I Bet You Think This Song Is About You

For most of my life, I can remember people referencing the line about, “living in interesting times,” and talking about how it’s clearly a curse; I’m pretty sure I first heard that in my early teens, if not earlier. It was a reading that always felt a little too cynical, a little too on-the-nose and snarkily, “I’m so grizzled, I know that interesting is a euphemism for bad.” And then, 2020 happened.

Really, the strangest thing for me has perhaps been communicating with my sisters in the UK during the whole thing. Every few weeks, there would be a new message asking, essentially, “is this true? Are things that bad?” and I’d have to explain, yes, it’s kind of true, but not exactly as was being reported: yes, there were protests, but it wasn’t full-scale rioting throughout the city, say, or, sure, the skies are filled with smoke and we’re surrounded by wildfires, but it’s not exactly the red skies of Mad Max: Fury Road that the internet and some smart photo filters was making it look like, and least not yet.

Every time I’d send these messages back, I’d fight the urge to ask them similar questions about what was happening there, because I’d seen similarly breathless reporting about the UK. Was Covid rebounding so quickly, so cruelly as the numbers made it seem? Was the country still plunging towards the economic apocalypse of Brexit? Was the Government really admitting publicly that it was breaking the law, but everything was fine because it was only a little bit lawless?

(That last one feels particularly ironic to Americans, perhaps, given our own leader’s relationship with legality.)

Everything just keeps happening. Everything is just so interesting.

I remember watching HBO’s Years and Years last year, and being horrifyingly addicted — or addictively horrified, perhaps — by how quickly things turned convincingly dystopian as the show pushed into the future. But living it now, it’s both funny and tragic that, from today’s point of view, the show underestimated how fast the slide would actually be.

I’m tired. I want to be bored, again.

Over It

The other day, I was outside sniffing the air and thinking to myself, this smells smokier than it’s been in the last few days, but it’s been worse. To double check, I looked up for the sun and saw that, sure, it was a little bit orange, but far from the deep red that it had been at times in the past couple weeks. And then I realized just how good I’d accidentally become at normalizing seemingly everything that’s thrown my way in 2020, even the Oregon wildfires and the atmospheric fallout.

When the wildfires started, my reaction had been a mix of fear and frustration; I recognized the way the light was changing very early on — 2017 had very bad smoke in Portland as a result of surrounding wildfires, and the way that it turned sunlight orange isn’t something that is easy to forget — but, beyond the worry of how bad it was going to be this time, there was this unavoidable sense of, really? Wildfires on top of everything else? Of course, why should I expect anything different?

Portland has had a rough year. I mean, everywhere has — 2020 has been cartoonishly cruel in ways that feel surreal when you stop to think about it — but if Portland, Oregon got off relatively easily when it came to the global pandemic (and we did, realistically, despite the deaths and the massive economic costs it’s taken from the city in terms of permanently closed businesses), it got hit harder than most when it came to the federal response to the Black Lives Matter protests downtown. We were, terrifyingly, the first city in the country where protesters were pulled into unmarked vehicles by federal agents who refused to identify themselves, after all. Ground zero! Breaking new ground! The President couldn’t stop talking about us, even if it was all lies!

But, after awhile, even that became the new normal. Life continued. That’s the running theme of the year: life continues. We get on with it.

So the wildfires surrounded us, and the smoke smothered us, and we got on with it. We recognized the good smoke days and the bad smoke days and complained when the smoke didn’t clear when it had been forecast to, over and over again. We’re resilient. I’m just not sure if that’s truly a positive, is all.

Has Come Unstuck In Time

The very first of the THR newsletter graphics created for the site’s new back-end system — which ultimately didn’t make that much of a difference for me, despite what everyone expected ahead of time. They stayed the same size, and we approached the process the same as we ever had; it turned out to be much ado (and much a-stress) about nothing, which is likely better than the alternative.

You’ve Got Me Runnin’ Around In Your

I’ve been thinking about Matthew Sweet for the first time in a long time recently. For those unfamiliar with him — and, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure why anyone should be that familiar with him these days — he was a leading light of the Power Pop movement in the 1990s, with a nigh-unbeatable string of albums that were laden with hooks, riffs and his unfortunately nasal voice, and at the time, I was very much a fan.

From Girlfriend through, say, Blue Sky on Mars — that’s 1991 through 1997 for those of you keeping track of how time actually works — Sweet was one of the guiding lights of my musical tastes. It was the Britpop era, and in many ways, Sweet was the U.S. version of that, borrowing just as liberally from the 1960s British pop scene as an Oasis or a Menswear, and then choosing to do slightly other things with the fruits of his thievery, which also included American influences like Buffalo Springfield or the Beach Boys.

Despite how much his tastes and intent echoed the then-dominant music trends, there was something about Matthew Sweet’s output that felt “uncool” at a time when I actually cared about such things. I remember friends making fun of me for being into him, and me feeling a very stupid sense of shame as a result. (I was young, I didn’t know any better.) This didn’t actually make me like his music any less; it just made me listen to it on my own, far from judging ears.

Sweet didn’t stop making music after Blue Sky on Mars; he even had an album out a couple years later, called In Reverse. It’s simply that something had changed in that intervening period; maybe it was him, maybe me, or perhaps a mix of both, but I was bored of that album and what felt like his shift towards mid-tempo mediocrity. I tried to get into it over and over again, but my tastes had moved on to stranger things — 1997, when Blue Sky on Mars came out, was also the year I got into Super Furry Animals, David Holmes and Primal Scream, and followed their influences outwards — so, by 1999, I wanted more than what sounded increasingly like the Eagles.

Now, more than two decades later, I find myself wanting to revisit all of the stuff I loved before, and the stuff I didn’t back then, to see if my own aging process has softened my opinions, or if I’ll be disappointed by my younger self. Just how strong a drug is nostalgia, anyway…?