Music

The Music Club, 2018

Entry 13: A few cozy musical gifts for closing out the year.

Robyn.
Robyn.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic.

Dear Drunk Me, and all of you regardless of ’nog consumption,

… And so our annual critics’ “Sunday Roast” and jamboree is nearly ended, and as Courtney Barnett sings on that closing song to her album this year, your presence has been enough of a present for me. Jason, I loved your use of the Coltrane title Both Directions at Once to sum up this year, and that’s been a persistent theme in our conversation, too—the gains and the losses, the future and the past, the old ways and the new, the fragility and the resilience that all coexisted uneasily in the story of 2018.

It was a lot of territory to cover, so rather than extend it further, I’ll just offer you and our readers a couple of gifts to round out the year. First, as I did last year, I’ve compiled many of our collective 2018 picks into a Music Club Spotify playlist that serves up umpteen hours of eclectic listening. I hope people find new treasures here, as I did.

In addition, for holiday downtime if you’re fortunate enough to have it, let me suggest some low-key musical viewing suitable for cozying up with hot drinks and snacks.

For some, the big “event” of the month will be the Netflix release of Bruce Springsteen’s Springsteen on Broadway. I found this document of the Boss’ hit stage show underwhelming. It’s based on 2016’s memoir Born to Run, and the versions of his stories and thoughts in the book were so much richer. This felt like crib notes by comparison, though there are a few great song performances. As an alternative, I’d propose the Netflix special Surviving Twin by Loudon Wainwright III.

Yes, that’s the singer-songwriter father of Rufus and Martha, among others, and like Springsteen’s, this is also a solo words-and-music show, primarily about Wainwright’s relationship with his own dad. Loudon Jr. was a renowned columnist for Life magazine from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, and Wainwright pairs readings from his father’s columns with his own memories and selections from his decades of songs, plus some projected family photos and home movies for visual enhancement. Where Springsteen seems like he’s almost bursting out of his skin in his strain to scale his persona down from arena to theater size, Wainwright—who’s long had a sideline as an actor—feels physically loose and at home as a stage raconteur. It’s the perfect format for his mix of curmudgeonly saltiness and wistful sentiment. Even though I’d listened to the album version when it came out several years ago, and read Wainwright’s own memoir (nowhere near as good as Springsteen’s), Surviving Twin felt totally fresh to me here. I don’t think you have to identify with the patrician WASP, private school–going background—I certainly don’t—to be affected by both Loudons’ perspectives here, on family and on mortality.

In a similar vein, a musical movie that escaped most notice this year was the indie film Hearts Beat Loud, directed by Brett Haley. It stars the ridiculously endearing Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and the gifted young Kiersey Clemons (Dope), with appearances by the likes of Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, and Toni Collette, and it’s viewable on Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere. It’s basically in the Nick Hornby mode of music-themed comedy-drama (but with less of the attitude that annoys some about Hornby). Offerman and Clemons are a father and daughter who are stuck in neutral emotionally, the mother having died some while earlier. Offerman runs a failing Brooklyn record store, while Clemons is prepping determinedly for med school. And then, almost accidentally, they start writing songs together. What follows is no grand Star Is Born story, but a modest celebration of how art changes lives in simple, everyday ways that run deep. How it can help us to carry on, and with more awakened senses.

Which is just the beginning of what I wish for all of us in the year ahead—I dearly hope for much bigger shifts—but it’s a beginning.

Ciao, bellas,

Carl

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