2006 Year End Thoughts
A Year With Seasons
his was my first year with seasons. Where I grew up we didn't have seasons, and claimed we could do without, but in our malls and supermarkets "White Christmas" yearly made Bing Crosby as sadistic as "Mele Kalikimaka" made him kitschy. Lengthening days, shortening days, falling leaves, returning leaves, real heat, real cold: all this was alien to me.
This summer—a real summer, my first real summer—I made plenty of now-forgotten visits to Portland record stores, but one sticks curiously in my mind: a late Saturday night in an Everyday Music on West Burnside, scrabbling hopelessly for something to write about the following day. It was too hot, and too muggy and too foggy; and I was feeling too dulled and desperate to trust enjoyment of any of the music I found. And throughout, tinny speakers squeezed out the introverted shuffle of the Mountain Goats' Get Lonely—just released, and being marketed in that shrugging, cautiously respectful way mid-sized record stores market Mountain Goats albums: "Well, it's here," is the idea, "if you like that sort of thing."
I like that sort of thing. But on that strange hot night I didn't, and if Get Lonely didn't quite go in one ear and out the other it didn't tarry long between. And if its gently sinking silk—a glistening construction that takes forty minutes to come quietly apart—didn't register with me until after a dozen half-attentive listens over the following months, it was because what I needed then was not quiet destruction but ostentatious construction—not slow dissolution but rapid, monumental, and conceited stabs at heaven.
This was a year of such stabs. TV on the Radio boomed portent through a funky fog of their own devising; Band of Horses floated on reverb to gut-shivering heights; the Hold Steady demonstrated that the only thing more strivingly American than a Kerouac reference is a Kerouac motto. Even the Knife allowed one eye for the heavens in their otherwise stern concentration on pickled, preserved, and delightfully decontextualized genitals; and we all know what Joanna Newsom did. Music is not philosophy: the human ear grants more forgiveness to zealotry than any other organ, and devours it with greater zest. Elsewhere we might ask for a demonstrated understanding of history and geopolitics before accepting that cunts are now or have ever been running the world, no matter how intimately the notion appeals to our Pynchonian parts—but sing it like you know what you're doing and it's the second-best single of the year.
So in the quick hot summer that was this year it was no wonder that John Darnielle's bright-eyed genuflections passed me by; there was no time for that. Nor time for Monkey Swallows the Universe, nor Jessica Bailiff's loamy Feels Like Home—music, respectively, antediluvian and dusky, when what was needed was raging floodwaters and urgent sunlight. I was living in a city; I was furnishing an apartment with roadside finds; the sun was harsher and the days longer than any I'd known. Let "I Was a Lover" crack its cheeks, and let "The Great Salt Lake" and Newsom's "Emily" cast their exultations from the highest mountains they could find on such short notice: there would be time later for "Sheffield Shanty" and the supernatural "In Corolla," time for the silence hidden in the cracks of the bluster. Real joy withers in the absence of either element as readily as a seasonless year turns dull—and that's what all this music is about, joy, whether in cumbersome whole or sculpted fraction never matters.
But human seasons don't always follow meterology, and though here at the end of the year I can give the milder months their due, to me 2006 was a summer. A hot, roiling, foolishly ambitious summer, its great peaks the better for never being quite as great as they were meant to be. I can tell by how good Get Lonely sounds on my cheap speakers tonight that the summer is over, and so be it—but what a set of months; what a set of songs; what a wonderful season to see as one's first!