A year in music, and counting

hqdefaultThey call me the count because I love to count, and also because of my irritating habit of turning into a bat at night. By day I continue my obsessive-compulsive behavior: list-making, hand-washing, piano practicing, songwriting, etc. Inspired by my role model On Kawara, who seemed like a real g-d head case, I’ve gotten into various forms of record keeping on navel-gazing subjects that couldn’t possibly interest anyone but me: what did I eat today? what did I spend money on? who did I meet socially? what board game did I play? What my obsessive-compulsive behavior has taught me — other than the fact that obsessive-compulsive behavior is serious fun — is that the more I list something, the more I want to do it. Therefore, I skate free of New Year’s Resolutions: if there’s a thing I want or need more of in my life, all I need to do is begin keeping track of how often it happens. Works like a charm. A neurotic type of charm, but why quibble with success?

Since I started keeping track of every album I listened to, the number of albums I’ve listened to has increased each year. At some point, I’m going to run out of hours and completely tax the patience of the people around me. But I haven’t reached it yet, and 2016 was another landslide of music new and old (but mainly new). Since my recent liberation from the trash compactor called 2016 has put me in a magnanimous oversharey mood, I’m going to reveal some of my findings with you. There’s actually very little correspondence between the big list of artists and records I’ve listened to most frequently in a given year and the best-of ballot I put together with my friends at the end of January — some albums and some artists are just easier to listen to than others. Tegan & Sara’s most recent albums play well in most contexts. I don’t think I could make the same claim on behalf of Steven Wilson, or Van Der Graaf Generator’s Pawn Hearts. No knock on those meant, believe me.

I look forward to this particular count all year, and go out of my way not to hazard guesses about what’ll come out tops. Part of the fun of the project is to preserve the surprise: I add it all up and discover that my speculations about what I’ve been spinning have been totally wrong. A year is a long time — looking back, it’s hard to imagine that events that took place in January could have happened during the same swing around the sun as this just-passed holiday season. If you’re self-absorbed enough, and fruitfully forgetful enough, and committed enough to writing everything down, you don’t have to wait for an eon to pass for the archaeology to begin. The filthy facts of your life are shovel-ready.

If you’d asked me in mid-December what artist or album I’d listened to the most in 2016, I think I probably would have said Kamaiyah. That was my short-haul bicycling music this summer, and I found A Good Night In The Ghetto so vivid and so entertaining that it seemed like its primary colors extended to every corner of the canvas. Was I right? Let’s see:

Album artists most frequently played, 1/1/16-12/31/16

  1. Drake
  2. Paul Simon
  3. Laura Marling
  4. Chance The Rapper
  5. Natalia Lafourcade
  6. Kanye West
  7. Beth Orton
  8. Look Park
  9. Pusha T
  10. Lucy Dacus
  11. Young Thug
  12. Tegan & Sara
  13. Okkervil River
  14. Noname
  15. Basia Bulat
  16. Jenny Lewis
  17. Kamaiyah
  18. Jamila Woods
  19. Francis & The Lights
  20. Pet Shop Boys

Drake had a bit of an unfair advantage this year; both If You’re Reading This and What A Time To Be Alive felt fresh at the time of the release of Views. We have a tradition of listening to Drake on the Fourth Of July and when we’re decorating the Christmas tree, too. So while the rest of the world was getting really, really sick of his nonsense, I was playing his records over and over and singing along in my Drake voice. (Maybe doing the Hotline Bling dance, too?) It’s worth noting that Drake was also my second-most played artist last year behind Belle & Sebastian. What can I say?; Drake is like a bag of breadsticks that I can’t stop myself from raiding.

Speaking of raiding: as you’re about to hear firsthand, I may have borrowed a bit from Paul Simon while writing songs this year. Stranger To Stranger was heavy summer listening until it scared me so much that I had to put it away. Turns out he was the only election forecaster who had it right, and for the right reasons, and much as I tried to pretend that wasn’t what he was singing about, in retrospect it’s all horrifyingly clear. May has been a Paul Simon month for me for the last few years; something about the first warm days always makes me want to put on Graceland or Rhythm Of The Saints and go appropriate some poor sucker’s culture.

Other things of interest: I was under the strange impression that I’d broken my shameless dependency on Laura Marling’s music this year, or at least that I was giving it a rest until her new one comes out this spring. That… was an inaccurate assumption. In fact I listened to Laura Marling so much that she dragged Beth Orton into the Top Ten of this list by sheer association; once it became an insane and untenable proposition to play Once I Was An Eagle another time, and I had no choice but to turn to Sugaring Season and Trailer Park and the like for my austere, Bert Jansch-y British trad. fix. A mid-year Audit/reassessment of Critics Poll years 2003-2008 (we really did do this, complete with a listening schedule and a Poll day!) was a boon for Kanye and Okkervil River. Verdict: those guys are pretty good.

For xtra thrills, spills, and chill pills, let’s go month by month.

JANUARY

  1. Natalia Lafourcade
  2. Pusha T
  3. Laura Stevenson
  4. Erykah Badu
  5. Julien Baker
  6. Tame Impala
  7. Joanna Newsom

FEBRUARY

  1. Joanna Newsom
  2. Natalia Lafourcade
  3. The High Llamas
  4. New Order
  5. Air
  6. Pusha T
  7. Richard Thompson

MARCH

  1. Laura Marling
  2. Natalia Lafourcade
  3. Joanna Newsom
  4. Eleanor Friedberger
  5. Julieta Venegas
  6. Allan Kingdom
  7. Kendrick Lamar

APRIL

  1. The High Llamas
  2. Pet Shop Boys
  3. The Shins
  4. Kanye West
  5. Pusha T
  6. Natalia Lafourcade
  7. Kamaiyah

MAY

  1. Paul Simon
  2. Lucy Dacus
  3. Kanye West
  4. Kamaiyah
  5. Quilt
  6. Sandy Denny
  7. Frightened Rabbit

JUNE

  1. Drake
  2. Beyonce
  3. Kanye West
  4. Weezer
  5. Laura Marling
  6. Lucy Dacus
  7. Paul Simon

JULY

  1. Chance The Rapper
  2. Drake
  3. Beyonce
  4. YG
  5. Kanye West
  6. Tegan & Sara
  7. Kamaiyah

AUGUST

  1. Xenia Rubinos
  2. Paul Simon
  3. Jamila Woods
  4. Chance The Rapper
  5. Noname
  6. Jenny Lewis
  7. Say Anything

SEPTEMBER

  1. Homeboy Sandman
  2. De La Soul
  3. Beth Orton
  4. Noname
  5. Jamila Woods
  6. Bruce Hornsby
  7. Look Park

OCTOBER

  1. Francis & The Lights
  2. Okkervil River
  3. Look Park
  4. Bruce Hornsby
  5. Margaret Glaspy
  6. The Hotelier
  7. Frank Ocean

NOVEMBER

  1. Jimmy Eat World
  2. Look Park
  3. Car Seat Headrest
  4. Vanishing Twin
  5. Alicia Keys
  6. Butch Walker
  7. Tinashe

DECEMBER

  1. Miranda Lambert
  2. A Tribe Called Quest
  3. Vanishing Twin
  4. Martha
  5. Jimmy Eat World
  6. Saba
  7. J. Cole

As a boring individual, I’ve fallen into many familiar annual patterns, and I see I didn’t really deviate from any of them this year: British folk in the early spring, a hip-hop midsummer, a blanket of guitar rock when the weather gets chilly in mid-autumn, and a hodgepodge of styles once the listening schedule starts and the December landslide of recommendations begin. My Laura Marling fixation forced me a little deeper into the fens than I usually go, which partially accounts for the presence of good ol’ Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson on these lists (not that there’s ever a bad reason to listen to those two.) As usual, my year in music started to take shape in June when I turned off the oldies station and began engaging in earnest with what the new stuff. In ’16, the big moment for me was when the Soundcloud broke over the Great Lakes and all that free Chicago music started raining down — but if that hadn’t happened, something similar would have.

Yet there was one major difference between 2016 and prior years. Usually the very last thing I want to listen to after the calendar turns in February is music from the year gone by. I’ve played it out and I’m ready to stop thinking about it. This year that didn’t happen. It’s a testament to the depth of 2015 — possibly my favorite year in music ever — that I continued, habitually, to play last season’s albums even when it was no longer last season. Natalia Lafourcade’s Hasta La Raiz dominated the first three months of ’16, and I went back and picked up her other albums, which weren’t quite as fantastic but still had plenty to offer. Hasta (and a really good video for “Suavecito”) led me to reconsider Julieta Venegas’s Spanish-language Algo Sucede, which I fell in love with in February, and Ximena Sarinana’s No Todo Lo Puedes Dar, an album I never gave a fair shake to since I was intimidated by the language barrier. I kept listening to New Order’s Music Complete and Joanna Newsom’s Divers — albums that got a bit crowded out by the glut of fantastic stuff released in ’15 — well into the new year, and I kinda think they still haven’t stopped growing on me.

Most of all, I couldn’t quit Pusha T. That was my psych-up music during the winter, or my ride-my-bike-through-the-freezing-cold music, or my miffed at power structures music, or just my bunch of betting on a sleeper anthems. Then I spent the rest of 2016 waiting in vain for him to put out the follow-up he promised. I should have worried when he subtitled his album The Prelude. Elzhi gave us The Preface in 2008 and it’s taken him years to get to the rest of the book. Well, what the heck, it’s not like there weren’t dozens of other great albums to listen to in 2016; I’m just greedy. Let’s list some of them:

Albums most frequently played, 1/1/16-12/31/16

  1. Look Park — Look Park
  2. Drake — Views
  3. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  4. Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
  5. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  6. Noname — Telefone
  7. Tegan & Sara — Love You To Death
  8. Jamila Woods — HEAVN
  9. Basia Bulat — Good Advice
  10. Natalia Lafourcade — Hasta La Raiz
  11. Mitski — Puberty 2
  12. Francis & The Lights — Farewell, Starlite!
  13. Pusha T — King Push: Darkest Before Dawn — The Prelude
  14. Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  15. Paul Simon — Stranger To Stranger
  16. Xenia Rubinos — Black Terry Cat
  17. YG — Still Brazy
  18. Homeboy Sandman — Kindness For Weakness
  19. Margaret Glaspy — Emotions And Math
  20. Quilt — Plaza

Huh. That’s not what I was expecting. I knew I liked the Look Park album, but I absolutely did not realize I was listening to it more than any other album this year. I’m not entirely sure how to process that, but it seems weirdly anti-social of me. I’m not even sure I know anybody else besides Hilary who has even given it a spin. (Tom Snow, are you out there? I think you’d enjoy the wry perspective.) Most big 2016 albums existed in communal space: even and especially before their release, they were discussed to fuck and back on the Internet. It would be just like me, or my belligerent unconscious, to resist cooperation. Or maybe it was, you know, the melodies.

As for Drake, what can I say?, besides that all of y’all are butt wrong. I dig the production, the performances, the arrangements, the choruses, even the dumb jokes. I know you’re sick of his nonsense, and he’s to blame for his own overexposure, but trust me, this is not the time to press the strip and get off of the Drake bus. If you’re looking for Lemonade, it was at #21. Funny thing: I kept meaning to set aside some time to watch the visual album, but I never did. I oughta do that tonight.

Month by month:

JANUARY

  1. Natalia Lafourcade — Hasta La Raiz
  2. Pusha T — King Push: Darkest Before Dawn — The Prelude
  3. Erykah Badu — But You Cain’t Use My Phone
  4. Julien Baker — Sprained Ankle
  5. Joanna Newsom — Divers
  6. Laura Stevenson — Cocksure
  7. Trey Anastasio — Paper Wheels

FEBRUARY

  1. Natalia Lafourcade — Hasta La Raiz
  2. Joanna Newsom — Divers
  3. New Order — Music Complete
  4. Pusha T — King Push: Darkest Before Dawn — The Prelude
  5. Julieta Venegas — Algo Sucede
  6. Allan Kingdom — Northern Lights
  7. Trey Anastasio — Paper Wheels

MARCH

  1. Natalia Lafourcade — Hasta La Raiz
  2. Eleanor Friedberger — New View
  3. Allan Kingdom — Northern Lights
  4. Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered
  5. Laura Marling — Laura Marling
  6. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  7. Julieta Venegas — Algo Sucede

APRIL

  1. The High Llamas — Snowbug
  2. Pet Shop Boys — Super
  3. Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  4. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  5. Eleanor Friedberger — New View
  6. Basia Bulat — Good Advice
  7. Weezer — Weezer (White Album)

MAY

  1. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  2. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  3. Quilt — Plaza
  4. Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  5. Sandy Denny — The North Star Grassman And The Ravens
  6. Lucius — Good Grief
  7. Frightened Rabbit — Painting Of A Panic Attack

JUNE

  1. Drake — Views
  2. Beyonce — Lemonade
  3. Weezer — Weezer (White Album)
  4. Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  5. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  6. Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  7. Anderson.Paak — Malibu

JULY

  1. Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
  2. Drake — Views
  3. Beyonce — Lemonade
  4. YG — Still Brazy
  5. Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  6. Tegan & Sara — Love You To Death
  7. Esperanza Spalding — Emily’s D+Evolution

AUGUST

  1. Xenia Rubinos — Black Terry Cat
  2. Paul Simon — Stranger To Stranger
  3. Jamila Woods — HEAVN
  4. Noname — Telefone
  5. Say Anything — I Don’t Think It Is
  6. Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
  7. Mitski — Puberty 2

SEPTEMBER

  1. De La Soul — And The Anonymous Nobody…
  2. Noname — Telefone
  3. Jamila Woods — HEAVN
  4. Homeboy Sandman — Kindness For Weakness
  5. Look Park — Look Park
  6. Young Thug — Jeffery
  7. Joey Purp — iiiDrops

OCTOBER

  1. Francis & The Lights — Farewell, Starlight!
  2. Okkervil River — Away
  3. Look Park — Look Park
  4. Margaret Glaspy — Emotions And Math
  5. The Hotelier — Goodness
  6. Frank Ocean — Blonde
  7. Solange — A Seat At The Table

NOVEMBER

  1. Look Park — Look Park
  2. Jimmy Eat World — Integrity Blues
  3. Car Seat Headrest — Teens Of Denial
  4. Vanishing Twin — Choose Your Own Adventure
  5. Alicia Keys — Here
  6. Cymbals Eat Guitars — Pretty Eyes
  7. Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition

DECEMBER

  1. Miranda Lambert — The Weight Of These Wings
  2. A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
  3. Vanishing Twin — Choose Your Own Adventure
  4. Martha — Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart
  5. Jimmy Eat World — Integrity Blues
  6. Saba — Bucket List Project
  7. J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only

See, wasn’t that fun? For me, I mean. It was fun for me. Thucydides, or somebody who resembled him, said “know thyself”, and what better way to do that than by scrupulously logging irrelevant stuff? Get out of here with that soul searching, pal; this isn’t the 19th century. Internal investigations are messy, and expensive if you hire a shrink. As for you, the reader, well, I’m glad you came along for the ride. I promise to keep up this practice, and I’m going to post some of my year-end lists for your general examination. Because it could always be worse: you could be paying attention to the news. Nothing good for you there, I promise.

Critics Poll 27

Couldn’t exactly call it popular demand. But a few people I like very much have asked whether we’re bringing the Critics Poll back for its twenty-seventh year. Since I worry what you say about me when my back is turned, I’m obliging.  The rules are the same as always: fill out as much or as little as you like. No wrong answers. A certain voter used to stuff his form, annually, with twenty-year-old Rush albums. I always looked forward to that ballot.

I always look forward to yours, too.

The deadline for voting this year is January 26.  I’ll start posting results immediately thereafter.

Listening Schedule 2016

So if you don’t know how we play this game, it goes a little something like this: each day we select two albums released in 2016 and give them an extremely attentive spin. They won’t be the only two albums we listen to that day, but they’ll be the ones we really concentrate on. Because I am a bit of a psycho, I put a lot of thought into the pairings — I try to pick albums that feel complementary to me on some sub-rational level, or, more reasonably, ones that reinforce each others’ strengths. Then, once we finish the whole thing, we think back on the year that was, and choose our favorites.

This exercise has been getting us through the early days of winter for decades now, and even though I didn’t like 2016 any better than you did, I’m not so demoralized that I refuse to carry on tradition. If you approach the listening schedule with the proper spirit, it becomes an advent calendar with music inside — and music is just about the only thing that beats chocolate. In case you’d like to follow along at home, or just check out how a sexy rocking individual like me spends his frosty January, here’s your answer.

Some notable omissions: Angel Olsen is an artist who gets a lot of love from people who are passionate about pop, so I’m sure there’s something major I’m missing. But her music slides off my brain like an egg on a teflon pan. I do understand all the skill that went into Blank Face LP by Schoolboy Q, but I experienced its density as a sonic assault, and I’m not eager to revisit that listening experience. Joanne is an improvement over Artpop, yes; a car alarm at four in the morning would be, too. I don’t think she cleared the very modest bar she set for herself after demolishing our expectations. Finally, there’s Radiohead and, I… I just can’t. Sorry not sorry.  

The rest of the year’s consensus picks are on there somewhere, as are some other records that you might not have heard of, but which tickled our fancy or illuminated something for us or just made a hot summer day pass like an ice cream dream. List-making is, ultimately, an exercise in memory reinforced: for me, and probably for you, these albums are deeply embedded in a specific place and time. Unfortch, for the albums on this particular version of the schedule, that time is 2016. Which isn’t their fault, so let’s not punish them for it. If you made it to the last page of the calendar and you’re still breathing, with a storehouse of recently-minted memories and experiences in tow, friend, that’s something to celebrate right there. Every year is worth enshrining — even the Year of Hard Lessons.

Okay, you ready? Let’s go:

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14

  • A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
  • Esperanza Spalding — Emily’s D+Evolution

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15

  • Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered
  • Basia Bulat — Good Advice

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16

  • Xenia Rubinos — Black Terry Cat
  • How To Dress Well — Care

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17

  • Metronomy — Summer 08
  • Haley Bonar — Impossible Dream

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18

  • Car Seat Headrest — Teens Of Denial
  • Joey Purp — iiiDrops

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19

  • Rihanna — Anti
  • Frightened Rabbit — Painting Of A Panic Attack

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20

  • Solange — A Seat At The Table
  • Two Tongues — Two Tongues Two

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21

  • Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition
  • Mitski — Puberty 2

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22

  • Vanishing Twin — Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Tunji Ige — Missed Calls

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23

  • Noname — Telefone
  • Honeyblood — Babes Never Die

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24

  • Margaret Glaspy — Emotions And Math
  • Look Park — Look Park

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 25

  • Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book
  • Alicia Keys — Here

MONDAY, DECEMBER 26

  • Chairlift — Moth
  • Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27

  • Kamaiyah — A Good Night In The Ghetto
  • Martha — Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28

  • Lucy Dacus — No Burden
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars — Pretty Years

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29

  • Francis And The Lights — Farewell, Starlite!
  • Tinashe — Nightride

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30

  • Drake — Views
  • Paul Simon — Stranger To Stranger

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31

  • Jimmy Eat World — Integrity Blues
  • Young Thug — Jeffery

SUNDAY, JANUARY 1

  • Saba — Bucket List Project
  • Quilt — Plaza

MONDAY, JANUARY 2

  • Weezer — White Album
  • Camp Cope — Camp Cope

TUESDAY, JANUARY 3

  • Jamila Woods — HEAVN
  • Okkervil River — Away

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 4

  • Eleanor Friedberger — New View
  • Homeboy Sandman — Kindness For Weakness

THURSDAY, JANUARY 5

  • Anderson.Paak — Malibu
  • Pinegrove — Cardinal

FRIDAY, JANUARY 6

  • Tegan And Sara — Love You To Death
  • Pet Shop Boys — Super

SATURDAY, JANUARY 7

  • Miranda Lambert — The Weight Of These Wings
  • Nice As Fuck — Nice As Fuck

SUNDAY, JANUARY 8

  • YG — Still Brazy
  • Jeff Rosenstock — Worry.

MONDAY, JANUARY 9

  • Lucius — Good Grief
  • Beth Orton — Kidsticks

TUESDAY, JANUARY 10

  • Allan Kingdom — Northern Lights
  • Lori McKenna — The Bird And The Rifle

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11

  • The Hotelier — Goodness
  • Overlord — The Well-Tempered Overlord

THURSDAY, JANUARY 12

  • Kanye West — The Life Of Pablo
  • Panic! At The Disco — Death Of A Bachelor

FRIDAY, JANUARY 13

  • Blood Orange — Freetown Sound
  • Bon Iver — 22, A Million

SATURDAY, JANUARY 14

  • Beyonce — Lemonade
  • Of Montreal — Innocence Reaches

SUNDAY, JANUARY 15

  • De La Soul — And The Anonymous Nobody…
  • The Rocket Summer — Zoetic

MONDAY, JANUARY 16

  • Bas — Too High To Riot
  • Weaves — Weaves

TUESDAY, JANUARY 17

  • case/lang/veirs — case/lang/veirs
  • Say Anything — I Don’t Think It Is

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18

  • Shearwater — Jet Plane And Oxbow
  • Elzhi — Lead Poison

THURSDAY, JANUARY 19

  • Butch Walker — Stay Gold
  • Bruno Mars — 24K Magic

FRIDAY, JANUARY 20

  • Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers — Rehab Reunion
  • Maren Morris — Hero

SATURDAY, JANUARY 21

  • Frank Ocean — Blonde
  • Cousin Stizz — Monda

SUNDAY, JANUARY 22

  • The Weeknd — Starboy
  • David Bowie — Blackstar

MONDAY, JANUARY 23

  • Steven Wilson — 4 1/2
  • You Blew It! — Abendrot

TUESDAY, JANUARY 24

  • CupcakKe — Cum Cake
  • Modern Baseball — Holy Ghost

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25

  • Carly Rae Jepsen — E-mo-tion Side B
  • The Oh Sees — A Weird Exits

THURSDAY, JANUARY 26

  • PJ Harvey — Hope Six Demolition Project
  • Future Of The Left — The Peace And Truce Of Future Of The Left

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27

  • J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only
  • The Goon Sax — Up To Anything

 

Please stop saying that hip-hop is going to have a great four years

Well-meaning people may have assured you that rappers and other practitioners of styles with a tradition of dissent (punk rock, theater, graffiti, etc.) are bound to meet the challenge of this national disaster with an retaliatory outpouring of exemplary art. You may have given voice to this yourself. If you have, I understand: it is natural to try to find silver linings. But I need you to cut it out, right now. It is an insult to rappers, who do not and never have needed any help from ignorant bullies to find their voices, and an insult to the many artists of all kinds who are about to suffer the real material consequences of our terrible decisions.

A bunch of bilge has been dumped into the wellsprings of creativity. Please recognize this and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Editors and publishers: resign

Back to basics, everybody.
Back to basics, everybody.

It’s the morning of November 10, and as far as I can tell, none of the editors and publishers responsible for the clickbait style of Internet reporting have fallen on their swords. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for. It’s possible, I guess, that they’re feeling triumphant today, and that they view the election of a human piece of clickbait as a sick validation of their methods. But that kind of self-aggrandizement would be unlike journalists, even terrible ones. If they’d had any imagination or mental agility or even pride, they wouldn’t have been pumping out clickbait in the first place. I think it’s more likely that they’re still in shock; slow to realize the depth and dimensions of their public humiliation.

So to all you clickbait-site editors and publishers, content aggregators and Facebook share-hunters, let me make this crystal clear: everybody hates you. Everybody. The people who lost this election hate you for sullying journalism and making it impossible for real reporting to flourish. The people who won this election hate you, too — in case you didn’t notice their rhetoric, they think journalists are lowlifes who ought to be abused and/or jailed. People who are apolitical hate you; you’re ruining their Internet experience. The celebrities whose asses you kiss in your attention-grabbing headlines hate you — they see you as toadies and pushovers, and they’re right to. Your own writers toiling away on the content farm especially hate you. They’ve got brains and voices and critical faculties, and you’re wasting all of that in your single-minded pursuit of clicks. You’ve taken journalism to the lowest point it’s ever been in my lifetime. Nobody respects you, nobody trusts you, nobody thinks you’re irreverent or funny or ahead of the curve or even a part of the future. You’ve got to go. Now.

A real journalist doesn’t care about likes. A real journalist doesn’t even care if she is liked. She is chasing the story not because there is audience demand for it, but because nobody has told it yet and it deserves to be told. This is what we depend on her for. Your job — your entire job — is to facilitate that chase. You are there to help her bring what she’s found to the attention of the public. If your new business model won’t allow you to do that, or if it directs you to engage in some other distracting, smoke-blowing b.s. practice, or if, God forbid, it forces you to get in her way, then it is worthless and you are worthless.

It is true that the media biz has always needed to grab the attention of reluctant readers, and has often resorted to gauche methods for doing so. But the sensationalism of the past always had something real at its root: an urgent desire to get the public to pay attention to whatever the journalist had learned. Extra extra read all about something you don’t yet know, not something calibrated to reinforce your own poorly-informed beliefs. What has happened in digital newsrooms, if you even want to call them that, which I certainly do not, is that the old, responsible model has been stood on its head. Instead of the reporter using her judgment to tell you the story she wants to tell, the editor identifies a trending topic that has already been discussed to death and then assigns the reporter to generate still more digital copy on a subject that guarantees pageviews. In the first model, the reporter is the agent; in the second, she has no latitude other than her own flailing (and usually unsuccessful) attempts to avoid redundancy. The first model depends on a reader who is engaged and curious; the second on a reader who is bored and looking to fill his time with prefabricated outrage. If you’ve wondered why every headline on the Internet for the last fifteen months has featured Donald Trump’s name, here’s your answer. It’s no conspiracy. None was necessary. All that was needed was a bunch of nervous editors and publishers with click-quotas to meet and who, therefore, couldn’t stop assigning stories on the hottest trending topic. Unless we want to be governed in perpetuity by depraved celebrities — the Real Housewives of American Politics — the editorial star-chasing has got to end.

We can all acknowledge that “the world has changed”, whatever the heck that means, and that the media business ought to integrate new technologies and new methods of distribution. No reader, no matter how antiquarian, realistically expects the news to be delivered the same way that it was in 1953. But publishers have adapted to the present moment by mimicking all of the worst elements of social media: the rampant conformity, the celebrity-worship, the obsessive need for popularity and “likes”, the tendency to preach to the converted and to reinforce rather than challenge the assumptions of the audience. This, not the mythical decline of attention spans, is the real reason for shrinking readership. Nobody likes a damned suck-up. The hunger for genuine journalism among genuine readers is still there, and it’s always going to be. If you can’t or won’t serve these people, you’ve got to get out of the way and turn the podium over to those who want to figure out how it can be done in a year as as as contentious as 2016 was (and 2017 is sure to be.)

This is not a partisan piece. I would have written the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won the election. But Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the most powerful position on the globe makes it incontrovertible. Editors and publishers, unless you’re still in a punch-drunk haze, I know you know it. You didn’t cause this cataclysm, but you sure greased the gears, and you sure cheered it on. We’ve tried it your way. It was a spectacular failure. You’ve let down your readers, you’ve let down your country, and you’ve let down yourselves. If you’ve got any decency left, you must know there’s only one thing for you to do. Go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All over but the counting

Just back from the boof.  Many people in Hudson County reported delays and long lines at polling places, but we were in and out in a jiffy.  My votes:

Clinton/Kaine

Albio “World” Sires

Mussab Ali and Kimberly Goycochea (the kids) for school board

No, emphatically, on the casino question

Yes, reluctantly, on number 2, although I think lockboxes are bad policy

No on JC local question number 1 to move municipal elections to November

Yes on JC local question 2.

That is all.

 

The view from NJ

No way.
No way.

Donald Trump reminds me of every bully I’ve ever had to stand up to. That’s a personal statement, not a political one, but as there’s been very little actual politics in this horrible election, it’s one that I don’t hesitate to make. Trump opened this campaign by calling people names, and he’s gone right on doing that, straight to the bitter end. His behavior is familiar to me: just like every other petty tyrant I encountered while growing up in New Jersey, he’s punched down and lashed out at everybody he could.  When I watch him in action, I get flashbacks to abusive little league coaches, older boys who liked tripping younger ones just to see them fall, foul-mouthed jerks who used verbal and physical intimidation to make girls uncomfortable, playground shysters and lunch-money stealers, greasy back-of-the-classroom know-it-alls who spoke over the teachers and demonstrated contempt for anybody who actually wanted to learn something, brutal born-rich ignoramuses whose final answer to every question was either money or power.

None of this is new. As a person who has always lived in Jersey, I have become painfully familiar with Donald Trump’s operations. To me, he will always be the obscenely rich playboy who used Atlantic City to launch his personal brand and then tossed the city away like a fast-food container when he was finished. In the process, he bilked Garden State taxpayers for millions upon millions of dollars. What he did with that money is anybody’s guess. I presume he used some of it to pay down the enormous debts that people who live recklessly, and selfishly, and pompously, always accrue. But since he won’t share his finances with the public, we can only speculate about what he owes to whom. My guess is that it is plenty. Otherwise, he would not be dragging America through this charade — a nuisance campaign that has somehow taken on a scope as big as the globe, and which has reverberations that have already been felt by everybody on the planet. A man as self-involved as Trump does not suddenly catch the religion of public-spiritedness after seventy years of hucksterism.

There are people who will vote for Trump because they believe he’s a great businessman. I’m forced to the conclusion that they don’t know the first thing about Donald Trump. Elevating Trump to the presidency would not be like electing Steve Jobs, or Henry Ford, or even the owner of a corner store who plays fair and does what he can to turn a profit every month. That’s not who Trump is. Over the years, he’s primarily demonstrated skill in throwing away other people’s money, stiffing his creditors, doing everything he can to avoid contributing a cent to the commonwealth, threatening litigation, and puffing himself up.

American business is loaded with sharks, but even the most ferocious honor their debts and pay small contractors for the work they do. They recognize that the entire system they depend on would topple if all of its rules were flaunted. We’ll never know if Donald Trump could have become one of those real businesspeople, because it’s never been his intention to make himself one. The telos of the Trump enterprise has always been for Trump himself to gaze upon the Trump name in lights, and, in pursuit of that vanity, he has burned through unbelievable amounts of money — money that a true businessman would have salted away. Although he has no talents to speak of, he did have two advantages that the average limelight junkie did not: complete amorality, and a multi-million dollar bankroll. As such, he is much closer to Paris Hilton than he is to Michael Bloomberg, and come to think of it, that’s a terrible insult to Hilton, who, as far as I know, didn’t ruin anybody’s life or bankrupt herself in a ferocious pursuit of celebrity. Trump, on the other hand, has always been a fast-acting poison. We should not have to get stuck in his mile-wide trail of slime to recognizes him for what he is: one of the most transparent con men in American public life.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I write that everything about Donald Trump ought to be anathema to Republican voters, I do it from personal experience. I was brought up in a large, traditional, mainly working-class Catholic family, in a conservative automobile suburb, at the height of the Reagan era. Republicans speak wistfully of the Reagan Eighties, and for good reason: it was the high-water mark of postwar Republicanism, an ideology so pervasive that it felt to young me like its hegemony would never end. For better and for worse, upright Republicanism was everywhere around me, and from family members and other authority figures, I was taught about traditional values as if the fate of my immortal soul depended on learning them. Humility, honesty, studiousness, marital fidelity, attention to detail, keeping your word, fiscal prudence, religious piety, courtesy, respect for women, distaste for braggarts and complete disdain for rich people who showboat around and piss away their money — all of this was hammered into me ferociously at elementary school, at CCD, at the town recreation center, and at countless family dinners. Since Reagan, Republicanism has fallen on rough times, so maybe its adherents can be forgiven for taking desperate measures. But the fact that so many traditional Republicans have declared support for a guy who represents the opposite of everything they purport to stand for — well, this makes me suspect that there was always something deeply dishonest about both the lessons I was taught and the people who were teaching them.

So just in case any of those people are reading, let me make this completely clear: it’s because of how I was raised — by Republicans — that I have always considered Donald Trump unqualified for any position of authority. By 2014, I’d already made the determination that Trump was just about the last person in America I’d ever vote for, and that was before he opened his mouth and a whole bunch of bigoted nonsense about Mexicans and Muslims came out.

Millions upon millions of Americans feel otherwise, and will vote accordingly on Tuesday. In the name of camaraderie and common American-ness under the flag, I’d like to extend a hand of friendship to these people, respect their struggle and treat them as worthy adversaries, but I know too well that they’ve been playing themselves. Should Donald Trump win this election, he isn’t going to lift a finger to help any of the chumps who got him there. Bilking people and breaking promises — those are the things his whole life have been about. In the more likely event that he loses, he will deliver the White House to an entirely beatable Democratic candidate who’ll absolutely accelerate the concentration of wealth and influence in the major urban centers — the exact thing that the Trump movement is supposed to be dead set against.

This should have been a big Republican year. The Republicans have a legitimate case to make: rural America really has been getting hammered, and drugged, and condescended to, and ignored by wealthy people on the coasts. Small towns and small businesses really are struggling, and power has, increasingly, come to rest in the hands of an urban elite that turns its nose up at the unwashed. The state is increasingly enormous, and increasingly authoritarian, and increasingly comfortable peeking into your phone records. When Trump and his surrogates have pressed this case in coherent language, they’ve been moderately successful.

Unfortunately for America — and all too predictably for anybody who knows Trump’s act — he’s wasted his podium time pulling faces, running down his perceived enemies, airing bad Breitbart conspiracy theories, and promising to jail his opponents just like a tinpot dictator might. The crass public persona he’s cultivated — a bizarre fusion of Andrew “Dice” Clay, Benito Mussolini, and a masher at a sleazy bar — seems so perfectly calibrated to repulse educated female voters that I have believe it it’s an intentional affront and part of a perverse brand-building strategy. He’s made it impossible for anybody to hear any traditional Republican arguments over the pink noise of his own monstrous ego, and win or lose, the American conservative movement is going to be in an absolute shambles after this election. If the party had nominated a reasonable adult, rather than a clown who casually alienates huge segments of the electorate, they’d probably be coasting to victory. As it turned out, they were less interested in winning the election than they were in pissing me, and people like me, off. Mission accomplished, guys.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the torrent of bad news that has accompanied election 2016, I’ve clung to a few branches. I’m proud of the campaign Senator Sanders ran; I don’t always agree with him, but I am glad he showed that it’s possible to lead a successful political movement based on humility and compassion. He’ll be coming out of this election with his decency intact and his reputation elevated, and that’s not nothing. It also cheers me to learn that most young people find Trump, and Trumpism, repellent to its core. Our elders have been loud and cranky and ready to torch the village out of spite, but they’ll be out of the picture soon enough. The future belongs to voters who have no appetite for bigotry or scapegoating, and who largely see Donald Trump for what he is. I’ve read pessimists who argue that the Trump ascendancy proves how easy it would be for a genuine fascist — rather than the pathetic, self-parodic, cartoon version we’re currently coping with — to attain power in the United States. I don’t believe it. I think Trump is the death rattle of something terrible that we’re getting out of our system, and which is, even now, receding from the body politic.

Most of all, I’ve been comforted by precedents in American history. Although the language has been uncommonly coarse and the show worthy of a fierce tomato-chucking, there is nothing particularly new about the Trump phenomenon. Donald Trump is hardly the first candidate for office to resort to bigotry on the stump, or the first public figure to harness white working-class resentment against coastal elites. Huey Long did that, too; so did George Wallace. Trump’s plan, if you even want to call it that, feels like little more than a patchwork of discredited ideas from long-gone reactionaries. He has pinched his defeatist isolationism (not to mention his America First slogan) from Charles Lindbergh, his flirtation with scary foreign autocrats from Father Coughlin, his nativism from the Know-Nothings, and his vindictive paranoia from Joe McCarthy. All of these men had their day. Some of them even won elections. But eventually they were all swamped by the rising tide of justice, and we now remember them, correctly, as the heavies in the American story. I am certain that the same fate eventually awaits Donald Trump. We’ve beaten back much smarter and much more capable villains. This inarticulate buffoon is not going to be the one who breaks the pattern and, in the process, cheapens and humbles America.

Yet while he’s up, and he’s got the cameras on him, he can do a heck of a lot of damage. He already has. If you think you’ve been on edge about this election, consider how a devout American Muslim must feel. Imagine the anticipatory anxiety that undocumented immigrants have had to deal with for the past twelve months. You’ve probably heard from women who’ve had post-traumatic stress attacks because of the Billy Bush tape and the parade of accusers who’ve found it necessary for their own self-esteem to testify to journalists that Trump sexually assaulted them. Engendering those feelings of destabilization and alienation in Muslims, and Mexicans, and women, and people like me who are no fans of the patriarchy is, without a doubt, part of the point for many of Trump’s supporters. Donald Trump is the sharp end of the same stick that they’ve always shook at us. They really do believe that if they push us, we’ll fold.

They’ve made their usual mistake of underestimating us. What they fail to realize is that we’ve been dealing with bullies all of our lives. We don’t win the fight every time we’re provoked, but we learned a long time ago that backing down is never an option. On Tuesday, we’re going to stand up for our mothers, our sisters, our girlfriends and wives, for our neighbors, for our communities, for everybody who believes in the republic, for Latin Americans, for African Americans, for queer Americans, for Muslim Americans, for Jews, for all sincerely religious people, for scientists whose life’s work has been trashed by ignorant partisans, for nerds pushed around and shouted over by anti-intellectuals, and for everybody who is sick of the belligerence, the trolling, the name-calling, and the neverending disrespect. We’re going to look the villain in the face and show him that we are not intimidated by his threats. We know what to do. Let’s go beat this bum so badly that he never gets off the mat again.

Jersey City does not need a casino

I notice that Our Turn JC doesn’t bother to deny Paul Fireman’s intention to add another soulless skyscraper to a city that’s overburdened with them. Instead, the Our Turn campaign circular I just got in the mail assures me that Fireman’s gigantic proposed Jersey City casino won’t lay a glove on Liberty State Park. I’m not sure I buy this. Given its location — just south of Morris Pesin Drive — it’s hard to guarantee that a massive construction project would leave the park unmolested. Liberty State Park is one of the best things this greenspace-challeged city has going for it, so forgive us, Mr. Fireman, if we’re a little defensive of it.

Regardless, that’s not the real reason why Jersey City doesn’t need a casino. Jersey City doesn’t need a casino because nobody needs a casino. A casino is a poor tax. Casinos are designed to shake the pocket change out of people who can’t afford to be transferring any of their money to huge corporations and their owners. True, a private corporation can’t levy a tax directly — but casinos in the Garden State work so closely with can-shaking politicians that the distinction is purely technical. Gutless leaders love casinos because they’re an underhanded way to shift the burden of public finance onto people with the least amount of political clout. Grandma chucks the money into the slot machine, the casino owner rakes it in and adds it to the pile, the government takes a big bite out of the profits — and fails to address the tax inequality that continues to bedevil this state.

Casino construction would indeed bring new jobs to Jersey City. But so would extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to new neighborhoods, fixing the roads and sewers, expanding service on the PATH system, insuring that NJ Transit trains don’t jump the rails, etcetera. Many programs that offer benefits to poor people would bring jobs to Jersey City. Replenishing our transportation trust fund — which has been stripped bare — would do more for the state’s economy than a thousand casinos. There are a thousand and one ways to support local enterprise that don’t encourage addictive behavior or benefit ludicrously wealthy people at the expense of society’s most desperate.

Often it is said that casinos bring an unsavory element to town. I strongly agree with this. My problem, though, isn’t with hookers or two-bit schisters: those are generally just working stiffs driven by circumstances to unpleasant ends. No, the people I’d like to keep on the other side of city limits are the guys who run and own casinos. Casino magnates are some of the most loathsome, amoral individuals in the country, and that’s because in order to do the business they do, they’ve got to be okay with stripping the life savings from the bored/elderly and encouraging destructive habits in everybody else. It takes a special kind of person to be a casino owner. If you, like me, have no appetite for Donald Trump or Sheldon Adelson-types in positions of authority or influence, let’s agree to keep their no-less-ruthless imitators from getting a toehold here.

Atlantic City said hello to casinos in 1976. I am sure that the people behind the casino drive touted the economic benefits of gambling. Today, Atlantic City is a municipal basket case, a byword for mismanagement, and (still!) a playground for wealthy scumbags. Every shark in the New York City area descended on Atlantic City in the 1980s, and those bloody teeth-marks are apparent all over town. You may or may not feel the same spiritual malaise that I do when I walk around Atlantic City, but I’d wager you’re willing to call it one of the saddest spots in the Garden State. In plain view of some of New Jersey’s poorest, hungriest people, visitors are handing massive amounts of money to fat rich guys. It’s a sick parody, a cartoon version of heartless capitalism — accelerated, and exposed, as the exploitative wealth-transfer mechanism it is.

Gambling is a seductive vice. Those who push it on you try to pretend that it’s a skill game; a battle of wits in which you will triumph and it’ll be that loser over there who goes home with empty pockets. I have seen intelligent people sucked into this hole, lured by their own pride and their belief that they’ve got the system outsmarted. Sooner rather than later, they learn the same cold lesson every other gambler has: the house always wins. If it didn’t, there’d be no industry.

This is the nasty game that Paul Fireman has decided he’d like to play. It doesn’t have to be our game. Jersey City doesn’t need a casino. The Meadowlands doesn’t need a casino. The Garden State doesn’t need another casino. No place on earth needs another casino, so please, on Tuesday, vote no on ballot question #1.

A quick note to my Bernie supporters

It’s come to my attention that quite a few Bernie backers are seriously considering a third-party choice or sitting this election out. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a wasted vote, and I’m not going to pretend anyone has a moral obligation to settle on the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, I am puzzled by this.

Bernie people shouldn’t be gloomy. They ought to be feeling confident and proud. Senator Sanders ran a model campaign: he raised his national profile considerably and forced Democratic Party leaders to confront issues that they would have preferred to ignore. Bernie did the sort of broad, generous coalition-building that American electoral democracy is built on, and he was rewarded for his efforts with platform planks that wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t run. Success for Bernie-style ideas and Bernie-style politics is more attainable now than it has been at any point in my lifetime.

All of that is contingent, however, on beating the stuffing out of the other side.

I, too, doubt that Hillary Clinton has genuine enthusiasm for the Sanders agenda. But with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in control of the Senate (and Sanders himself as chair of the Budget Committee) we’ve got a better-than-decent chance of realizing some of Bernie’s ambitions. If the Republicans win control, we have no chance. This shouldn’t be a difficult decision.

By many measures, Senator Sanders is the most popular person in American politics. Crucially, he’s also the best understood: because of his evident integrity and the clarity of his voice, everybody knows what he stands for and why. President Hillary Clinton is not going to be able to belittle his objections — or pretend to misapprehend them — as if he’s some lone backpacker with a bullhorn making a nuisance of himself on the White House lawn. She knows he stands with millions behind him. He has become an integral part of the Democratic coalition, and if she pisses him off, that’s going to have practical political consequences. She may or may not share Bernie’s egalitarian ideology, or his reflexive compassion, or his distaste for oligarchy or violent solutions to international problems. But she certainly understands practical politics.

You helped put Bernie in this position: your votes and your support gave him the clout he’ll have within the ascendant Democratic Party. If this election goes the right way, Bernie won’t be a gadfly from a cold Northeastern state anymore. He’ll be a figure of real significance — one who’ll be able to help shape public policy.

Bernie Sanders’ whole Senate career has been an object lesson about persistence and the value of working within a compromised system to achieve positive ends. That makes it strange to see some of his backers demonstrating the kind of impatience and foot-shooting impracticality he’s never shown. I’m disappointed by how many Bernie people seem willing to sacrifice leverage — hard-won leverage, I add — on behalf of purist principles that the Senator himself wouldn’t, and won’t, even endorse.

Look at it this way, Bernie-or-Busters: a politician committed to decency, humility, and fairness (how many of those are we even working with?) is on the verge of attaining real institutional power. That’s meaningful. Every Bernie supporter ought to be putting his or her back into the final push to get him there. Remember always that millions of Republicans are about to go vote for a person they find both morally repugnant and wholly unprepared to hold office, and they’ll hold their noses and do this because they understand how coalitions work. They’re no fools. They realize what’s at stake. We need to come at this election with the same ruthlessness — and the same faith in the persuasive power of our arguments to carry the day within the party. If we abstain, we might feel virtuous and unsullied. But we also risk tossing away everything we’ve worked for.

Senator Sanders is not Che Guevara. He’s a sitting U.S. Senator and career politician who has gained seniority by working and occasionally compromising with mainstream Democrats. He’s under no illusions about who the Clintons are: he’s had to deal with them for two decades plus. He’s not telling you to vote for Hillary Clinton out of the kindness of his heart, or because of some misplaced sense of propriety. He’s doing it because he’s made a cold calculation that that’s the best way he — and you — can gain power in a complicated and difficult system. If you trusted him in February, you ought to trust him now.

Friends, we’re almost to the finish line. Let’s not screw this up.

 

just to be clear

facebook is the greatest engine of conformity i’ve ever seen. it beats the television by a mile, which i didn’t think was possible. the network is currently designed to —

— feed its users with a constant stream of reductive, decontextualized propaganda that reinforces a cartoon version of what they already believe,
— trick them into thinking that they’re doing something by forwarding this propaganda, when really they’re just wasting time,
— get those users to volunteer oodles of personal data, connections, geographic positions, etc., to a huge corporation that works hand-in-hand with the surveillance state, in exchange for low-wattage ego strokes in the pathetic form of like-clicks,
— encourage psychological dependency on the service. how many people do you know who can’t go a hour without checking in?

if an authority figure had come to you in 1984 and asked you for a list of everybody you knew and their associations and relationships to you and each other, you would have correctly understood this as a fascist move. you would have resisted it. yet in 2016 we are all eager to volunteer those same lists. we are willing to do countless hours of unpaid labor building the database of a huge corporation that is absolutely positively monitoring everything we do online. that’s not a conspiracy theory. that’s their business model.

anybody serious about intellectual independence and reclaiming the autonomy of his or her own personality will steer clear of this poisonous service. it’s a big internet. there are alternatives.