Here is my last blog post for a grimy and ugly year.
Although 2021 wasn’t quite the dumpster fire that 2020 was, the year was filled with frustration as the general public, body politic, and powers that be continued to half-ass their way through coming out of the pandemic.
No one gets along. It has stretched into every aspect of society, from the government to retail to restaurants and shipping. It is simply maddening. It made the whole year sadder and really crushed any optimism people may have been feeling.
The most frustrating part of the latest surge is that it easily could have been prevented. For most of us, 2021 was the year that the selfish, intolerant, and entitled ruined everything. Thanks to this obnoxious minority it became impossible to read a paper, watch TV, or go online without getting aggravated or shaking a fist in disbelief.
The weather in St. Louis was pretty decent this year. There was a really long winter spell where I nearly froze my ass off each day, but that run of about two weeks was pretty much all the cold weather we had. We also had a relatively mild summer, which was also a nice escape from our annual humidity. While I did enjoy the weather, the fact that the change in seasons was so drastic worried me.
Moving into a new year I am glad to see so many people getting fed up with their rubbish jobs. Part of the reason why there is a job shortage is that people finally are fed up with abusive customers, low pay, and no advancement.
For these disenfranchised folks, driving an Uber or doing Postmates is an opportunity to make more scratch without dealing with the hassles of working for the man. Personally, I never want to work retail again, it is simply not worth it. As the new year begins, I hope a lot more people get paid more for doing the jobs that form the bulwark of our economy.
Everything NASA did on Mars this year was really cool. From flying helicopters to exploring the Jezero Crater, the Mars mission has been a great distraction from life on Earth.
Searching for water and trying to understand the Red Planet’s geographical history has given us a ton of data. The amazing photographs sent back were simply astounding. I cannot wait to see what comes next.
With the launch of the James Webb telescope, I feel kind of sad for the Hubble telescope. It is living on borrowed time now. Despite still being useful, it will soon be in the shadow of its more powerful sibling.
However, Hubble has nothing to be ashamed of. It has done an incredible job and given us a greater understanding of the universe.
On a better note, it was an outstanding year for books, movies, and films. There were a lot of great debut records this year. There also were some really interesting records by established artists. In a year of divisiveness and clamoring of nonsense, it was good to know there was a lot of great music to listen to.
While I still have to see some of the movies that are on best-of lists for the year, I have managed to sort out my favorite music of the year. Here is my Best of 2021 Music list in alphabetical order.
Arab Strap-As Days Get Dark
Beachy Head-Beachy Head
The Catenary Wires-Birling Gap
Dry Cleaning-New Long Leg
Ducks Ltd.-Modern Fiction
Mogwai-As the Love Continues
The Reds, Pinks, and Purples-Uncommon Weather
The Umbrellas-The Umbrellas
Billy Bragg-The Million Things That Never Happened
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis-Carnage
Desperate Journalist-Maximum Sorrow
Kiwi Jr.-Cooler Returns
The Goon Sax-Moon II
Courtney Barnett-Things Take Time, Take Time
Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth-Utopian Ashes
Piroshka-Love Drips and Gathers
Chime School is from San Francisco. They have an excellent self-titled record out. The “band” is the latest project from Andy Pastalaniec of Pink Films, Cruel Summer, and Seabite.
Released on Slumberland, the album is filled with jangly melodies and well-crafted songs.
Taking cues from the spangled indie pop of the 1990s, Chime School’s record features a collection of whole songs, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. They are well constructed and have some terrific hooks.
The Vaccines have ended the year by releasing a collection of demos from their debut, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? Formed in South London, the band released their debut album 10 years ago on Sub pop in the USA. Since then they have put out five records in total, but this one is still the best. Raw, rough, and grimy, the songs are catchy despite being layered beneath textures of noise.
In their demo form, all of the songs on that auspicious debut are rougher and more energetic. The proof is in the pudding here, because, even in this infant form, the songs are engaging and energetic.
I am still sorting out my favorite movies of the year. There are still lots of things I need to get to still. I was glad to several great music documentaries: Summer of Soul, The Sparks Brothers, and The Velvet Underground film from Todd Haynes.
I did see Just Look Up. There was a lot of talk about this movie and I was curious to see if it lived up to the hype. It is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and terrifying at the same time. When people watch this film decades from now they will feel the electric tension of the times.
Encapsulating a wide range of contemporary issues, Just Look Up is a satirical science fiction film that resonates loudly. Featuring an all-star cast, it gets its point across without being too preachy. The events depicted would be hilariously funny if they weren’t so true.
I really liked Spider-Man: No Way Home. The first film I saw in a somewhat crowded theater since the pandemic, it was glorious escapism. I was happy to see Alfred Molina turn up again as Dr. Octopus. This time he got to give him some depth, which really helped the character stand out more. Willem Defoe was also terrific, returning again as the Green Goblin.
There is a lot of stuff happening in the MCU right now, and this film may be the most exciting part of it. Having Dr. Strange in perfectly set up the oncoming tragedy of Peter Parker’s life as a hero. Tom Holland is so good you practically forget he’s a grown-ass man playing a teenager. Tragic, comic, and emotional he carries the film.
It was also good to have Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back. This time they got to dig deeper into their versions of the webslinger, giving their films an epilogue they sorely needed.
Unfortunately, I could care less about the new Batman movie. There have been too many and it is getting insane. I wish there were more original movies instead of adaptations of comics, books, or reboots.
Phillippe Garnier’s book on Hollywood in the 1930s has been an excellent read. Set during a time when Hollywood was still blue collar, gives the screenwriters of this magical time in pictures an overdue reappraisal.
Translated into English, the book gives the screenwriters of the 1930s (Niven Busch, Rowland Brown, Silvia Richards, and Edward Anderson just to name a few) their props for their creativity, determination, and grit. The book also describes how literary figures like James Faulkner toiled away on scripts as they honed their craft. Working long hours, drinking often (i.e. a lot), and avoiding encounters with the law, gangsters, studio executives, and other unsavory types these intrepid souls laid the foundation for Hollywood’s golden age.
Told with vivid clarity, the book also details how the haunts frequented by writers (bookstores, bars, restaurants, and hotels), served as hubs for collaboration that helped birth some of the decade’s best films.
In appliance news, the lettuce recall hit close to home as I had to throw out some me salad that was recalled because of listeria. The recall meant I had to chuck the bad greens out, along with any food next to, on top of, or near it. Then I had to remove everything else and thoroughly clean the refrigerator and the containers holding the rest of the food I could use. Then I had to wipe down all the surfaces where I set the uncontaminated food while I was cleaning the fridge. It took forever.
My old portable phone recharger also kicked the bucket, forcing me to get a new one. The one I had was lightweight and unobtrusive. The new one, a Boosa, is a lot heavier. But it gets points because it is black.
In addition to being mentally exhausting, this year was so long. For a while there I didn’t expect it to ever end. This is mainly because the pandemic slowed things down, but also because I settled into a routine with my remote work.
It sucked not being able to travel this year. I only took two trips. I took a long weekend in Atlanta. I saw some friends outside and socially distant and got to do a few other things in the city. I also took a train to Chicago for my birthday. While a lot of the city was operating on a weird schedule, I still had a nice break from the clustermess that is happening here.
People always mention resolutions as the year winds down. For me, all I want is for people to not be so stupid and selfish. It would be nice if there was a really dull year where nothing happened and everyone got along. Of course, this will not happen. It would be nice if the horse betting, Wall Street Journal reading, nonmaskers got their shit together and made life easier for the rest of us.
In 2022, I would like to eat indoors and maybe go to a bar without worrying about the person next to me being a walking infection. I also want to go to the grocers again and not have to improvise because they are out of weird crap like kimchee or feta cheese. Maybe the roller rinks could reopen?
But when all is said and done, the new year just has to be chill. We’ve all had enough. We are worn out. I want a year that brings me as much joy as hearing Pet Sounds. A year without beatings, shootings, boosters, and reality TV. One with good books, a wider selection of movies, live concerts, and less stress for those working on the frontlines in any capacity.
I hope the next trip around the sound brings enough kindness and normality that I won’t need a stiff drink or meditation to cope each and every bloody day. If only…..
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