I started this blog in 2014, and I don’t think I’ve had a month when I didn’t post something in all that time — except for March 2022.
Last month, the dreaded Spicy Cough finally caught up with me, and I was stuck alone in my room for seven days. I’d managed to avoid getting it when the kids did in early February, but in mid-March COVID finally got its claws into me. How I got it I will never know: I’m double vaxxed plus boosted, I’d worn a mask everywhere I went, and I’d hardly been anywhere.
I didn’t think COVID had affected me too badly until I started to recover. Only then did I realise how crook I’d been, and as a result I am so grateful to be back doing normal things like working and shopping and exercising. I can run up the (many) stairs to our rental without puffing again. I can walk to the beach and back without having to rest halfway. Most importantly, after being contained in a small space and not being able to see the rest of my family for an entire week, I can truly appreciate living life to the full.
And I guess that brings me to the second part of my musings today: the tragic and untimely death of Taylor Hawkins, a man who appeared to live life to the full every day.
I have joked often, and publicly, that Taylor Hawkins is my spirit animal.
I never met him, of course, was not likely to, and now never will.
But in life, Taylor seemed to be sunshine personified, imbued with incredible energy and creativity, and ever ready to smile, laugh and have copious quantities of fun.
What’s not to like about all or any of those things, or to aspire to emulate them?
And who says it’s not possible to grieve, in some way or another, for someone you never met?
Not being especially well versed in such matters, I am now wondering whether I need to choose a new spirit animal for myself — but I’m guessing Taylor himself would say: no way.
In which the Thrify Fictionista abandons her usual carefully considered annual Top 5 posts and crams all her thoughts about the things she has read, watched and listened to during 2021into one hot mess of a post entirely appropriate for the year that was…
Folks, I am so grateful for the gift of literacy. To be able to read — and hence escape between the pages of a book — is one of my life’s true delights, a pleasure that has only been heightened by being part of a protracted historical event. So, as of now, I’m putting on my positive pants and dismissing any further mentions of that pesky Pandemic in this post, and presenting to you in an order as yet unknown to me with the things I loved most this year. Books, TV shows, movies, songs and various bits of ephemera that caught my attention, held it, and made me feel. Because FEELING is what it’s all about, my friends.
I’m going to kick things off by recommending Craig Silvey’s book Honeybee, which just so happened to be the first book I read in 2021. It’s brilliant. So much so, I wondered whether I would read anything as good for the rest of the year (spoiler alert — I did, so please read on). Honeybee made me laugh, cry, shake my fist in both rage and triumph. I absolutely loved it, and reckon you should get a copy for yourself. Pronto.
Another summer holiday read I thoroughly enjoyed was Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. In addition to having a cracking storyline following the main protagonist, Kerry Salter, and generations of her First Nations family, this story is dramatic and darkly comic. I may have found it even more engaging because the country where the tale is set (despite focusing on a fictional town called Durrongo) reminded me strongly of a part of northern NSW where I spent a lot of summers during my childhood.
Shortly after reading these, I got stuck into watching Narcos on Netflix. I was very late to the party, I know, but after watching Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian I was keen to see what he could do without a helmet on and was not disappointed. Wagner Moura did a brilliant job of portraying Pablo Escobar and (being a non-Spanish speaker) I was not troubled by the fact that he apparently wasn’t so great at nailing the Medellín accent. Watching Narcos was an edge-of-your-seat ride combining politics, risky and highly illegal business, insurgents, excess and corruption, ever-present danger, families and cartels, the Colombian jungle, and a few blokes who were trying to stop the whole cocaine trade in its tracks, and I loved it.
By the time Lockdown rolled around again (I think it was the third one for us — the one that went for 17 weeks?), our whole family was looking for something to escape into, and when we weren’t snort-laughing watching back episodes of Travel Guides, which we also watched to take in scenery of anywhere but our own backyard, we got right into The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus. This was a show the entire family enjoyed, and the fact that a new episode dropped only once a week gave Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop a taste of what life was like for The Bloke and I when we were kids in the days before streaming services. We’re all looking forward to Season Two!
Speaking of second seasons, we also used up quite a few tissues earlier in the year watching Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds on ABC iView, which also prompted Marvel Girl to develop an app for older Australians with some of her classmates for a Praxis project at school. The entire family loved the show and The Bloke and I were really proud when Marvel Girl and her mates took out the top gong for the project it inspired.
During lockdown I also embarked up on a Couch to 5km project that was curtailed only by us having to pack up and move house, but heading out on a run gave me the opportunity to listen to tunes. Not surprisingly, the music I’ve been listening to this year has been far more gentle than I would normally go for. I got into things like:
Running Red Lights by the Avalanches, Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu
Balenciaga by New West
Strange Girl by Laura Marling
Smile by Valerie June
Move by Flight Facilities, DRAMA
I also delved back into some oldies but goodies like The Wallflowers’ One Headlight, Funkadelic’s Can You Get to That and U2’s I Will Follow. Troubled times call for familiar favourites.
On the reading front, I got through those seventeen long weeks with the help of Hilary Mantel and hertruly remarkable trilogy of Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies (both of which I re-read) and The Mirror and the Light. I am in awe of Mantel’s writing: sometimes her words were so beautifully, perfectly chosen that I would have to mark my place in whichever of the gorgeous hardbacks I was currently reading with the jewel-toned ribbon bound into the cover and simply close my eyes. Then I would go back and read the passage again and sigh (often quite audibly), and would then find myself hoping that one day I, too, will be able to write so succintly, so eloquently, so precisely, and also to elicit such feeling. Because — as I said earlier — it’s all about the FEELING, folks.
I had a similar reaction to reading Ed Ayres’ book Whole Notes, which is truly and utterly a MUST READ for any music lover. Unusually for me, I have embarked upon a second reading of this volume, which is part “call to instruments” and part memoir of becoming a trans man aged 50 (better late than never, as Ed says). Same goes for the brilliant Trent Dalton’s book Love Stories — but as any regular readers of this blog will know, the Thrifty Fictionista is a massive fan of Dalton’s work and it did not come as a surprise to me that I found myself wanting to stretch Love Stories out for as looooooong as I could, trying to make it last — it was that good.
What else did I enjoy this year? I binged all three seasons of Medici on SBS On Demand and found myself going down various Florentine themed rabbitholes on the interwebs for quite some time afterwards. Filmwise, I got a bit of a kick out of the 2020 movie Rose Island (or, in the original Italian, L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose), and I also enjoyed Hugh Grant in The Gentlemen.
The Bloke and I decided it was high time we introduced the kids to Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, and so far we’ve watched Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. I suspect Spectre will be on the menu soon (if my offspring are not devouring more episodes of Gilmore Girls, which they have recently discovered and have many questions about — including what a video store was — thereby making The Bloke and I feel somewhat antiquated, if not ancient). We also made the kids watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which looks massively dated but the jokes still hold up, for the most part. I tried to get them into watching Lupin (which I loved) but it only piqued the interest of the Paris-loving Marvel Girl, and failed to grab Miss Malaprop. That said, we all thoroughly enjoyed Hawkeye.
There are a couple of other things I don’t think I could have got through 2021 without — like watching episodies of 30 Rock on Stan, because sometimes all you really need is 20 minutes of madness and mayhem from Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to lift your spirits. In a year where internet shopping has taken on a life of its own, I am still eyeing off a T shirt reading “Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks” in honour of Jenna Maroney’s alma mater, but I ended up settling for a 3 pack of Silent Theory T shirts instead (the Lucy style is great and the quality is top notch, in case you’re asking). Another internet purchase I loved? A drink bottle from Target that has the hours of the day printed down the side so I know where my water intake should be up to when. But I digress…
What else? What else did the Thrifty Fictionista love? Well, towards the end of the year I got right into reading Dave Grohl’s book The Storyteller, which inspired our New Year’s Eve feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken and French Champagne. And I finished up the year reading Hannah Kent’s Devotion, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and Anne Enright’s Actress — all of which were great, and made for a solid finish to a rather troublesome year.
And so, friends, here endeth the Thrifty Fictionista’s cultural ramblings through the year that was. I would love to hear what you watched, listened to and read during the past year than made it more bearable for you and yours. I hope you find some solace or joy in what I enjoyed.
It’s a basic building block of society. A moral imperative. Something we raise our kids to do; something we expect of each other. And yet, in an era where Fake News is a real and troublesome thing, it’s good to be reminded every now and then of how important telling the truth acutally is.
Truthfulness, not surprisingly, is one the Divine Qualities mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, and while I’ve written about truth before, having the opportunity to view all sorts of virtues through a different lens has kept me interested in exploring the Divine Qualities during the course of this year. And, having spent last year focusing on delight in all its myriad and unexpected forms and often finding joy the tiniest of details, it is equally unsuprising to me that a couple of things have happend to me lately that inspired me to view truthfulness via…ballet.
Relax, please relax — I’m not about to include video footage of myself or anyone else explaining truth via interpretative dance.
Rather, the first oddly inspirational thing that happened was that I didn’t go to the Ballet, even though I had planned to see the Australian Ballet’s final Sydney peformance of Counterpointe. The truth, difficult as it was to admit to myself, was that I was simply too tired to go. Circumstances (think sick kids, a bunch of meetings, various deadlines, a whole pile of domestic detritus and an emergency call to the Fire Brigade when my car unexpectedly started spewing petrol from its undercarriage) conspired against me, and I was exhausted.
So I owned it.
And I didn’t go.
I didn’t go, even though I would have genuinely loved to. I didn’t go, despite the fact it meant I missed out on the first live performance I’d planned to see since COVID hit. I didn’t go, which means I haven’t ventured across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in well over a year.
Most importantly, I didn’t go because I was honest with myself — and, as a result, was dressed for bed before the dancers stepped on stage and was slumbering well before the final curtain fell. I deliberately chose not agonise over my decision to stay home, so I slept soundly. I did not succumb to the sickness my kids had brought home, because I consciously prioritised rest. And that meant…drumroll please…that I was free to do the things I wanted to in the days that followed.
It may not sound like much — going to bed instead of going to the ballet — but, if 2020 taught me anything, it was that the little things are often the ones that really count.
Except when you’re Rudolf Nureyev, and then the BIG things count.
And, of course, that brings me to my second inspirational thing: watching Jacqui and David Morris’ 2018 documentary Nureyev. Even though the film has its flaws (when Rachel Saltz reviewed it for the New York Times she noted in her title “His Life was High Drama: this Film Could Use More”), all of the footage depicting Nureyev is transfixing. Regardless of whether he was performing on stage, being interviewed on television, or simply walking down the street, Nureyev commanded attention — and deservedly so.
Nureyev wasn’t just a star, he was more like a comet blazing through the skies.
His story has everything: childhood poverty, Stalinist persecution, rising fame across the Soviet Union, defection to the West at the height of the Cold War, global stardom, tumultuous relationships on and off stage and, finally, death from an AIDS related illness. He was a man in motion, from the moment of his birth — on a train, en route to Siberia in 1938 — and he lived and danced with an instantly recognisable intensity. The documentary does show some archival footage of Nureyev dancing, rehearsing and teaching, and also includes some memorable still photographs taken by Richard Avedon, but somehow the audience is still left wanting more — more Nureyev, more, more more.
And yet, despite its shortcomings, a couple of moments in the film took my breath away.
The first was during an interview, when Dick Cavett asks Nureyev (resplendent in a snakeskin tunic and matching thigh-high platform boots) whether he remembers the first time he knew he wanted to be a dancer. The camera switches to Nureyev’s face, capturing the exact moment when his dark brown eyes begin to gleam as he nods his head slowly, recollecting the occasion, and no doubt the feeling, of knowing that was what he wanted to do.
The truth in this exchange — not verbalised, but demonstrated — is palpable, and beautiful.
The second was when the film explored Nureyev’s defection to the West in 1961, an incredibly dramatic event not particularly well rendered visually in the documentary, but memorable because of the voiceover providing the words of Nureyev himself. Faced with the choice of returning to an uncertain future (and possible imprisonment) in the Soviet Union or remaining in Paris, Nureyev calls on the one person he thinks may be able to help him: French socialite Clara Saint, who at the time was engaged to the son of the French Minister for Culture. It is Clara who alerts the gendarmes at the airport that there is a Soviet dancer who may be wanting to defect, and it is also she who explains to Nureyev what he has to do in order to gain their protection.
You have to tell them what you want to do.
In other words: truth.
You have to tell the truth.
Nureyev then tells the French police:
I want to stay here.
And with those words, the truth set Nureyev free.
Sometimes, truth can be found in the tiniest things.
Other times, it’s in the very greatest things of all.
Most years I am pretty clear about which songs constitute my Top 5 for the year – this is, after all, the only list I produce with any regularity in which the proviso is that any song included on my list has to have been released in the current year.
My problem with my Top 5 for 2020 is that when the world turned upside down (and particularly when it then turned in on itself during the first lockdown), what I listened to ended up being firmly and unashamedly rooted in nostalgia. In the face of such enormous unknowns, I sought refuge in the songs from my teenage years and before. I found myself listening to plenty of songs with fuzzy guitar riffs like Ratcat’s “That Ain’t Bad”, cruisy tunes like The Badloves’ “Green Limousine”, heading back to the inimitable groove of Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” or going back even further in time to songs like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”.
It wasn’t accidental, and my trips down memory lane definitely helped me navigate this most troublesome of years.
But there came a point when I had to venture back onto the airwaves and Spotify Playlists I know and love, to connect with the myriad of new releases that artists, also in lockdown, have created in 2020. And from those rich pickings, I present Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs for 2020.
“Low” by Chet Faker
Just because I feel low, right now
It doesn’t mean all that I’ve got has run out…
I suspect from the moment I heard the opening lines of this song for the first time I knew it would be my favourite of the year. Chet Faker (also known as Nick Murphy) is back, and this song could not have come at a better time. The production on this track is sublime and the lyrics somehow sum up everything about 2020 – I love everything about “Low”. More please, Chet Faker.
“Je disparais dans tes bras” by Christine and the Queens
The entire La Vita Nuova EP from Christine and the Queens is brilliant, right from the plaintive opening song “People I’ve been Sad”, as is the accompanying short film (which I’ve included above, since looking at individual songs on their own doesn’t make as much sense as seeing the entire artistic vision). I probably could have picked any of the songs from this latest offering from multi-lingual Héloïse Letissier and her crew, but I ended up picking “Je disparais dans tes bras” over the title track, “La Vita Nuova” (featuring Caroline Polachek) upon discovering it was one of the songs I listened to most on Spotify this year. If you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes – no, scratch that – find yourself fifteen minutesto watch this film, shot in the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, and immerse yourself in epic choreography and wonderful music.
“Dribble” by SYCCO
SYCCO (which is, of course, pronounced “Psycho”, a moniker apparently inspired by all things psychedelic rather than psychotic) is a Brisbane teenager who, judging from this release, is one to watch. “Dribble” came about when SYCCO was trying to make sense of someone sleep talking, attempting to derive meaning from words that were probably entirely random. The end result is great: catchy melody, driving beat, great song. This one got plenty of airplay at our house and in the car.
“Gold Dust Woman” by Julia Holter
OK, OK…so Julia Holter actually recorded this in 2012, but she released it in 2020, so I’m going to count it in this year’s Top 5. Besides, it’s such a great cover of Fleetwood Mac’s original song that I can’t not let this one through (you can thank me later — the link will take you to audio, not video, but it’s totally worth it). Holter takes Stevie Nicks’ lyrics to an otherworldly place and I honestly couldn’t love this more. Fingers and toes crossed we get from some new music from Julia Holter in the near future; she’s a class act.
“Are You Even Real?” by James Blake
There’s a lot to like about this track from James Blake, who I think is one of the most interesting recording artists on the planet right now. At its core “Are You Even Real?” is a love song, but as with many of Blake’s songs it’s not always easy to tell upon first listen exactly what headspace he’s in: the music and lyrics don’t always line up precisely with the feel of the song. Blake’s “Don’t Miss It” (from 2019) is another great example of this – Cillian Murphy described the lyrics to that song as being “either profoundly sad or profoundly hopeful – perhaps both at the same time”, and that sums up the way I feel about much of James Blake’s music. Ultimately, however, for me one line in “Are You Even Real?” stands out, and is incredibly beautiful:
She runs her hands through my imagination…
I suspect that’s exactly what all great artists do to us when they sing and play, don’t they? And that’s as real as it gets.
So that’s my Top 5 for the year…but here’s some of the best of my nostalgic listening from years gone by to keep your toes tapping and your mood upbeat as we navigate the 2020 Season Finale.
Top 5 Throwbacks for 2020
“Red Dress” by the Sugababes (2005)
“Dancing Barefoot” by Patti Smith (1979)
“She Has to Be Loved” by Jenny Morris (1989)
“Peace Frog” by The Doors (1970)
“Close But Not Quite” by Everything is Recorded, featuring Sampha
(That last track is brilliant by the way…interweaving Sampha’s ethereal voice with the Curtis Mayfield sample takes it to another level).
So there we have it folks! Blue Jai’s Top 5 in Music for 2020.
Stay tuned for my Top 5 in Books and on Screen, coming soon…
I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole livesnot to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.
And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.
It’s not an unexpected discovery.
But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.
I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.
And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…
Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.
It’s my new refrigerator.
His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on. Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.
Being Alcohol Free
At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year. I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.
Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020. I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.
I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.
Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result
Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.
I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.
Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition
It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music. Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.
The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more. Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.
Sunshine Over Sea
I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.
One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!
On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:
‘Cause not everything means something, honey So say the unsayable Say the most human of things And if everything is temporary I will bear the unbearable Terrible triteness of being…
It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.
We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.
OK folks…strap yourselves in — it’s time for my Top 5 in music for 2019!
Only rule that applies to this list is that the song had to be released in 2019. No more mucking around — let’s jump straight in.
1. Harmony HallVampire Weekend
Who can fail to be happy when one of their favourite bands releases their first single in aaaaaages on your actual birthday? This was a present I didn’t expect and one that kept giving the whole year long. I love everything about this song, from the catchy beat to the genre-jumping progression of muscial styles — especially when they go from what sounds like a classical piano solo into sliding country guitar. For what it’s worth, the snake in the video is super cute, too.
2. The Barrel Aldous Harding
I’m not going to lie — I have no idea what the lyrics to the song are about, but this was one of the tunes I found myself listening to over and again in 2019. It’s whimsical and somehow magical and proves you don’t have to be playing klezmer to include a clarinet on a track. Aldous Harding is a Kiwi folk singer-songwriter whose work I will definitely be checking out more regularly — though the video does prompt ever so many questions…not least of which is do I need to wear platforms to dance like that?
3. FiresmokeKate Tempest
I read Kate Tempest’s book The Bricks That Built the Houses a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite reads of the past decade. I suspect this song will also be one of my favourites of the decade. It is an incredible, personal love song, a raw and searing portrait of intimacy. It’s Firesmoke.
4. All I WantBroken Social Scene
This one needs to be listened to up loud! It’s as bold and brash as Firesmoke is quiet and contained, but the sentiment remains the same. Canada’s indie rock darlings delivered this around the same time Vampire Weekend released Harmony Hall — it must have been quite a week for great tunes, because this one rocks and I love it.
5. Summer GirlHAIM
There is not, in my humble opinion, enough saxophone being played in songs these days (or clarinet…as The Barrel proved at No. 2 above). This song from HAIM is a poppy classic with a sax riff that gets stuck in your head in all the best ways. I love the video too: the idea of stripping off all we no longer need as we head into summer — not to mention the next decade — it one I can get behind.
Honourable Mentionsthis year go to James Blake for Don’t Miss It, and also to a few tracks released in 2018 than didn’t really make it onto my radar until 2019: Fireworks by First Aid Kit and No Roots by Joshua Hyslop.
And my Top 5 Throwbacksfor the year (other than anything by the inimitable and still very much missed David Bowie) are, in no particular order:
Love and Peace — Quincy Jones (1969)
Heads Will Roll — Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2009)
Kiss Them For Me — Siouxsie and the Banshees (1991)
Where Is My Mind? — The Pixies (1988)
Grateful Song — Villagers (2013)
Stay tuned for my best of 2019 in Movies/TV and books!
Clearly the former POTUS follows my humble blog and can’t wait for MY Best of 2019 Lists….
Barack Obama tweeted his best books of 2019 today.
Because he is Barack Obama (and even though we live a considerable distance across the Pacific, don’t we wish we were still seeing a whole lot more of him), he simply put up a list of what he thought were his best reads of the year. No doubt book sales will hit stratospheric heights momentarily…
Now, as any of you follow this blog with any semblance of regularity may know, this is the time of year when I, also, typically put fingers to keys and let you know what my favourite books, songs and viewings were of the year. And while I cannot even begin to pretend to operate in the same league as Barack Obama (I suspect it sufficient, at this point, that we reside on the same planet), those of you who follow this blog already know that this year had not entirely gone to plan. That said, previous years did not exactly go to plan, but sometimes we need to learn lessons more than once to make them really sink in…
So far, December 2019 has brought us the end of the school year, more Christmas parties than we care to mention, a special outing to Cirque du Soleil (magnificent and something we would highly recommended were it not for the fact that we saw their final Sydney show of Kurios), and a godawful lingering case of the flu — which has now metamorphosized into equally lingering head colds that require us to take a family sized box of tissues wherever we go, even if it is only to the beach less than one kilometre from our front door.
And so…yes, I know, I’m running late on all these posts and won’t get them done in the next day and a half before New Year’s…I will be letting you know what my Best Of 2019’s were in — yes, you guessed it…
Because good things come to those who wait.
Happy New Year, y’all!
And I have lists. You know I do…lists of my final top 5’s and shortlists and even thematic lists (though they may not make the final cut — you’ll just have to wait and see).
With every best wish and several tenterhooks to hang off,
Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.
I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.
But the best bit has been the freedom.
For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.
Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark. Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.
We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.
From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.
And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.
We’ve had the best time.
And I have, too.
…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
I’m never quite sure who’s going to show up for my peripatetic (and completely invented) brain-picking sessions with people I admire. After my last foray into imaginary interviewing — when I intended to focus on Virginia Woolf and ended up rambling on about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius instead — I sat down one day not much later and made a list of people I thought I might like to “meet”.
I made two lists, actually, divided simply along the lines of life or death.
And armed with those lists, I quickly realised that it is much simpler to write about a person who is no longer gracing the Earth with their presence, particularly if they have been dead for quite some time. In the era of #metoo (fundamentally important as that movement is), it is far more challenging to delve into the thoughts of a living person, particularly when they may or may not end up being outed as a sex pest.
True. But you also see my sex pest problem…
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turned up in my little patch of cyberspace this morning and discovered Keith Richards waiting for me.
Not really, obviously.
But after spending an evening this week watching Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, the Rolling Stones’ documentary about their 2016 tour which culminated in their historic Cuban concert, there he was.
With plenty, as always, to say. And, one can only assume, probably not all that bothered about whatever acusation anyone would level at him — the man, as he freely admits, has lived long and hard, and outlived many it was readily assumed he would predecease.
Good question. How do you play with your time?
I’m not what you’d call a diehard Rolling Stones fan. I don’t have a standout favourite Stones song, but harbour soft spots for several (depending mainly on my mood). I know better than to put myself in the middle of any pointless Beatles vs Stones battles, because there’s actually no contest: the world is a better place for having both bands (I stand firmly with the girl from the taco ad on that one…“¿Porque No Los Dos?” ). And I can’t say I prefer any one of the Rolling Stones over another: I tend to appreciate them collectively more than I do indivdiually.
And yet, I have to admit there is something undeniably intriguing about Keith Richards.
Unlike the 2015 film Under the Influence, which focussed solely on Keith himself, the Olé Olé Olé! doco is about the whole band, though it does shift (seamlessly, I might add) from ensemble pieces to individual portraits of the band members. The juxtaposition of these different points of view enhances both: the concert footage of stadiums seething with fans is made all the more massive, while the one-on-one sequences achieve greater intimacy and poignancy. As the band wends its way (via private jet and with police escourts) through South America, we glean insights from each member into the various countries they are visiting and how they have changed during the fifty (yes, fifty) years that they have been performing there, into life on the road, and into life itself.
Richards in Lima, 2016.
There is a beautiful moment in the film when Richards can be seen, initially from a distance, sitting poolside at a clifftop hotel in Lima, playing an acoustic guitar. The pool is turquoise, his shirt scarlet, the sounds flamenco. There is no doubting his musical ability: this is a man who, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase, has done his 10,000 hours, playing everywhere from small pubs to gigantic arenas, or simply noodling away with an instrument and an endless succession of cigarettes, whiling away the time. Richards’ observation of Lima is that it has changed, markedly, since he first visited it in 1968: cities spring up “like tombstones” he says, as the camera pans out to reveal a skyline full of skyscrapers, resembling a cemetary more than one would like to admit.
Richards is a man who, quite clearly, knows how lucky he is — he seems, genuinely, to appreciate the trappings of fame he gets to enjoy, but he also appears to be acutely aware how fortunate he is to be doing what he loves (sorry, make that absolutely loves) for a living, and to be doing it with a bunch of blokes he has been hanging out with for five decades.
There is something that sticks us together. It’s nothing you’d ever catch us talking about. I feel I’m awfully blessed, really.
There’s a glimmer of it in here….
There is an occasional glint in his eye or a throaty chuckle that betrays the fact that he doesn’t half mind his own notoriety, either, but it’s nothing malicious — if anything, now that Richards is aged 75, these small glimpses remind me in some way of my own globetrotting gypsy grandmother who, at a similar point in her life, may well have had the same sense of mischievous glee in behaving in ways that were not generally considered to be age appropriate.
And finally, beneath all of this is a strong, unspoken sense that Richards knows just how lucky he is to be alive.
And that, for my money, is something worth remembering.
It’s the final day of the year, and here is my final countdown, too.
Music is practically as essential to me as oxygen, an ever-present part of my life that I am grateful for each and every day. For me, the ability to create and appreciate music is one of the most significant aspects of being human that separates us from all other species on the planet. We are the luckiest of creatures.
So here they are, in no particular order, Blue Jai’s Top 5 Songs of 2018:
1. Superstar by IV League (AUS)
This is the kind of song that makes me feel alive every time I listen to it. There’s something about the guitar-driven sound of this Melbourne-based four piece that makes you want to move (dance on top of a bar even), to sing along at the top of your lungs (though props to you if you can match Bella Venutti’s vocals). Unearthed on Triple J a couple of years ago, these guys know garage rock and they do it damn well.
2. The Comedown was Real by Drapht (AUS)
Perth hip hop artist Drapht comes through with this sweet number that gets stuck in your head as much as it gets your toes tapping. There’s a lot to love about this track, not least the lyrics, which are pretty funny and reference everything from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping episode on Oprah. This song never fails to bring a smile to my face.
3. All The Time by The Kooks (UK)
I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve listened to this song this year. Somehow it brings together disco with an eighties glam feel and makes something shiny and bright and as close to over the top as you can get without going over the edge. The Kooks have at least three fans in our household of four, and this song from their latest album “Let’s Go Sunshine” gets our vote.
4. Bubblin’ by Anderson .Paak (USA)
The story goes that when Anderson .Paak heard the hook that inspired this track it brought his mind straight to James Bond. In an interview he described Bubblin’ as “some black 007 action adventure high speed chase type of music”, and believe me he delivers just that. I haven’t included the video to this one as it’s not entirely kid friendly, but I can assure you it’s so OTT that it does the song justice. Even the zebra. Especially the zebra.
5. Fool’s Gold by Jack River
This is another song that’s been on high rotation at ours this year, along with a bunch of other tracks from Jack River’s debut album “Sugar Mountain”. I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a person who couldn’t find one song on that album to like, but I have a soft spot for several of them. This is Aus Pop at it’s best, delivered by the woman who also had the chutzpah to curate the Electric Lady Festival and then turn it into an entire world, “a platform to amplify the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport and beyond.” We need more Jack River!
Honourable Mentions this year are perhaps too numerous to mention. Lana Del Ray’s Mariners Apartment Complex (USA) very nearly made the final cut, but five is five and Jack River snuck in instead.
I have to say that I loved a whole pile of homegrown Australian music in 2018, like Hatchie’s Bad Guy, Gretta Ray’s Radio Silence and Kira Puru’s Molotov, and I’m looking forward to delving deeper into Matt Corby’s, Tash Sultana’s and RÜFÜS DU SOL’s new albums over the summer. I suspect Ziggy Alberts, City Calm Down, Mallrat, Phantastic Ferniture and Baker Boy wil be getting a spin, too.
I’ve also enjoyed songs from elsewhere, like Jungle’s Heavy, California (UK), Grouplove’s Welcome to Your Life (USA), Aurora’s Queendom (Norway), Bill Ryder-Jones’ And Then There’s You, and Poppy Ackroyd’s beautiful instrumental piece Paper (both UK).
And just for fun here a my Top Five Throwbacks for 2018 — oldies but goodies I’ve been getting into again:
Machu Picchu by The Strokes
Country Grammar by Nelly
She’s a Mystery to Me by Roy Orbison
Bad Decisions by Two Door Cinema Club
Revival by Deerhunter
So that’s a wrap for 2018, folks! Hit me with your top tunes…I’m sure to find something I love in the mix.
And all the best for a 2019 full of all the best that can be found in books, on screen and in music.