2018 felt like a big year. Commemorating fifty years since the world lost Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton were important milestones (for me and many others, to say the least), since their transformative peace and justice work, began decades ago, remains so pertinent and painfully unfinished.
Joining the 50-somethings in the middle of middle-age has been all about abiding mindfulness and choosing self-care. In that, I have often joked to myself that Netflix binges and consumer therapy are not self-care per se, that the real deal can be found in long walks, prayer, yoga practice, 12-step meetings, appointments with my spiritual director, and the like.
But if I am past joking and approaching honesty: nurturing my multi-media habits forms a huge part of my self-maintenance, from books to movies, and of course, all aspects of music fandom. For me music madness includes vinyl collecting and the underlying joys of around-the-clock listening, with my headphones almost always plugged into my Spotify account. And then of course and especially, there’s countless concerts--with U2, Jason Isbell, and Dead & Company being some of the prominent acts that I saw more than once this year, adding to a list that also included Dawes, Decemberists, Dr. Dog, and so much more. My Morning Jacket took the year off touring, but we were grateful to see Jim James in Nashville.
As usual, passionate music fandom always allows us opportunities to travel, but the big bonus this year was the U2 Pop conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I got to present a paper, meet Andy Rowen about whom the song “Bad” was written, see many friends in the U2 family, and discover the band December, a group from Scotland who was like the conference house band.
My Monday night radio show on WTTU, which has aired on-again and off-again for more than 11 years, is just an extension of this overall life commitment to music and media communion (and consumption). This blog is a part of that bigger picture, too. Truth is, music and books do compliment the more “pure” forms of self-care, like exercise, prayer, and contemplation.
The big payoff for this post is a massive 51-song (one song for every year I have been on the planet), 3.5 hour playlist of music released in 2018, songs that capture my spirit and sustain my soul.
This playlisst started out as a best 25 tracks, and then, kept growing. When I realized how carried away I was, how it had all gotten out-of-hand, I added live albums, special remixes, soundtracks, and even a dabble of CCM. After much culling and sampling, stopping at 51 songs was only a matter of time, in hopes that I could share this before the clock strikes midnight on the dawn of 2019. One genre not included in this set is the experimental EDM sub-genre of “psybient,” which is one of my favorite hiking and workout standbys.
My dear friend and collaborator Rick contributed six of the 51 songs from his favorite albums of the year. His modest choice of six songs versus my 45 may say something about the contrast of our personalities, but we are both ENFPs, perhaps me in much more extreme form, as corroborated by my Enneagram 7.
Movies have been profoundly important to me this year. We went to the Belcourt to see a premiere of director Ethan Hawke’s underground music biopic Blaze, met Ethan Hawke afterward, and ran home to rewatch Dead Poets Society, then stream actor Ethan Hawke in First Reformed.
The prophetic uprising in black cinema brought us the stunning likes of Black Panther, Sorry To Bother You, and BlacKKKlansmen. I have always loved music movies, and this fall had us being blown away by A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Green Book. Additionally, the profound and cleansing importance of the Mr. Rogers biopic cannot be understated.
As a preacher and performance-poet, I have always had an abiding admiration for (and felt an artistic proximity to) stand-up comics, and late this year, I have been digging recent sets by Pete Holmes, Russell Brand, and Ellen Degeneres. (Worth noting: the recent Rob Bell and Peter Rollins speaking tour which we caught in Nashville is actually a new-old genre of ‘stand-up preaching.’)
As a person always obsessed with poetry and nonfiction, let’s count 2018 as the year when I rediscovered the joys of novels, of fiction. I listened The Overstory by Richard Powers on Audible, all 23 hours of it; the audio narrator’s style occasionally got on my nerves, which I can only say solidified how much I loved the content, as I stuck with the text until the end. I also added it to my Kindle collection and have already found myself going back to study snippets again and again.
The topic of The Overstory is (more or less) simply trees and their human friends and defenders. Learning how trees actually talk to each other was one of many life-shifting revelations I encountered this past year. I am currently reading three older novels simultaneously, where trees are a big part of the story; I expect deeper explorations into eco-fiction to continue. This year, I also stepped up my hiking game, discovering or rediscovering trails all over Tennessee, and I hope that this preoccupation with walking up mountains, down valleys, and among trees will continue in 2019.
More books: I am really grateful that Anne Lamott keeps cranking them out. She is always inspiring, disarming, funny, and prophetic. A former student of mine released her first collection of poetry, and a dear friend from the U2 fan-scholar community had his book about U2 updated and released in paperback.
That aforementioned buddy Rick and I started an old-school print yes paper fanzine and have already released two issues of Ordinary Space this year. Only after the hard copies are circulated, will we slowly release things online at http://www.ordinaryspace.org/ -- Please hit us up if you want to see a copy.
If you have made it this far in this blog, thank you and happy new year. Here is to wishing you hope, peace, joy, and love in 2019, living each day bravely, boldly, and with gratitude, with bookshelves, record collections, and video queues brimming with beauty and truth. The playlist: (to listen go here: best of 2018)
Artist - Song (album, release date)
Arthur Buck - I Am The Moment (Arthur Buck, 6/15/18)
Dawes - Living In The Future (Passwords, 6/22/18)
The Decemberists - Sucker’s Prayer (I’ll Be Your Girl, 3/16/18)
A Perfect Circle - So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (Eat The Elephant, 4/20/18)
Greta Van Fleet - The New Day (Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, 10/19/18)
Jack White - Connected By Love (Boarding House Reach, 3/23/18)
Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Hide (How to: Friend, Love, Freefall, 4/6/18)
Snow Patrol - Don’t Give In (Wildness, 5/25/18)
Moon Taxi - Two High (Let The Record Play 1/19/18)
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats - Hey Mama (Tearing At The Seams, 3/9/18)
Dr. Dog - Buzzing in the Light (Critical Equation, 4/27/18)
Lord Huron - Ancient Names, part I (Vide Noir, 4/20/18)
Dead Can Dance - Act II: The Forest (Dionysus, 11/23/18)
Amen Dunes - Believe (Freedom, 3/30/18)
Hiss Golden Messenger - Rock Holy (Virgo Fool, 11/2/18)
Beta Radio - All at Once I Saw It All (Ancient Transition, 9/14/18)
The Collection - Bandages of Time (Entropy, 10/5/18)
Mount Eerie - Real Death (After (Live), 9/28/18)
Camp Cope - The Opener (How To Socialise & Make Friends, 3/2/18)
Casey Neill & the Norway Rats - Siphoners (Subterrene, 3/23/18)
Frank Turner - Make America Great Again (Be More Kind, 5/4/18)
Shemekia Copeland - Americans (America’s Child, 8/3/18)
Liz Vice - Brick by Brick (Save Me, 6/1/18)
The War and Treaty - Are You Ready To Love Me (Healing Tide, 8/3/18)
Erin Rae - Wild Blue Wind (Putting On Airs, 6/8/18)
Brandi Carlile - Every Time I Hear That Song (By the Way, I Forgive You, 2/16/18)
Amanda Shires - White Feather (To The Sunset, 8/3/18)
Amy Ray - Fine With The Dark (Holler, 9/28/18)
Kacey Musgraves - Oh, What A World (3/30/18)
Mountain Man - AGT (Magic Ship, 9/21/18)
Father John Misty - The Songwriter (God’s Favorite Customer, 6/1/18)
Israel Nash - Rolling On (Lifted, 7/28/18)
Phosphorescent - C’est La Vie No. 2 (C’est La Vie, 10/5/18)
Ray LaMontagne - Paper Man (Part Of The Light, 5/18/18)
Cat Power - Stay (Wanderer, 10/5/18)
The Lone Bellow - Pink Rabbits (The Restless, 10/19/18)
Amos Lee - What’s Going On (My New Moon (Deluxe), 8/31/18)
Hozier & Mavis Staples - Nina Cried Power (Nina Cried Power EP, 9/6/18)
Jim James & Resistance Revival Chorus - Over and Over (originally released on Uniform Distortion, 6/29/18)
Mumford & Sons - Beloved (Delta, 11/16/18)
John Prine - Boundless Love (The Tree of Forgiveness, 4/13/18)
Bradley Cooper - Maybe It’s Time by Jason Isbell (A Star Is Born Soundtrack, 10/5/18)
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Last of My Kind (live) (Live from the Ryman, 10/19/18)
John Mellencamp - Stones In My Passway (Other People’s Stuff, 12/7/18)
Lauren Daigle - Still Rolling Stones (Look Up Child, 9/7/18)
Snoop Dogg & Sly Pyper - Sunrise (Snoop Dogg Presents Bible Of Love, 3/16/18)
Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert - Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert - Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event, 4/6/18)
December - Elijah on a Hill (Sisters and Brothers, 4/21/18)
U2 with HP Hoeger & Rusty Egan - Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way (7/20/18)
R.E.M. - It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) (live) (R.E.M. at the BBC, 10/19/18)
Queen - We Are The Champions (live) (Bohemian Rhapsody: The Original Soundtrack, 10/19/18)