top 10 walks & bike rides I made in 2020
#10- The walk from my house to Central Square, Cambridge. A utilitarian walk usually made to complete chores.
#9- The walk from my house to Whole Foods on Beacon St., Somerville. The sidewalks are usually really crowded, and there seems to be a lot of pedestrians who don’t know how to socially distance and also share the sidewalk, and the intersection at Inman Square is kind of annoying. But other than that, it gets me where I need to go pretty quickly.
#8- The bike ride from my house to my office. Thankfully there wasn’t as much traffic as usual, and it’s not a relaxing or easy bike ride, but it was nice to be back in the office even if it was only for one day a week.
#7- The walk from my office to the library stacks. I used to think it was ordinary, now I find it exhilarating!
#6- The walk from my office to Trader Joe’s and the Trillium beer garden. I always come back to work with delicious goodies in my bags!
#5- The walk along the beach in South Boston with my friend Viktoria and her adorable dog.
#4- The walk up Buffalo or Seneca Street in Ithaca, NY. It’s a brutal hike up this street, but you get your entire workout ring closed and it’s a thrill to successfully achieve the hike!
#3- The walk from my house to the Cambridge Brewing Company, two blocks away.
#2- The bike ride from the Provincetown Ferry to Race Point Beach, Cape Cod. I only did it once this summer, but it was hard and totally rewarding.
#1- The daily walk I took from my house over the Longfellow Bridge and back. I’d head out after WFH was done, or I’d finished making dinner, this jaunt was my daily dose of sanity. I’d listen to books on tape, podcasts like “Rock and Roll Film Club,” new music, Folklore” from TS was in heavy rotation, or I’d talk to friends on the phone. I have far too many pictures of the sunsets, which were often technicolor and always gave me hope.
Hope 2021 is good for everyone and we are all healthy and safe.
I cannot remember meeting LD. Suddenly I just knew him, and he knew about all of my geeky preoccupations: the Mitford sisters, the Bright Young Things who lent their glamour to post-war Britain; Henry and Alice James; where to get proper grits in Manhattan. If we see our best selves reflected in our friends, then LD had a knack for not only forcing me to see myself more clearly, but also to love myself a little more.
He was that kind of friend—the one who could make you feel like the most fascinating person at the party. Loyal. Passionate. The kind of friend who pretends to be your new boyfriend in the middle of the front room at the Knitting Factory. LD loved revenge.
When I got the news I was reading through my students’ response papers on Sontag’s essay “Notes on Camp.” My students found Sontag’s ideas so fresh and knowing they wanted more of her. As a teacher, it was a proud moment.
I remembered, after I got the news, going back to class and feeling like I could never read Nancy Mitford or—god forbid—Susan Sontag again. We discussed both of them at length. Other things too: Oscar Wilde, Low, Memphis barbecue, his beloved Lucia books.
LD was singular. There will never be another one—how could there be? I hope he knows about my present-day life, so different from when I knew him in NYC. I hope he knows how much I valued him as a friend and a fellow lover of research holes and internet dives.
I won’t sing the catty part of just any song for just any band: only for the Moth Wranglers. Only for Chris and LD. LD loved and understood beauty. The world is a little less beautiful without him in it.
LD Beghtol and I became friends during the recording of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, and I shared the stage with him once, when TMF played Lincoln Center. I had the good fortune to see him live so many times, always brilliant. A standout was one of The Three Terrors extravaganzas in New York, with Dudley Kludt, Stephin Merritt and Kenny Mellman. It was outrageous fun, and I made many lasting friends on that memorable evening. He interviewed me for his book 69 Love Songs: A Field Guide (33 1/3), and I was so honored when he asked me to contribute some theremin to a track on Moth Wranglers’ “Never Better” mini-album.
Rest in Peace, dear LD—you were a force to be reckoned with—a genius, a diva, a gentleman, and a unique talent I’m grateful to have known as a friend. I’m so fortunate that you graced my life with your larger-than-life presence.