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Lisztomania and lame lists
Written by David Gaffney, partner
28 November 2020
At this point in the calendar, I usually start to compile lists of my five favourite albums, tracks, and gigs from the year that is drawing to a close, to be shared and compared with a few equally tragic friends. It is a fairly pointless exercise, but does provide a source of debate, controversy, incredulity and, often, bemused questioning of each other’s tastes.
In this annus horribilis, however, I can barely muster a top two in any of the aforementioned classes. Nick Cave, a regular on these lists given his prodigious output, has done his best to help by recording a live album, Idiot Prayer, which might justifiably qualify for two of the three categories.
In theory, lockdown afforded me more time than ever to listen to new music and yet, for some reason, I simply haven’t grasped that opportunity, retreating instead to the comforting tones of old favourites and rediscovered blasts from the past. Other listening habits have been similarly affected, with my hitherto commuting companion Radio 4 reduced to little more than a passing acquaintance during lockdown.
With critics now starting to publish their own lists of the best new albums of 2020, I will make an eleventh-hour effort to cover some new musical ground before the year is out, at least of the recorded variety. I only hope that next December I will once again require the fingers of two hands to count my favourite gigs of 2021, rather than just one sorry thumb.
1. The year the music stopped
The closest I’ve come to sharing a “live” music experience with other devotees this year has been during Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, a lockdown phenomenon that has brought distant people together, albeit online, to listen to albums and share their memories and love of the music – often with the artists themselves. As moving as some of these virtual gigs have been, they are no substitute for a boisterous, bouncing Barrowlands ballroom or the intensity of an intimate acoustic performance at Summerhall. In this radio documentary, the musician and poet Arlo Parks explores the effects of a world without live music.
Listen on BBC Sounds.
2. A sense of place
I’m still not getting the podcast thing. I know I really ought to, and I realise there are innumerable hours of fascinating and self-improving audio content just waiting to be consumed, but I can’t seem to acquire the habit. I had a right good go during lockdown too, donning my headphones as I stepped out for a stroll, eager to listen and learn as I wandered. I’ve come to realise and accept, though, that I have more of a preference for silence and birdsong with my fresh air than human voices. I was reminded of that in this piece by Chris Deerin, in which he describes how many of us rediscovered in lockdown the simple feeling of belonging in our immediate environment.
Read in The Press & Journal.
3. Remembering the remarkable Hamish MacInnes
Some people cram so much adventure and so many notable accomplishments into their short time on this earth that they make the rest of us feel woefully inadequate. That those over-achievers so often appear to do so while plainly thinking nothing of it, is doubly astonishing. Hamish MacInnes, who died this week, was a pioneer in both senses of the word and a polymath whose mountaineering innovations and dedicated rescue work were rooted in a desire to save lives and protect others. Final Ascent: the legend of Hamish MacInnestells the story of his life and is available on iPlayer for a few more days. I can recommend making time for it this weekend.
Watch on BBC iPlayer.
4. The compounding effects of gender bias
A college class had two teaching assistants: one male and one female. At the end of the semester, the students scored the male lecturer higher on course evaluations, while the female received five times as many negative reviews. Fair enough, you might think. Not really, though, as they were exactly the same person.
Previous studies in academia have shown that women and people of colour may receive harsher faculty evaluations than white men, particularly in STEM fields. University of Florida teaching assistant Emily Khazan notes: “girls are told throughout their education that they’re not as good at science and math as boys. You have this pool of people who made it through all of that and are still being told by their students that they’re not as good. It can have a compounding effect.”
Read in University of Florida.
5. Being fast and coming last
Throughout the Covid pandemic, fast-food workers across the US have been deemed essential workers, alongside doctors and government officials. In this striking piece of photojournalism, Richard Renaldi uses an old-fashioned, large format view camera to capture those low-wage Americans who, despite putting themselves at risk every day to serve others, still remain largely invisible. Renaldi hopes his portraits will make the world’s biggest fast-food nation “stop and see the subject” even if only for a few minutes.
View in The New Yorker.
Alternative dictionaries is a niche publishing genre, but king among them is The Meaning Of Liff, in which Douglas Adams and John Lloyd assigned common experiences, situations and objects for which no words exist to place names. Thus, we are blessed with “Sidcup (noun): a hat made from tying knots in the corners of a handkerchief” and “Alcoy (adjective): wanting to be bullied into having another drink.” Benedict Spence’s guide to the secret language of Westminster is similarly good fun.
Read in The Spectator.