Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Monica and I decided to post a list of words/sounds/pictures that got us through 2020, and most likely will continue to provide wind underneath our wings in 2021 (sigh.....)!
Here are a select few features from my list, and some words on why they hang so high in my gallery, so to speak:
Slouching Towards Bethlehem (a collection of essays by Joan Didion)
The patron saint of bicoastal identity, Didion's dry, wise prose provides both investigative perspectives on humanity and reflections on her own relationship to the world around her. The title essay provides an un-romanticized recount of the height of Haight Ashbury's hippie culture– starring toddlers dropping LSD and young Midwestern girls being trafficked for businessmen's fantasies of hippie escapism. In every essay, I feel that Didion challenges visions of idealism with a sly comment, as if she's asking, "Whose Utopia is this really, and who is being excluded?"
In The Pleasure Groove (autobiography by John Taylor)
Chiefly known as the founding member and bassist of Duran Duran, Taylor's autobiography truly struck a chord with me (no pun intended) and is incredibly inspiring for anyone who is working towards their wildest dreams. I play bass and definitely cite Taylor as my key influence– his genre-twisting low-end oeuvre is incredibly rich. In the book, we accompany the musician throughout his continent spanning journey, from the suburbs of Birmingham, UK, to the glamorous London, New York, Paris –––and eventually the entire world. Taylor provides an incredibly gripping narrative and recount of a personal and artistic transformation that unfolds in a fascinating way. Interwoven with personal anecdotes is a colorfully described music history of the late 70s, 80s, 90s to present day. An intimate personal mediation and a key cultural document, Taylor's story provides essential reference for those interested in punk, new wave & funk music.
What's Your Pleasure? (album by Jessie Ware)
As a high school student, I remember going to Rasputin Records (a place that no longer exists in San Francisco, see previous blog: https://www.youknowwhatimeanmag.com/post/thoughts-on-the-record-store) to purchase Jessie's first album, Devotion. I believe I discovered her smooth, neo-funk whilst listening to Pandora– sometimes the algorithm reaps many rewards. Her voice is like cascading velvet, and the atmosphere she creates is similar to that of Bryan Ferry's or Roxy Music's Avalon– languid, sensuous and grown-up. Anyways, 8 years later, I was overjoyed to hear about Ware's vision for her latest offering, and my anticipations were surpassed. If I asked for a dream album, this would be it– simmering echoes of '80s funk, lust jams, nightclubbing anthems– they are all here. Track favorites include Step Into My Life, Ooh La La and an important listen, especially this year, Remember Where You Are.
Future Nostalgia (album by Dua Lipa)
Monica and I BOTH put this on our lists– this is a double highlight, which means it's doubly special. This album came out in March, when we were all inside our habitats, antsy, anxious and neurotic. And what a joyful RELEASE it gave me, especially– I had been listening to a lot of disco of the 70s just to feel optimistic and here was a modern take on that future optimism credo of dance music, so to speak. In interviews Dua Lipa said that she manifested many things in her life through the songwriting process of this album– and you can feel that magical energy on every track. Again, the only discotheque I frequented this year was my Mind Disco (quite a fun place, I have to say) but what a f••cking amazing soundtrack to fantasize with (if you loved this you'll love the Club Future Nostalgia remix album as well). So I am going to try to manifest something– I hope to collaborate with Ms. Dua (and Jessie Ware .....and Duran Duran, and lots of other people) someday!! Play bass on a track, write a song!! I feel like we could get along. (That already rhymes...)
Brazil (feature film directed by Terry Gilliam)
I had always wanted to watch this film, and thanks to being mostly homebound this year, I managed to get to it. Being a Monty Python fan, and having seen Gilliam's vision of the Baron Munchausen tale, I figured this would be a stunning interpretation of the future.
I was shocked at.... how real this film felt? Or at least, maybe how timely even though it was made in 1985? The truth of its images haunted me for days after watching it.
A selection of images: Explosions going off in cafés as the bourgeoisie continue to eat their pre-masticated entrées; cosmetic surgery that turns people into shadows of themselves; paperwork that is only created for the illusion of business...the film has an operatic flow and is definitely a must watch for anyone who thinks about society or humanity and its complications. The production design alone is, as the Brits would say, gob-smack worthy, and I would say if you are a Blade Runner fan, you will definitely enjoy this one.
40 Year Old Version (feature film directed by Radha Blank)
In this tale of New York City, Blank's debut feature is an incredibly witty and real look at the tensions between art, culture and commerce. Blank plays a 39-going-on-40 playwright who won some limelight earlier on in her career, but now teaches after-school theatre workshops and crafts plays on race that are targeted for white Broadway audiences so she can just make a buck. Her life changes when she realizes she should invest in writing her own hip hop album– and meets a taciturn yet thoughtful beats producer along the way. Shot in black and white, the film feels like a classic already– and has a beautiful balance of pathos, love and cutting humor. I cannot wait to watch more by Radha Blank and see more meditations on a creative life beyond 40– she's only just begun.
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Happy friggin' new year everybody – you know what I mean?