The 2019 Music Club features critics Carl Wilson, Lindsay Zoladz, and Ann Powers, with additional entries from Jack Hamilton, Julianne Escobedo-Shepherd, Jewly Hight, and Chris Molanphy.
We could keep the roundtable going till January—this is our place, we make the rules. But the president has been impeached, you all have lives and loved ones to return to, and there’ve been more than enough musical signposts and big ideas in the discussion so far to keep absorbing over the holidays.
I want to join Ann in thanking Lindsay for her reminiscences of reading our jottings a decade ago, which made me a little teary-eyed, and thankful for the way our community of art nerds expands and renews itself, even under adversity in the field. It also made me look back to 2009, which happens to be the first year I participated in Music Club, along with Ann, hosted by my predecessor as Slate’s music critic, Jody Rosen. Reading an entry titled, “The Definitive Sound of the Obama Years Has Yet to Emerge” (!), I notice some similar thoughts about end-of-decade transitional periods. I wince a little bit at how much narrower my aesthetics were. But I also sigh over the extra energy and bounce I can hear in my writing voice, back when criticism for me remained more of a sideline (blogging on my now-defunct site Zoilus, among other things) and not my full-time hustle. No doubt the intervening decade has wrung a little bit out of all of us.
Because mental health has been a running theme in this year’s discussion, I thought I would share some optimistic news on that front, which is that this month the composers and publishers’ group ASCAP announced it’s launching a health-and-wellness initiative, “TuneUp,” to help its member musicians and songwriters get access to counseling, recovery services, meditation practice, and other physical and mental health supports. This is partly in reaction to surveys that show startlingly high rates of self-reported mental health issues among musicians—which might partly be because musicians are just in the vanguard of the growing recognition that most modern humans have issues they could use help with. But observe too that beyond the instability and insecurity of the job, musicians make a living getting on stages in front of large groups of people, which is among the most common stressors and phobias. And it’s not like the average musician is necessarily an extroverted exhibitionist. Often quite the opposite. Not to mention the late nights, travel, and so on. So anxiety, panic attacks, and other symptoms might well be more widespread among them. Beyond ASCAP’s project, I’ve seen other groups addressing related matters with information tables at fundraisers and, unfortunately, memorial events, and it should be cultivated and encouraged.
As I look forward into 2020 and beyond, however, I also want to say that the best thing for our collective well-being would be to answer one simple question, something that is at the root of a lot of the social conflict, the populist backlashes, the opportunistic racism, many of the barriers to fixing climate change, the ills of the “gig economy,” and more. It’s a question that I heard being put the most entertainingly, and, really, bracingly bluntly by none other than those improbable pop survivors the Pet Shop Boys, on this track from their 2019 EP, Agenda.
And that question is: “What Are We Going to Do About the Rich?” I don’t mean to be a reductive vulgar Marxist, or maybe I do. But if we could finally come up with an effective response to that dilemma in this globalized gilded age of inequity and plutocracy, we’d really have something to sing about.
That song, among 137 others we’ve touched upon in one way or another, appears on the Spotify list I’ve put together to commemorate and keep alive the spirit of 2019’s Music Club, “Slate Music Club 2019: This Year Was Just a Kid in a Sheet.”
Finally, I want to close with a partial list of those we’ve lost in 2019. It wasn’t as dramatic that way as 2016, the year that Prince and David Bowie and Leonard Cohen and George Michael (among others) all slipped away. But it’s always significant to remember, whether due to the tragedies of unfulfilled potential, or simply because of how it puts us back in touch with too-easily neglected angles and aspects of music history.
So thank you so sincerely, clubbers—Lindsay, Ann, Jack, Julianne, Jewly, and Chris—for sharing your insights and discoveries this year, and to everyone out there for reading.
Now, let’s have a (virtual) moment of silence for the musical casualties of 2019, listed from youngest to oldest at time of death. My apologies for those I inevitably overlooked or didn’t have space to include. May they all rest in peace, power, and lasting memory.
Deaths in the Music World, 2019
• Fast-rising emo-rap star Juice Wrld (Jarad Higgins), 21
• South Korean singer and actress Goo Hara, of K-pop band Kara, 28
• L.A. rapper, activist, and mentor, Nipsey Hussle (Ermias Asghedom), 33
• Techno dancer, vocalist, man in motion, Keith Flint of Prodigy, 49
• New Jersey indie guitarist and singer-songwriter Neal Casal, 50
• Scott Timberg, Los Angeles critic and arts journalist, author of Culture Crash, 50
• Bushwick Bill (Richard Stephen Shaw), trickster heart of Houston 1980s–90s rap titans Geto Boys, 52
• Elusive indie-rock poet laureate, David Cloud Berman, of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, 52
• Kim Shattuck, singer-guitarist of L.A. bands the Pandoras and the Muffs, 56
• “Toaster” and vocalist, two-tone/ska icon, Ranking Roger (Roger Charlery) of the Beat (aka the English Beat) and General Public, 56
• Politically minded folk-rocker John Mann, of Vancouver’s Spirit of the West, 57
• Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, friend to ghosts and superheroes, 58
• Marie Fredriksson of 1980s–90s hit-making Swedish pop-rock duo Roxette (“It Must Have Been Love”), 61
• Gary Stewart of Rhino Records and Apple Music, creative music-reissue specialist, 62
• Mark Hollis, singer of innovative 1980s U.K. art/synth-rock band Talk Talk, 64
• Zimbabwean superstar guitarist and human rights activist Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, 66
• South African songwriter, musician, and anti-apartheid activist, Johnny Clegg of Juluka and Savuka, 66
• Andy Gill, U.K. music critic, New Music Express, the Independent, and others (not to be confused with the Gang of Four musician), 66
• One-of-a-kind Cyprus-born singer and blues, vaudeville, and ragtime revivalist, Leon Redbone (Dickran Gobalian), 69
• Nick Tosches, novelist, journalist, biographer of Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, and Sonny Liston, 69
• “Take Me Home Tonight” classic party-rocker, Eddie Money (Edward Mahoney), 70
• Texas psychedelic-garage visionary, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” singer, Roky Erickson (Roger Erickson), 71
• Global opera star, soprano Jessye Norman, 74
• Shades-clad, cool-nerd new-wave icon, Ric Ocasek (Richard Theodore Otcasek) of Boston’s the Cars, (probably) 75
• Scott Walker (Noel Scott Engel), American emigré to Britain, 1960s Walker Brothers teen idol turned Bowie-influencing Euro-cabaret chanteur and avant-garde composer, 76
• Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section guitarist Jimmy Johnson, heard on hits by Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and countless others, 1960s–1990s, 76
• New Orleans piano man and patron saint, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), 77
• Peter Tork (Peter Thorkelson), keyboardist/bassist and sweet comic everyman in the Monkees, 77
• Jackie Shane, Nashville-born queer/trans R&B pioneer in 1960s Toronto, 78
• Robert Hunter, poet-lyricist for the Grateful Dead, 78
• British jazz and rock drummer Ginger Baker (Peter Baker) of Cream, 80
• Keyboardist and singer Art Neville, co-founder of New Orleans funk and soul groups the Meters and the Neville Brothers, prominent studio musician, 81
• “King of the surf guitar” in the early 1960s, Dick Dale (Richard Anthony Monsour), 81
• Sax/woodwinds/percussion jazz musician, improviser, and spiritual light, Joseph Jarman, of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, 81
• Warhol Factory denizen, “Dial-a-Poem” poet, performer, bandleader, John Giorno, 82
• Detroit 1950s salty rockabilly/R&B maverick Andre Williams, who lived to team up with indie-rock bands like the Sadies in the 1990s and 2000s, 82
• French pianist and composer Michel Legrand (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “Windows of Your Mind,” Yentl), 86
• Brazilian bossa-nova god João Gilberto, 88
• German-American jazz pianist, classical conductor, and film composer, André Previn (Andreas Ludwig Priwin), 89
• Izzy Young (Israel Goodman Young), owner of the New York Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, 1957–73, and the Folklore Centrum in Stockholm thereafter, 90
• Los Angeles “Wrecking Crew” drummer Hal Blaine, heard on hundreds of hits, 90
• Bluegrass mainstay, singer Mac Wiseman, 93
• Superstar 1950s actor and “Que Sera Sera” singer Doris Day (Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff), 97
Whatever will be, will be,