In January of this year I saw music my friend composed performed in the actual crypt of an enormous church. I walked there from work and listened to an audiobook about George Jones. The crypt was quiet and the instruments bounced off the walls, like ghosts with debts to settle. I felt far, far away from everything, further than I had felt in years. In January of this year I took my dad to see some experimental music at a place with incredibly ornate wooden speaker cabinets and kombucha on tap. We sat on the floor and listened to processed oboe, then we sat on the floor and listened to processed pedal steel. During the second set I realized I had somehow lost my earring, a beautiful gold hoop with turquoise beads hand-made by a friend. After the show my dad and I got on a scooter I rented with an app and rode over to an old bar. We drank a couple of beers while my dad got hit on relentlessly, but they didn't serve any food, so we walked to another bar and got a late dinner, over which we argued about politics but I think I won.
In February of this year we went to a crowded restaurant in the East Village that served Filipino food. The complicated cocktail I ordered came with a little toy pig on a surfboard resting on the edge of the glass and that little toy pig on a surfboard is now on a bookshelf in an apartment in a different city entirely. My girlfriend gave me a new earring to replace the one I had lost, she got in touch secretly with the friend who made the last one and got another. I was very surprised and we smiled wide at each other over across the tiny table. That night we wanted to lose our minds and listen to our favorite DJs but we unexpectedly ran into some friends and acquaintances on the way into the bar who absolutely killed the mood for dancing, through no fault of their own. So we stood on the dance floor for 1 minute completely surrounded by strangers and simultaneously decided to leave. The guy driving the cab on the way home told me about taking acid and seeing behind the veil of reality, then he told us we should check out Dario Argento's movies (which we did the next day). In February of this year I got like a dozen people together to cram onto a tiny jewel box stage to play my songs. There were so many people in the room that people were actually turned away, which as far as I know is the first and only time that has ever happened when I've performed. Truthfully, I don't remember too much about that night, and trying to think about it is a bit like standing under a too-hot shower or staring into the sun. I definitely hugged more people that night than I have in all the days and nights combined since, though - other details are lost.
In March of this year I drove out to the Rockaways at 5am with two buddies in an enormous pickup truck. We carried mirrors and a tarp and hand warmers out to the beach and filmed ourselves dancing as the sun rose. The footage we were shooting was slow motion, so each take required us to move surprisingly fast. I'd sprint into frame and then contort my body violently, trying as hard as I could not to make a weird face while I twisted around. I was out of breath after each shot. On the way over we talked about how the first case of the virus had just been detected and the guy who had gotten it was in the same neighborhood where we were shooting. Didn't think much of it. After I dropped my friends off I took the truck to a car wash and they put the floor mats back in all wrong. In March of this year my office sent everyone home. I had no idea at the time that I'd never work a full week there again. I bought 100 frozen dumplings from my favorite spot in Chinatown. I bought an exercise bike. Everyone in my house started playing video games. In March of this year I cancelled a show I was set to play in a gallery in Manhattan. In March of this year I played the first of many live stream sets.
In April of this year I drove past refrigerator trucks outside of hospitals. I picked up a rental car and packed it full of a poorly chosen selection of music gear and a poorly chosen selection of clothes, then I folded the seat down and stuck the exercise bike inside. I drove nine straight hours and when I finally got to where I was going in Ohio I rolled the windows down and let the fresh air in. I smelled grass on the breeze and I gulped it down, gulped it down, the night was cool and dewy. In April of this year I temporarily relocated to Ohio. In April of this year I absolutely ruined my ankle, just totally sprained the ever-living shit out of it when my foot got caught in a crack on the basketball court while we were shooting a very light couple of hoops. Ripped my pair of vans slip ons in half, literally. It swelled up to the size of a grapefruit while I laid flat on my back on the asphalt, couldn't walk right for days and for months it hurt. Laughed about it at first - a lot, in fact, it's still pretty funny - but really lost it one day when I limped across campus to my girlfriend's office to diligently work remotely. I hated every second of it and finally let myself believe that all of it would take time to heal or return or get better, more time than I was willing to give any of it. In April of this year I was very benevolently given access to a grand piano by the head of the music department. This helped. In April of this year I threw a surprise birthday party on zoom for my girlfriend and her two friends in town brought over a cake and left it on the stoop. Then we drove three hours round trip for pleasantly mediocre Thai food and watched the sunset over Columbus, Ohio in the distance as we ate our meal off the dashboard of the truck.
In May of this year there were so many things happening online. Album releases and an all day streaming festival type thing and two more official concerts put on by two separate venues that, to my surprise, paid decent money. I was spending 8 hours a day emailing and writing grant contracts and doing data entry for a living, but I lied about my whereabouts to my job and blatantly violated COVID protocol and drove to a vacation home in North Carolina to spend some time with my girlfriend's parents. We drove 11 straight hours through West Virginia where it felt like the virus hadn't ever happened. We ate hot dogs on the beach and drove around some in a boat and watched the rain lash against the windows.
In June of this year we were too scared to go to the protests in rural Ohio because counter-protestors kept showing up with automatic weapons. We watched precincts burn and we sent money online. I was reprimanded and lightly gaslit by superiors at my job for suggesting the staff would benefit from racial sensitivity training, then a week later they announced we would be having racial sensitivity training. Somehow through amazing circumstance my girlfriend was offered a job at a university amid everything so she drove to upstate New York to find us a place to live after I decided that I wanted to live with her. I made plans to leave New York City where I had been living for the last ten years of my life. We realized we would probably never be in that part of Ohio ever again. We took acid and laid at the center of a grass labyrinth watching the clouds morph overhead. We got a box of donuts from the Amish market and took it took a little man-made lake and sat in a graveyard watching people waterski. We looked for the outlandish custom cakes at the Kroger supermarket every time we went, but the lady who made the beautiful cakes was laid off.
In July of this year I was very surprised to be, of all things, completely surrounded by people. I hung out outside City Hall for a while and then joined a spontaneous protest that was taking over the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, shouting until my throat was hoarse. I had a tremendously beautiful experience when I got really stoned and rode a rented scooter through broken-open fire hydrants and the first volley of illegal fireworks on the 4th of July. On the roof at my house the fireworks from all directions were brighter than daylight (I remembered how there was an eclipse right when I moved into that house, darkening of the day, how appropriate to end my stay there with lightning in the night). I pointed speakers out the front windows of the apartment and sang to people spread all over the street and the sidewalk through a paper mask. It was the most emotionally overwhelming performance of my life. We hosted a zoom tribute to our friend who passed last year and perfectly, amazingly, somebody shared a song she wrote in college about wanting to fuck John Stamos. My day job ended, I moved out of my rehearsal studio. I packed everything up and tried to sell as many records as possible and gave things away and got it all in a UHaul and up to our new apartment the day before I turned 32.
In August of this year we drove another 13 straight hours to North Carolina (where, in a wonderful interlude my girlfriend's dad let us operate an excavator he was using to dredge a pond). Then we drove another 6 hours so that I could get to an artist residency in an unincorporated community in the northwest corner of Georgia. I played a baby grand piano every day until my arms hurt. I wrote songs that I cannot perform without crying. I went swimming with my friend Jeff. I did not look at the Internet or have cell service for two straight weeks and it was the happiest and most productive period of time I've had in forever. I read over 2,000 pages of fantasy and science fiction in that time. One night, I sat in a sweat lodge a previous resident had built with only a chain saw for 5 straight hours. My friends came to stay with us and we took them around and we went to the drive-in theater and watched Dirty Dancing in the back of the truck. The following week I sang "I've Had the Time of my Life" to a herd of cows. I FaceTimed with my niece.
In September of this year I mostly walked around my new town, sometimes up to four hours a day. I had an extremely strong desire to know the boundaries and edges of where I was living, to recognize buildings and know things, to be familiar with the territory in the way I was familiar with New York City (always identifying the intersection when I see it in shows or movies). I gave myself an absolutely brutal tan line on my forehead from wearing a hat, still haven't gotten rid of it. I started losing weight that I had put on this year. I taught a pair of songwriting workshops for my sister-in-law's special education program, which involved playing them "Light of Clear Blue Morning" by Dolly Parton and secretly involved me crying a little bit as I watched everyone get fucking stoked listening to that beautiful song. The best lyric the class wrote was "it's raining cupcakes, so grab a plate." I heard shouting through a megaphone in the distance and followed the sound, it turned out there was an ongoing demonstration outside the courthouse. Gross racist police shit, suddenly this cute little upstate city bubble popped a bit, I stood around and held signs four mornings in a row. The DA was acquitted. I helped my girlfriend move and then install a seven-foot-long fountain at a park in the Bronx: it's a figure of a woman morphing into a poisonous flower weeping into a reflecting pool. I saw a friend I hadn't seen since January - she's had a tough one and her wrists were so skinny, but we laughed on her back porch. I learned how to ride a bike.
In October of this year I started volunteering for a local micro-power radio station. I kept thinking that everyone I talked to was mad at me. On Halloween we watched a jester perform behind a historic stone theater in western Mass - it had snowed that morning and it was way too cold outside but the jester was really, really good at juggling and one guy sitting in a folding chair in the back kept cracking up at every gag, full belly guffaws, and it was impossible not to enjoy ourselves. I waited in line for an hour in the rain to vote early. I started writing these emails again. We watched many episodes of Star Trek and I bought a stereo system off of craigslist and a stool in the shape of an enormous, realistic ear of corn. We keep a plant on it, the plants grew, I rode my bike across the river a dozen times.
In November of this year we waited and waited for news and when it finally felt like we could exhale we played the nastiest, sweatiest music we could find as loud as we could play it in the pickup truck, lots of thumbs up on the freeway. Then we waited and waited for news again. My friend and I ate sandwiches outside on main street in his town which at the time felt safe, and it also felt safe at the time to feel optimistic. I attended a zoom birthday party. I hosted the radio show and reported for it and recorded lap steel licks on a new friend's music. I realized that my favorite activity in the entire world is walking around in a town I'm unfamiliar with, and one morning I looped all around main street and then down to the water and watched it eddy and whirl around and felt very peaceful. In November of this year I watched my girlfriend ride her sweet old horse around a pasture, I fed him carrots. I started giving guitar lessons again. Multiple negative COVID tests. Clumsy classic country covers at the very last minute with my girlfriend's mom, who plays a decent upright bass but was too shy to play with me until the night before we left, I sang the upper harmonies.
In December of this year I looked at my phone too much and drank coffee from the gas station. I slept through the alarm and spent a good amount of time face down on the floor of my girlfriend's studio. I listened to the lightbulbs hum in each room of the apartment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Long one, the longest yet I believe - thank you very much for reading.
Wild news: my record YOUTH PASTORAL from - somehow - THIS year is number 25 on this year-end list. Honestly a bit shocked, but glad nevertheless that all the generous and hard work other people put into it is being recognized a bit more. If you haven’t heard it or bought a copy yet, you can do so here.
By the way, tomorrow (Friday) is Bandcamp Friday, which means the best website for buying and selling music waives its already very reasonable fees, so artists keep more of each sale. My buddy Winston CW is releasing an amazing record, and there is so much rad shit on there - I strongly encourage you to find something new.
I really look forward to being here with you.
But what about you? What did you do in each month of this never-ending year?