That ‘Everyone’s free to wear sunscreen’ thing by Baz Luhrmann (actually an essay by Mary Schmich) has a line in it about how you shouldn’t worry, because the real troubles in your life will be things that blindside you on some idle Tuesday.
This year has been a string of idle Tuesdays. Absurd dark comedy. It just keeps coming. I know beginnings and ends of years are arbitrary things, but man I really hope 2021 can’t be arsed.
There’s a lot more music on this list this than usual (keep scrolling). And there are a lot of things that aren’t on it. Bill Callahan is not on it, but he is my constant salve. Consider him part of the ether. There is not a lot of swing music either because there was not a lot of dancing.
It could easily just be the new Fiona Apple album on repeat, because that happened a lot, but I restrained myself to one song. I loved it all immediately.
It also includes ‘The Art Teacher’ by Rufus Wainwright rather than anything from his new album because it kept coming up and it’s one of the most perfect songs in the world.
I fell in love with Bowie all over again this year so I had to restrain myself putting more of him in here. After he popped up as a character, pre-fame, in David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue, I read Dylan Jones’ oral history biography of him and fell down a bit of a hole. But a good hole.
BBC 6Music DJs get a lot of credit for getting me through some endless hours alone in my tiny flat. That’s probably why there’s a lot more new music here than other years, but even a lot of the old stuff comes from them. Especially Lauren Laverne, Craig Charles, Cerys Matthews, Guy Garvey, and Iggy Pop. Iggy in particular has a knack for playing the perfect thing and saying the perfect thing in the most calming voice.
I am very picky about covers of my favourite bands, but Lianne La Havas’s cover of ‘Weird Fishes’ it at least as good as the original if not better. And it is probably one of my favourite Radiohead songs to the point that having one is possible. Joan As Police Woman’s cover of ‘Out of Time’ is equally amazing. And a Peaches cover of T-Rex? Yes. Fucking. Please. That one was one of Iggy Pop’s.
The only song on this list not available on Spotify is by Shake Em Up Jazz Band, which, you should just go buy everything they’ve made. But this is one of the few things I got to dance to this year, albeit in Chris and Holly’s kitchen during an online dance party.
Most of the rest are just things pertaining to moments, as usual. My favourite of these, for sheer unexpectedness, is ‘Mr. Sandman’. On my birthday, mere days before the first lockdown, after eating a lot of cheese, the boys and Holly ended up doing their own fully harmonised version of this. I don’t even remember why. That’s just what happens when you can have a bunch of cool people in one room. It was the best.
Kristina also flagged ‘Living On My Own’ by Freddie Mercury as song of the day sometime in early lockdown v1, and I say it’s a contender for song of the year.
I blew past my reading goal ridiculously early, which is nice, but I really hope it doesn’t happen again. The only reason for it was that at the start of the year, before I was on a Masters course, I had so much extra time to fill. I’m currently sitting at 47 and might finish the 48th before tomorrow. I will be setting my usual 36 book goal for next year and hoping I don’t come close.
The other new thing we got this year I’d been looking forward to was a David Mitchell novel. And I also fell in love with him all over again. Hence the comfort re-reading of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas. I had forgotten almost everything about Cloud Atlas except that it was the start of my love affair with the world inside Mitchell’s head. I was quickly reminded why it started.
So much of his world applies, but here’s a good one:
“If we believe humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this worlds peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
I also re-read Gatsby and Tracks. Always worth it.
I read my first James Baldwin and got actively angry that it took me so long and that he wasn’t on any of our high school American Lit reading lists because his writing blew me away.
I read a lot of incredible books from my Heady Mix subscription that I never would have known about otherwise. I cannot recommend this enough.
I read The Book of M just as the whole lockdown was starting, which was a bizarre experience. And I finally read Call Me By Your Name which is consuming and beautiful.
(New) Favourites of the year
- Census – Jesse Ball
- Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman
- The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd
- Modern Nature – Derek Jarman
- Small Island – Andrea Levy
- A People’s History of Heaven – Mathangi Subramanian
- Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell
- Another Country – James Baldwin
- David Bowie: A Life – Dylan Jones
- The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai
No Amazon links. Support your local small bookshops! Three of my favourites:
In podcasts, I remain a devotee of 99 Percent Invisible and really loved the second Articles of Interest season.
I started listening to The Trip when I was looking for the one with Dr. Howard Conyers. There are some great conversations about difficult and complicated topics on this show and I particularly enjoyed both the Berlin and Iraq miniseries.
This Is Love did a series on animals which was amazing. And I thought the ‘No Title’ episode of The Allusionist does an excellent job of looking at titles and gender while being fascinating and hilarious as usual.
And I can’t end this without talking about Home Cooking. Talk about falling in love with people. I love Samin Nosrat so much, and now I love her even more. I also had not previously listened to any of Hrishikesh Hirway’s podcasts, because what on earth is my problem? So I was very happy to be introduced to him so I could love him too. These two put together the Home Cooking podcast to address the insanity of being stuck at home all the time and having to keep feeding yourself through this dumpster fire. It is not an understatement to say this podcast saved me more than once. Samin and Hrishi made me laugh over and over again. (The puns! Oh, the puns.) And they gave good advice. And they kept me company. It is my favourite piece of media this year. I am sad that it’s over, but I am incredibly happy that it exists. If you haven’t listened to it, I envy you for getting to hear it all for the first time.
At the end of last year I said the only things I wanted in 2020 were a new Fiona Apple album and another amazing holiday with my friends. I somehow got both of those things, which is incredible given that the album was not under my control, and it turns out the ability to travel was also largely not under my control, but we stayed in the country and within the rules at the time. This is the first year I haven’t set foot on a plane probably not just in years, but decades. I am fine with not flying anywhere, but feeling confined, as we all know, is not nice. To have the space of the highlands was a miracle. I probably would have truly lost the plot if we hadn’t been lucky enough to manage that.
With that level of luck, I should have said what I didn’t want. But I’m sure I couldn’t have imagined enough of it to be that specific.
This year I’m not sure what to say. Less of Baz Luhrmann’s idle Tuesdays. More hugs.