Just so that I can say some things I have been wanting to say all year, I am going to start my annual rant of ‘what-a-great-year-it-has been’ that nobody really gives two hoots about, with some negatives. First, I do not think Sia’s Chandelier is a great song, nor is it worth all the attention it has got by the over-marketing of its value. Second, pornography and pop music are not the same thing. Madonna pushed boundaries in the great era of the 80s and 90s, her Sex collection is now considered popart, however the Anaconda video? That was soft porn, and a health hazard to teenage boys. Besides, the song was awful. Third, I did not listen to Beyoncé’s album. I bet it sounds like Rihanna’s, or Iggy Azalea, or that Grande girl, or any one of the many others they churn out from the factory. Fourth, I have broken up with Coldplay. In fact, no, they have betrayed the cause and lost their religion. If you disagree, you probably reckon the best thing they’ve done is Princess of China, or was it Taiwan? Now, don’t even get me started on the album U2 put out. I’m still in mourning.
Yes, I know, they will all get Grammy’s in February. That’s why they sound the way they do. Even Hilary Clinton has a Grammy. You wondering what for? My point exactly.
Now that that’s off my chest…
In a year in which I watched so few films, these lines have stayed with me.
How do they catch monkeys in Africa?
Keep your hands off my lobby boy!
What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues. I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.
Mason, I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance. I present to you: The Beatles’ Black Album.
There should be no boundaries to human endeavour. However bad life may seem, while there is life, there is hope
Best Books I Read this Year
Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, was a delightful read, if for nothing more, than the fights between the women of the bourgeois Ghosh family, over gold, assets and saris, juxtaposed against the abject poverty in their Calcutta surroundings. How so familiar. Drawing on the Naxalite movement in West Bengal in the 1960s (also the theme in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland), it tells the story of the societal inequalities that resonates with many a social democrat at any time, anywhere:
“You take away economic security and the whole pack of cards collapses. Everyone is at each other’s throats. All these vaunted bourgeois values that prop up society – love, duty, honour, respect – all rest on power-relations lubricated by economics. They are the gloss people put on the naked truth: self-interest.”
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is the most hilarious book I’ve read in a long while, and I struggled whether to place it at number 1, but Mukherjee kept knocking it off. Its anecdotes on God and religion were right up my alley, yet no part of the book resonated with me more than the protagonist questioning the value of moisturising lotion:
“The following Monday I sat down next to Connie at the front desk. I almost never sat down next to Connie when she wasn’t just starting to rub lotion into her hands. I watched her rub her hands together. Her hands were like lubed animals doing a mating dance. And she was hardly alone: people everywhere kept bottles of lotion in and around their desks, people everywhere that morning were just starting to rub lotion into their hands. I missed the point. I hated missing the point, but I did, I missed it completely. If I could just become a lotioner, I thought, how many other small, pleasurable gestures made throughout the day might click into place for me, and all that exile, all that alienation and scorn, simply vanish? But I couldn’t do it. I despised the wet sensation that refused to subside even after all the lotion had been rubbed in and could be rubbed in no farther. I hit that terminal point and wanted nothing more to do with something either salutary or vain but never pleasant. I thought it was heinous. That little hardened dollop of lotion right at the lip of the squirter, that was really so heinous. But it was part of the point, the whole point. Why was I always on the outside looking in, always alien to the in? As I say, Connie was not alone. In medical offices, law firms, and advertising agencies, in industrial parks, shipping facilities, and state capitols, in ranger stations and even in military barracks, people were moisturizing.”
The book that did win the Booker prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is a poet’s delight. Drainfully sad, poignant, honest. “A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul. Such books were for him rare and, as he aged, rarer. Still he searched, one more Ithaca for which he was forever bound.”
How could the judges not give him the prize? How could they not?
1.The Lives of Others NEEL MUKHERJEE
2.To Rise Again at a Decent Hour JOSHUA FERRIS
3.The Narrow Road to the Deep North RICHARD FLANNAGAN (Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014)
4.The Lowland JHUMPA LAHIRI (first published in 2013)
5.My Struggle Book 1: A Death in the Family KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD (first published in 2009)
6.We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves KAREN JOY FOWLER
7.Letter to a Christian Nation SAM HARRIS (first published in 2006)
8.How to Be Both ALI SMITH
If someone asks you what the best music of this year was, you’re probably scratching your head. I reckon after the last two years, 2014 hasn’t produced that much in greatness. I could be wrong. Still, every year new, young voices emerge in music that demand our (my?) attention. The first time I heard the Allah-Las single Every Girl, my ears instantly perked up at the opening bass riff like it was the 1970s and a Ford Cortina will drive up the car park (listen here http://bit.ly/1xkR5vT) or St. Vincent who sang about Prince Johnny who was kind but not simple. There are still groups that play real instruments and get some radio play, isn’t that nice? Perfumed Genius’ Queen is a promise that alternative music’s panache for originality and creativity is alive and well. Kendrick Lamar’s i is raw positivity, and gets a Grammy from me, someone who isn’t an obvious fan of hip hop. Great video too. I have loved Marlon Roudette’s When the Beat Drops Out to bits. I’ve brushed my teeth to it. I’ve danced it to my newborns like I was starring in a Risky Business reboot or something. I’ve become completely evangelical about it, recommending it to anyone who’ll listen (and most who won’t). I’ve played the The War on Drugs album in my car for several months now, over and over and over. I’m obsessed with its long winded guitar offerings, and probably need help. I expected the new Alt-J album to hit me on the face like a blast of icy cold wind, like the first one did. It did not. It’s still pretty good.
Most of what everyone else was listening to and said was good, I did not like, in much the way that I do not usually fancy what the world seems to fall over, and then adore that thing you threw in the rubbish bin. I like that about me. And I like telling you about it, the way I would about a good mango.
There is a theory that trends in rock and pop music move at a much less dramatic pace than they once did. You used to get great upheavals that erupted like volanoes and then suddenly left the world, looking spent and dated: psychedelia, punk, reggae, acid house. Now we live in a less turbulent musical era, where the whole cacaphony of the past is available online, ready for anyone to draw on, where nothing seems arcane and nothing really goes out of fashion. Great really, because in this time The Beatles are always new; old soul is arty and cool; and Bob’s always your uncle. Everything great was made around the same time that they made some of us. But the music they make these days? we struggle to look for the gems in the rubble. As a great group once sang, no one gets too much heaven no more.
My Albums of the Year
1. Lost in the Dream THE WAR ON DRUGS http://bit.ly/1366uTj
2. X ED SHEERAN
3. Soul Power CURTIS HARDING
4. This is All Yours ALT-J http://bit.ly/16o1WKn
5. Wanted on Voyage GEORGE EZRA (and tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1969)
6. High Hopes BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
7. In the Lonely Hour SAM SMITH
8. The Art of McCartney VARIOUS ARTISTS
9. Popular Problems LEONARD COHEN
10. Trouble in Paradise LA ROUX. (Yeah, the genuine pop princess is back. Lady Gaga, you can go home now.)
My Songs of the Year
1. New York Morning ELBOW http://bit.ly/16fODLO
2. Uliza Kiatu H_ART THE BAND http://bit.ly/1365xKy
3. Under the Pressure THE WAR ON DRUGS
4. Thinking Out Loud ED SHEERAN
5. Every Other Freckle ALT-J
6. Budapest GEORGE EZRA http://bit.ly/1zf2woh
7. Every Girl ALLAH-LAS
8. Stay with Me SAM SMITH
9. Khona MAFIKIZOLO feat UHURU
10. Mpita Njia ALICIOS feat JULIANA
11. When the Beat Drops Out MARLON ROUDETTE http://bit.ly/1qRhtLC
12. Johnny and Mary TODD TERJE feat BRYAN FERRY
13. Tough Love JESSIE WARE
14. Waves MR. PROBZ
15. Cruel Sexuality LA ROUX (when we choose to deceive, it’s a dangerous scene, when passion turns into greed)
16. Say Something A GREAT BIG WORLD & CHRISTINA AGUILERA
17. Take Me to Church HOZIER
18. Sura Yako SAUTI SOL
19. Prince Johnny St. VINCENT
20. I Wanna Get Better BLEACHERS (I didn’t know I was lonely till I saw your face)
LYRIC OF THE YEAR
“I want to share your mouthful, I want to do all the things your lungs do so well I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag, turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet” Every Other Freckle, ALT-J
It’s been another thought-provoking, peripatetic, self-reflective year. The search for truth, where you win and you lose at the same time, where you sow with the knowledge that you may never reap, yet you keep keeping on, finding meaning in things that have long been stained and discoloured. Looking always for moments to keep up with people, and music, and books; in traffic jams, in trains, on planes, in the last half hour before sleep. As I write this, I am buckled up on my way home from my last jaunt this year. On my tablet screen is a delightful picture of two amazingly buoyant kids. I am comforted, warm with excitement that in a few hours I will be home, smelling their baby skin, seeing their knowing smiles, the mischievous looks. I think to delete all of this, and spare people the torture of having to read something so lengthy. Perhaps I should make it shorter, simpler, and truer. My best of 2014: these beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boys.