2018: A farewell to all that

“Gee,” I thought last August, “I’m never earning a chili pepper on Rate My Professor again.” Nothing this year shook me so much as joining academe, an unexpected triumph after years of playing Keats in Yeats’ poem, “face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window.” Office hours, faculty evaluations, the management of a schedule at once flexible and ruthless — these phenomena meant something at last. I regard the appointment as culmination, not reward, yet it has had the effect of making me reconsider suppressed ambitions, about which I’ll have more to reveal in the coming months. Suffice it to say that joining academe, even as visiting faculty, requires figuring out how to keep the sinecure.

In addition, on January 2018, fulfilling another career ambition, I accepted the temporary role of assigning freelance reviews at SPIN. During this tenure, we published Israel Daramola’s don’t-believe-the-hype piece on Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” Chuck Eddy on Ashley Monroe, Andy Beta on Sons of Kemet, and Katherine St. Asaph on Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hours, which has, improbably, emerged as the year’s consensus pick. Chewy, enthusiastic about detail, these reviews and essays demonstrate the continued vitality of rock criticism in the era of the venture capitalist gods. As for yours truly, I had fun writing, among other things, about The Cars’ eighties run, mourned the death of Aretha Franklin but revisited some of the dustier corners of her career, and gave Maxwell’s career a second look. I delivered a paper on Angela Winbush, one of my touchstones, at the annual MoPOP Pop Conference.

Finally, thanks to my readers, Humanizing the Vacuum reached new heights of follow-ship. I like lists, you’ve noticed. Often these lists are amusements, catalysts for conversations on social media with friends I don’t see and strangers I won’t meet. It’s possible that I erode, to use jargon I loathe, my brand by publishing this stuff. As a committed bachelor for whom reading, writing, and the striations of thought form a Gordian knot, I call bullshit. To compensate for my aversion to autobiography, I’ve reveled in the sharing of facts like a French realist novelist. My preferences for Muriel Spark and Campari, my revulsion toward cottage cheese and “day and age” — these amount to revelations when assembled and studied and, I trust, enjoyed. Sometimes I published autobiography despite my best efforts. My favorite long pieces were often film reviews: the gormless and harmless Love, Simon, the stilted Roma, the grotesque Vice. I particularly enjoyed writing reappraisals of Orson Welles and Jean Renoir classics getting their first releases or played art houses before Criterion got its mitts into them, respectively. I strove on to chronicle my relationships with terrible songs. Then, in the last month of 2018, I realized another ambition: after years of silent, nervous vigil, I exhaled delightedly when George H.W. Bush, father of two terrible leaders of men, died.

For many readers, sites like mine represent an escape from a fraught, hostile, and malodorous political climate whose existence depends on social media. My buddy, political activist Joey Daniewicz, also published pieces that were attempts at whistling in the dark. The damage Donald Trump has done to the world is the culmination of a radical project kicked off on January 1981. The Democratic triumph in November is a step toward halting this project before the restlessness of American voters punishes us again. To hope that my ranking of Neil Young’s eighties albums or yelling people’s ears off about Cupcakke will be enough to shift the public mood is the height of inanity, but so is liking the mimosa.

Onward.

 

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