It was a good run, making monthly soundtracks to chronicle life’s ups and downs. But inevitably other priorities clashed with best intentions, and here we are. I’ve just added a few bits to a playlist I intended to share in February/March 2019 – a whole year ago. How much has changed in that year, even though on a day-by-day, drip-by-drip level, it feels numbingly same-same.
Follow along on Spotify if inclined… I was, once upon a time, burning CD copies of MP3 files of all this stuff, and mailing them out with various candy/sweets from different spots in the world, but this too has fizzled out.
Usually when I produce these lists in a timely fashion, I nod respectfully to the dearly departed by including a song from those no longer on this earthly plane. For some time, something by The Cars lingered in the playlist as a ‘remembering Ric Ocasek’ thing, but it was like a nagging splinter that’s visible but unextractable. I removed the song; it didn’t belong. But the same can be said of so many things: remove because it didn’t belong – whatever ‘it’ was.
1. Jeff Russo – Star Trek Picard Main Title
Because it’s the sound of a mild but windy winter turning to spring, and of inevitable moments of turning away from… 2. Roxy Music – Both Ends Burning …do I have the speed to carry on/I’ll burn you out of my mind… 3. Julia Jacklin – Good Guy …tell me I’m the love of your life/just for a night/even if you don’t feel it…
Missing Julia in Glasgow in December. Big regret. “I don’t care for the truth when I’m lonely/I don’t care if you lie” 4. Pavement – Range Life
I have no idea why I stumbled on this and placed it here. 5. Stone Poneys – Different Drum …I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’/We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me…
How often this one pops up in life. 6. The Wild Reeds – Be the Change …conclude my story with a degrading phrase/because I never meant to be this way… 7. Fat White Family – Feet 8. Habib Koité – I Ka Barra
Always returning to Mali in some way, as one does 9. Angel Olsen – Lark …Hiding out inside my head, it’s me again, it’s no surprise I’m on my own now/Every time I turn to you, I see the past…
I missed out on Angel Olsen in Oslo in February. Ambitious, I bought tickets to all kinds of concerts in the autumn, and by winter, my ability to face crowds and noise withered 10. Sleater-Kinney – Hurry On Home …You got me used to loving you… 11. Maggie Rogers – Fallingwater …I never loved you fully in the way I could/I fought the current running just the way you would… 12. Karen O/Danger Mouse – Lux Prima 13. ALA.NI – Cherry Blossom …Blowing through the flowing of my heart… 14. Sharon Van Etten – Consolation Prize …The moral of the story is/don’t lie to me again/To find a better conversation/So I can be your consolation prize… 15. Jim Croce – I Got a Name …they can change their minds but they can’t change me…
I can’t hear Jim Croce without thinking of being a child, looking at an album my mom had that was just a close-up of Croce’s face, and my mom telling me that Croce died when he was 30. I was four so 30 sounded like a perfectly reasonable old age to die. 16. Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips – Mistress America 17. King Creosote – Surface …And now it’s my turn to hide, if not out here then inside/it’s both of us have run to ground…
Scotland, of course 18. Peter Schilling – Terra Titanic
For S and Deutschland love, and how Peter Schilling will always make me think of 1989 and college radio 19. Jane Weaver – You Are Dissolved …Even I am not amazed by you…
For Ade and the fights one can get into at Jane Weaver concerts 20. Heaven 17 – Temptation 21. New Order – Touched by the Hand of God
New Order, and more importantly, Kyle and Anne in Prague and seeing Naomi’s doppelganger. Will never forget the video for this song and how it entertained the adolescent Terra and me 22. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb …there is no pain/you are receding/a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon/you are only coming through in waves/your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying…
Because, according to S, I am the only person on earth who listens to Pink Floyd without being high 23. Ride – Vapour Trail …thirsty for your smile/I watch you for a while/you are a vapour trail/in a deep blue sky…
Still the nightly sleep filled with reawakening of old Terra memories 24. Belle & Sebastian – Meat and Potatoes
Dear Green Place music with a chuckle 25. Billie Eilish – all the good girls go to hell
Not normally my thing but this is a catchy one 26. Angel Olsen – Too Easy …one could make me laugh forever/I’d do anything for you… 27. Alvvays – Next of Kin …if I’d known you couldn’t swim/we would never have gone in…
Sometimes a band will just remind you of one specific moment, one specific person, and you can’t escape it 28. U2 – Red Hill Mining Town …A link is lost/the chain undone/we wait all day/for night to come…
Last year I listened to The Joshua Tree on repeat; my long-ago obsession with that was probably the last time I was ever that connected to such blind passion for something. It was also probably the last time it seemed like U2 wasn’t just going through the motions. 29. Nils Frahm – La
With love for Andreas; this one is best listened to in headphones 30. Vashti Bunyan – Train Song …What will I do if there’s someone with you/Maybe someone you’ve always known/How do I know I can come and give to you/Love with no warning and find you alone…
Another musician whose existence I trip over, so connected to discovery at a specific moment in time. Incidentally this also serves as the theme song for a tv show called Patriot, which I watched and forgot all about and started to watch again. Luckily I immediately realized I’d seen it. But we’re way beyond peak TV now… 31. Morphine – In Spite of Me …You seemed so close but yet so cold/For a long time I thought that you’d be coming back to me/Those kind of thoughts can be so cruel/So cruel/And I know you did it all in spite of me… 32. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors …I’ve been watchin’ all my past repeatin’… 33. Belle & Sebastian – The Party Line …I am on this morning quite distracted/The tug of war begins in our emotion/I am leaving many people feeling/worse than before…
I know I have included this song on another playlist before, but I don’t care. I love it that much. 34. Lana Del Rey – Mariners Apartment Complex
Also not my normal thing. I’m NOT a Lana Del Rey fan but at some point I listened to this particular song enough that it just became a part of this list, and I couldn’t remove it. 35. This Is the Kit – Bashed Out …and blessed are those who see and are silent… 36. The GoGos – Our Lips Are Sealed …there’s a weapon that we must choose in our defense/silence…
For S, J, and others. Somehow many people who should know better had never heard of this, and if they knew the song, they only knew the Fun Boy Three version. The two versions are tellingly different, but the GoGos’ version came first; the song was written by The GoGos’s Jane Wiedlin and Fun Boy Three’s Terry Hall. 37. Joe Fagin – That’s Livin’ Alright, end-credit theme, Auf Wiedersehen Pet
Um, yeah… thanks to S, this past year has been a learning experience about 80s-era UK television. This gem is the end-credits theme for a show about a bunch of unemployed English construction workers who go to Germany to get a job. Funny that with Brexit and its inevitable economic consequences, Germany and the rest of Europe won’t be an option for this type of out-of-work bloke any more 38. Tori Amos – Putting the Damage On …I’m just your ghost passing through…
“You could have your arm on fire and say you’re fine”
A music-filled, middle-of-night drive to Oslo and a quiet few hours alone before the day begins, listening to Obama’s final speech. He was not perfect, but comparing him to what is coming is just… well, it blows me away. How on earth do we go from someone thoughtful, eloquent and educated (and scandal-free) to … the indescribable and constant shit show we have been witnessing and are about to witness for the next four years?
Every day the news throws some new crisis/scandal/revelation into the mix about Trump, his dealings, his proclivities – all alongside his monumental pettiness, wasting time Tweeting about Saturday Night Live and Meryl Streep, for god’s sake – somehow imagining that any of it will make a difference now. He’s been elected already – he’s heading into office in only days. And if none of the revelations before the election derailed this orange lunatic, why on earth would a person or the media expect that any of them will make a difference now? The Russians having dirt on him, him being in collusion with Russians, and any number of other uncountable other piles of shit – none of these things are going to make a difference if they haven’t already. People talk of conflicts of interest and illegalities, potential grounds for impeachment, but no, dudes only get impeached for lying about blow jobs. Trump just lies about and conceals everything else and nothing happens.
I am, as I wrote the other day, generally feeling quite happy despite the state of things in the world (Trump, Brexit, Syria, etc.) but at the same time am submerged in a place where all I do is feel. It’s not that I am an unfeeling person; it’s that I have over many years trained myself to tune out or turn off feelings when they become too much. And right now, everything feels like something. Everything takes on more meaning and depth. And part of me hates this. It is as though a flip was switched, and I can’t get it to turn off. It’s painful and distracting at the same time as exhilarating and almost intoxicating. Another part of me enjoys this entirely new experience, feeling the ‘training’ and discipline of ignoring feelings unravel and let feeling take its natural course, wherever it leads.
Part of this requires acknowledging all feelings – and I am used to silently stuffing them down, down and down to the point that I don’t even know I am doing it. As one dear soul said, in asking me how I was doing, “You could have your arm on fire and say you’re fine”.
The other part requires acknowledging the validity and value of the feelings – it’s one thing to say, “Yes, I feel this way” (whatever way it is). It’s entirely another to admit that it is important or not just some ridiculous digression with which you shouldn’t bother anyone else.
I wrote a lengthy and relatively well-researched piece on the consequences of Brexit, looking at all the things that came to my mind about Brexit’s mostly negative implications. I even took a moment to meander into random musings on how the little European star-circle symbol on people’s car license plates will have to change in Britain – back to the Union flag or to individual country flags, like those in Norway and Iceland.
And then… in not at all dramatic fashion, my computer automatically restarted, and WordPress had not saved the latest draft. Not one single word of it.
I don’t remember a time in recent memory that I have been so angry. Mostly at myself for not obsessively pressing “save” or writing it in Word from the get-go.
Despite the post being about the UK and its future following its vote to exit the EU, the exercise of thinking about and researching it also led to a great deal of thinking about the United States and what it will soon face. I had written quite a lot about America at the same time as elucidating the potential problems of Brexit – about how Britain is just earlier to the “party” in terms of heading down what may well be a very dangerous path. America is bringing up the rear, but still roaring toward voting against its own best interests and isolating itself, rolling back human and civil rights and essentially creating a living nightmare. (Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. But we can’t sleepwalk through all of it in any case.) I wrote a lot about how rights fought for and won, such as the right to abortion, are precious and should not be taken for granted. Just as at least half of the UK, and more than half of the Scots and Northern Irish, once had all the rights granted to EU citizens – and now, that is in doubt. (Much of the reason the Scots voted against independence a couple of years ago is because they were promised that the UK would remain in the EU.)
At any given moment, the whole political and social landscape can change and become little more than a circus in which politicians become clowns and verbal acrobats and contortionists and individuals are essentially powerless circus animals. In the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, whole countries were powerless in the end.
As the clown car that was the US Republican primary process emptied out, leaving the biggest clown of all, Donald Trump, in the driver’s seat, it dawned on the “reasonable” half of America that we should all be scared shitless (but not scared into inactivity). A Trump presidency will be a disaster. Beyond which, Trump just named Indiana governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate – and, as Robert Reich describes in a Facebook post, Pence is “one of the most extreme right-wing officials in America” and went on to describe how.
As we can see from the continued and contentious tug-of-war that defines the right-to-choose (which is a personal liberty and health issue – not a moral issue no matter what religious zealots claim), these issues are never set in stone or decided finally. Things can change, which is both good and bad. While the right to abortion may erode, which is a bad change, we can also see that the right to marriage equality has moved forward, which is a good change. But rights are always in a state of flux and subject to the winds and whims of change. This is especially true when no issue, no political candidate, no momentum ever enjoys a very clear majority – everything is split closely down the middle. No huge majority exists, generally, on one side or the other of any issue.
Only slightly more than half of the UK voted to exit the EU, meaning that Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted with a larger majority to remain in the EU, are dragged along with England and Wales’s bold-but-stupid plans. By extension, this means that a slight majority of Americans choosing Trump can drag the entire country toward chaos against its will. (We saw something similar when Bush II became president after a too-close-to-call, contested election in 2000 versus Al Gore. We see how that turned out.)
The point: We always have to be vigilant – about rights we already have and about continuing to vote (hopefully against lunacy).
This is why Brexit is perplexing. It feels like we are moving backwards, like when you are stuck in a nightmare and try to run but are stuck no matter how fast your legs move. Brexit was sold to the British public as a way to “take back control”: but take back control of what? Your own circus burning down?
No one framed the losses of Brexit better than political journalist Nicholas Barrett. Do read the whole eloquent thing, but what it boils down to is:
The working class who voted to leave will be the ones most adversely affected by Brexit (voting blindly against their own best interest)
The youth of both the UK and Europe both lose the right to live and work freely in each other’s countries; the older generation has taken away an unknown world of experiences, relationships and opportunities from the younger generation
Anti-intellectualism wins: “We now live in a post-factual democracy.” (Bush, Blair, Trump are all examples of how facts have less and less currency.)
This last point is most telling – and has been barreling toward disaster for a long time, even if it seems that the trend is more like a pendulum. Americans elected an intellectual (Barack Obama), who also happened to be America’s first black president, but will go to the extreme anti-intellect next time. At the same time, they will blindly and blithely claim, post-factually, that we live in a post-racial society because we once voted a black man into the office of president. All the facts speak otherwise, as a deeply insightful piece from Henry Rollins illustrates.
Bill Clinton was fairly intellectual, so a lot of people thirsted for the anti-intellect of George W. Bush in the post-Clinton era. (And the sliver-thin difference in number of votes between Bush and Gore left the country without a declared presidential election winner for more than a month. The fact that it was even close is what alarmed me more than the results themselves. That was the final straw for me as far as living in America goes. I had already moved away, but that cemented my resolve to never go back.)
I have given a lot of thought to these points and tried to look at them through the Brexit lens: demagogue leaders rush into Brexit without a plan, lie to the voters (who, by and large, are average people – meaning that they are not going to dig for real information for themselves; they are reactionary) and their issue wins. Once the vote is over, and they gloat (see Nigel Farage) but also backtrack on promises, back away from the supposed “facts” (see the lies about the money Britain was sending to the EU that could be used for the National Health Service) and do the most cowardly thing possible: they stepped down and said they accomplished what they wanted. Fine, that sounds Farage-like. But Trump-clone-blowhard Boris Johnson stepped away from power only to be handed the office of Foreign Secretary when a new government was basically appointed (I realize that’s how the system works but is mightily undemocratic seeming). And David Cameron was the idiot who set all of this in motion, somehow underestimating the power of the post-factual world we live in and the apathy of most voters – and the passion of single-issue and uninformed voters who have been scared into voting against their own interests. And now we seem to be heading toward a refrain of Britain in the 1980s: ultra-conservatism, economic uncertainty and unemployment and… if we are lucky, a surge of great music (since that is all there will be to cling to).
What will Brexit mean in real terms? People have had time to digest it, and with the (in)digestion, heartburn is setting in.
One journalist, Ian McConnell writes: “It has been difficult to escape the growing feeling, since the Brexit vote, of being stuck in one of the more shambolic episodes of Dad’s Army.”
Caveat: I am not British so it’s not really my deal – but it affects the whole world, all of Europe, and most of all, Britain itself. I have my own British interests in that I co-own a business there, have relationships there (well, in Scotland anyway), and have, like most Europeans, enjoyed the freedom to visit and stay as long as I wanted or needed to. I out myself here as a pro-Scottish independence, SNP supporter who forces all my Scottish friends to educate themselves, register to vote and vote – I might be deluded, but I think Scotland would be better off without England and remaining a part of the EU (as they voted to do). In this case, Scotland knows what it would be getting into if it were to vote to leave (i.e., “taking back control”), completely unlike the UK’s slapdash and uninformed vote to leave, which has left the country in a kind of tailspin – anything but in control – regardless of the British stiff upper lip they’re trying to display to the world.
A lengthy but not exhaustive list of what Brexit may mean (I am not a lawyer, an economist, any kind of expert or a psychic – but I have enough common sense to know that these may be among some of the results):
Currency value/price increases: Even before the Brexit vote, the value of the British pound started fluctuating on fears of an exit vote. The very morning of the vote’s result announcement, the currency plummeted and continues to struggle. The value of British people’s money, thus, has decreased, so in “taking back control”, they have not only made their own holidays abroad more expensive for themselves, in the short term, they have voted to probably raise the costs of their everyday goods in the long term, both in the sense that they will pay more directly and in the sense that everything will cost more as import costs rise, which will be passed on to consumers (and maybe, to make up for shortfalls, VAT will rise too – who knows?). These price hikes and less valuable money all come at a terrible time, of course, because the vote also means… uncertainty rippling throughout the entire economy.
And what does that mean? “Taking back control” means job losses for BRITONS – not just for all the immigrants they imagined were flooding in and stealing all the jobs. It’s not just the big multinationals (think finance/banking here) that will create these holes; small businesses are already feeling the punch to the gut (and who owns small business in Britain? Quite often it’s Britons, yet again!), announcing layoffs, scaled back investment or growth plans and price hikes.
Unemployment and possible loss of employment rights: Yes, unemployment is likely to rise. The aforementioned business uncertainty and probable exodus of companies to other locations means that job cuts are inevitable. It’s going to make those previously referenced price hikes that much more painful; it’s going to make it harder to afford to go away on holiday (if the freedom of movement problems stirred up don’t bar your way first).
A Credit Suisse report warns that a Brexit recession could lead to an increase in the unemployment rate that equals about 500,000 lost jobs. The report expects an increase in the overall unemployment rate from about 5% to 6.5% by the end of 2017 (maybe sooner, depending on what happens). In the week after the Brexit vote result, the number of posted job ads in the UK fell by 700,000. Pretty significant.
Beyond the sheer rise in unemployment, though, Brexit makes the UK a much less attractive place for foreign direct investment, which could have contributed to economic growth and created a lot of new jobs.
FDI: Foreign direct investment is not something most average people think about. The UK has long been one of the world’s most attractive FDI recipients because it had a unique set of attributes that companies looking to locate and invest need and want, including being an English-speaking country with (at least in London) an international, multilingual population, great infrastructure and access to the European single market.
I take FDI more personally, as I have worked in this industry for some time and have seen how the trends move. A company – large or small – looking at its options for relocating and investing will benchmark UK against other European locations, and where once UK competed favorably, the exit from the single market will exclude the UK from serious consideration. It’s quite complicated and multifaceted. (Ireland will probably benefit from the UK’s “taking back control”.)
Property values/housing: In a classic case of people voting on an isolated, single issue – and not really understanding the complexity of it, many voters cited (potential) property price decreases (the Treasury warned that house prices would decrease as much as ten percent) as their reason for voting to leave the EU. Aside from the fact that voting should be about benefit to the entire country, not just what you individually think you can gain, this is naïve voting. Maybe property prices decrease as a result of Brexit, but it conversely means that property values decrease, so those Britons who already own property may experience negative equity, which could be particularly acute in northern England and real losses on their investment. The danger in focusing on a single issue also fails to take into account all the other factors at work, e.g., unemployment, wage stagnation and recession, which may lead many people to not be able to afford a home no matter how far property prices fall.
A large part of the Leave campaigning focused on “taking control of” immigration and the borders of the UK; most Britons, though, did not think about what leaving would mean for their own mobility. Or what that would mean for their friends, family members and colleagues who already live in Britain – and what that uncertainty and what a mass expulsion of Europeans would mean for the economy (no, it does not automatically mean that there will be floods of open jobs for British citizens; so many Europeans work in Britain in the first place because companies often have unique needs and Europeans unique qualifications that match up; some Europeans will do jobs that British people don’t want to do).
This reasoning also failed to consider that Britain already has exceptions in place that keep people from completely freely showing up in Britain. Britain never joined the Schengen area and thus controlled its borders much more tightly than other Schengen-area countries.
Breakup of the country: The breakup of the United Kingdom is a topic I should not have passionate feelings about and don’t think it’s one about which I can be objective. (Not that I have been totally objective throughout my points here.) On this topic is even more personal. I’ve spent a huge amount of time in Glasgow and feel an exceptionally strong connection to Scotland and see its potential outside of the UK. I supported the independence referendum last time, despite having no vote, and I “activated” all the people I know in Scotland to educate themselves, pick a side and vote.
I don’t necessarily think independence is going to be an easy option. But I support it. When the SNP launched the first bid for independence, they had a lengthy manifesto and a detailed plan and platform. By contrast, there was NO plan for the UK outside the EU, despite it being an even more complex divorce.
Reigniting Northern Ireland problems: I don’t feel the same passion about Northern Ireland as I do about Scotland, but I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the (T)troubles there. Northern Ireland is a high-stakes Brexit gamble. It’s the UK’s only hard land border with another EU (or any) country (the republic of Ireland), and what happens to this border now that the UK has voted to leave? Will this vote kick up new calls for reunification with the republic of Ireland, and will that reignite the “bitterness and bloodshed” that remains an explosive possibility. The really young may not remember firsthand the violence between Protestant Unionists and the Catholic nationalist minority and the terror that surrounded this battle. It’s not something anyone wants to see repeated, and while it may feel like peace was achieved “long ago”, it’s still less than 20 years.
Food: There are areas Brexit will affect that the average voter probably did not even think about. One of these is food (and how much food is imported, and what that could mean for availability and price).
There could also be a knock-on effect to British farming, which will lose EU agriculture subsidies.
Music: Maybe because I care so passionately about music, films and the arts – but mostly music – I am most concerned about its future. What happens to the industries and the touring musicians and the legal/copyright stuff? It’s complex….
Alienation/isolation: The price of going it alone and “taking back control” could be isolationism and, as mentioned, moving to the back of the line. There is no certainty that the UK will end up in isolation – the world is a bit more globalized than that. But was the risk worth it? Is the “control” you think you took back keeping you warm at night and comforted?
As I smeared some Boursin cheese onto a giant, round flatbread from Sweden’s Liba Bröd, I suddenly remembered my long-ago introduction to Boursin and a whole lot of other things that are not the norm in America. A French ex who always had Boursin and 1,000 other types of cheese at all times, exclaimed, shocked that I did not always have Boursin, “But… this is basic!” This was one of his most frequently repeated expressions. Every time we jointly encountered something that was normal, everyday and basic to him but unknown to me, I got, “But this is basic!” (pronounced of course like “bey-zik”). There were other things that were basic to me – like knowing that there is oil in the engine of a car – that he did not know.
But what is basic to one is not basic to another. Also, what we are “brainwashed” to think – or not to think independently about – is another thing. I talked to someone about Iran and how he had no idea how nice, forward-thinking and technologically enthusiastic Iranians are. But why would he? That’s not the image Americans get about Iran and its people.
What is basic and should be well-understood to everyone: when writing online SAVE SAVE SAVE. Or write in a Google Docs or Word or something first. I wrote a long and fairly well-researched post about Brexit consequences and lost the whole thing. I have not been so angry at myself in a very long time. Idiotic… but basic.
As Britain careens toward its own economic, political and existential doom, I’m almost tempted to laugh except that pointing at the chaos is an entirely misplaced form of schadenfreude. Their chaos is probably only foreshadowing what worse ugliness is to come in the US. If much of England and Wales can vote the entire UK out of the European Union, much of America can vote the “reasonable parts of the rest of America” into the oblivion of a Donald Trump presidency. Who will be laughing then?
It will be a lot like the 1980s of Thatcher and Reagan – only much worse. More xenophobic, more reactionary, more chaotic, more violent. And even though I know many people care deeply, the fact that things are unfolding this way makes it feel as though no one really does. The current escalation of terror attacks (all blamed on Islam or racial unrest but underpinned more and driven by all kinds of other issues – socioeconomic and historical vestiges of colonialism and slavery) feels like a parallel to the various terrorism that took place in the 1970s, which then led to the 1980s of trickle-down economics, a continuation of the Cold War and constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the AIDS crisis, the escalation of the war on drugs/Just Say No and all the socioeconomic and racial implications of that (i.e. turning drug problems into a criminal justice problem rather than a public health issue), a lot of economic unrest (striking, etc. in the UK), Bhopal, Chernobyl, the famine in Ethiopia, Iran-Contra, Tiananmen… and a whole lot of other not so pleasant stuff.
The rest of this decade may be tumultuous indeed: like the ills of the 1980s on steroids. I hope I am wrong.