Remember December: Other Albums, Other Songs (AKA My Favorite Posts of 2020)

I listened to Jackson Browne’s Hold Out yesterday and again today. It’s an album I rediscovered earlier this year after a four-decade break and, in the months since, have played a fair bit. It takes me back to the summer I turned 15, when life’s complications seemed simpler than the simplicities of life today. Granted, the Iranian hostage crisis was ongoing, the economy was anemic and NHL linesman Leon Stickle’s non-call on an obvious offsides had just cost the Philadelphia Flyers their Stanley Cup dream for the season, but I was a teenager. The promise of tomorrow loomed large.

Back then, I often slipped headphones over my ears, laid on my bedroom floor and escaped into in the music emanating from my Realistic stereo system’s turntable. (The advertisement below is for the model I had, which was a Christmas gift from my parents in 1976.) The diamond/sapphire stylus danced along the record’s grooves and discerned my mood as if by magic, never failing to lift me up when sad and/or making good times better.

In 2020, however, the promise of tomorrow often seemed non-existent. Matters of life and death, and tinpot despots, turned the year into a series of vile vignettes that played on a never-ending loop. The incessant drone made writing a challenge, especially in the early going. Many posts read not as the insightful essays I intended but wordy YouTube adverts. C’est la vie. (I’m reminded of the Wallace Stevens poem “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight,” essentially about the limits of language: “It is like a flow of meanings with no speech/And of as many meanings as of men.”) Yet, even in the bleakest of times, I delved into matters tempo, timbre and the heart with regularity: This has been the first year in which I didn’t take a weekend off.

All of which leads to this: My favorite posts of the year not about Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. (Those are always among my best.) They’re arranged chronologically, not by preference.

1) The Essentials: Indigo Girls – Self-Titled (1/5/20). Extrapolating insights about life writ large, especially as it relates to a generational sea change, is near impossible, but this piece about the Indigo Girls does it well. As I joke in the lede, “for those of us who came of age during them, the 1980s were akin to the 1960s with the 6 closed off.” (I.e., a lot of freedom had been lost.)

2) The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Hold Out (3/28/20). Although it suffers from a few too many embedded videos, this is a good example of what I aim for with my Essentials entries, but don’t always achieve. (Plus, it features an oblique allusion to one of my favorite works of fiction, Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.)

3) Roberta Flack’s First Take: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition – The Review (8/8/20). The much-delayed reissue, which was pushed back from its original April release date due to the pandemic, is a listening experience well worth undertaking; and I delve deep not just into the music, but its backstory.

4) First Impressions: The Wine of Youth by Zach Phillips (8/29/2020). It’s easy to lose one’s self in despair, especially during this pandemic, but Zach’s album helped me rise like a phoenix from the embers of a deep depression. Perhaps because of that, this review was – hands down – the best thing I wrote all year. 

5) Today’s Top 5: Albums AWOL from Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums (9/27/2020). As Paul Simon sings in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “…every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.” Every generation also recasts the past, but rarely without controversy. One example: Rolling Stone’s 2020 all-time album countdown. It ruffled some feathers, especially amongst older music fans, but – as I write in my post – “These lists are not of ‘all time,’ but of their time; they reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, and that moment is generally set by those younger than me.”

And, with that, the annual “Remember December” navel-gazing exercise, circa 2020, has come to a close. On Wednesday, I’ll share my blog-related resolutions for the coming year and then begin implementing them on January 1st.

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