Sometimes I think back to life a year ago and it's hard for me to even remember how I managed to get through all of this with my sanity intact. In November of last year the wannabe despot president was disputing the election while the deadliest COVID wave was just sinking its teeth in without a vaccine in sight. Some days I would have only one or two students showing up to be in my classes in person, a sign that most people did not consider the commute I was making worth the risk. Months of cold, deadly winter followed.
I was faked out by the big drop in cases at the beginning of this summer, which was followed by Delta. Here in Jersey, however, we managed to avoid the worst, and with cases per 100,000 barely in double digits and kids getting their shots, I am going into this winter feeling far less discontented.
What helps is the return of the parts of "normal" I never knew I was missing, like the annual record fair in my town. It wasn't just a time to troll for some tasty vinyl, but a way to see others I know in a different context, to strike up conversation and meet like-minded strangers. This time around I got to see a friend selling records but also the low-key pleasure of sharing a space with people of like interests. It's a small thing that the pandemic had taken from me, but an important one. Getting to go back made me more optimistic than just about anything short of getting that literal shot in my arm back in January.
So here's a weirdo playlist inspired by the records I found today:
Joe Jackson, "Steppin' Out"
I grew up in a small town, which meant the local Top 40 station was less concerned with market dominance than a big city one. The DJs could thus spin some of their favorite songs for years after they hit the charts. This is one I heard a lot after 1982, and I was all the better for it. The best Elvis Costello song that wasn't Elvis Costello, and full of the possibility of being out at night in a big city that's still new to you. I got the Night and Day album for three bucks from my friend's table. I saw it for ten at another one, so quite a steal.
Richard Thompson, "Tear Stained Letter"
I have been on a huge Richard Thompson kick recently, and finding Hand of Kindness for five bucks felt like the hand of grace touching my shoulder. This is the first track, combining exuberance with a sad tale, which is classic Thompson.
Nick Lowe, "I Knew The Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll"
I was so psyched to see a copy of Live Stiffs for five bucks. I've been a huge Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe fan for years, and had been hoping to catch this document of them and their label mates in the sweaty small venues of England in 1977 at the moment when punk and new wave changed rock music forever. This song should replace plenty of schlocky shit that gets played at weddings year after year.
David Bowie, "Warszawa"
Well this was my big money find. David Bowie's music from 1976-1980 is among the most significant to me. Of all the albums of that era, Low is the one I cherish the most, the biggest reason for my tears when I heard about his death. He made the album while recovering from serious addiction and depression, and it has been a balm for me in my own "low" moments. This song, evoking Communist-era Warsaw, is among the most beautiful pieces of music ever made in my opinion. One of the rare times when I insist on getting something on vinyl that I've had in other formats for years.
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