I’ve never been a big fan of people who talk about ignoring the news. I believe in the need to be informed about the community and the world so you can act in an informed and responsible way.
But at a certain point you have to ignore the news. Not all of it, but huge chunks of it. The majority of it, really. Do you know how much news there is?
24/7 TV stations, countless current affairs shows on radio, a constant stream of new information breaking on Facebook and Twitter and news feeds coming from all around the world. Look at the newspapers in your local grocery store. Think if how much time it would take you to read all of them. Then multiply that by literally thousands from around the world. The idea that we could take even a small percentage of it in on a daily basis is… well, it’s impossible.
So we filter. We’ve always filtered. I’ve always filtered. We focus on the stuff that’s closer to home, the things that more directly affect our lives and, hopefully, the stuff that we can more directly affect back.
It’s that last point I’m starting to think about a little more in 2017, especially with the thing happening down south. You know the thing– how could you avoid it? It’s everywhere.
And yet I find myself checking out. This thing has consumed so many headlines, so many broadcast hours, so much of my personal time and thought over the past months and, dear god, years, actually, and to what end?
I’m not about to go take part in foreign politics. I don’t know anyone with political sway in that country. What is the point of me sitting, breathlessly, watching the thing move onto its next stage? What insights will it give me? Almost as important, what insights can I offer back?
The thing about platitudes is they are only platitudes until they become profound. I suddenly find myself reflecting on the profundity of the Serenity Prayer– you know, the famous lines:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s a surprisingly good guiding light for a period of time in which we are invited by all sides to be constantly shocked, constantly outraged, constantly righteously indignant and can you believe this is happening in our world?
I’m not trying to be flippant when I say that bad things have always happened. But, bad things have always happened. Bad things are always happening. They are happening far, far away and they are happening right in your own neighbourhood (good things are always happening, too, but I wrote about that elsewhere).
What I’m trying to do is be strategic about which bad things get my energy. This is a privilege I have as a person who doesn’t have any dramatically bad things happening directly to me. I get to choose which bad things come into my life.
With that privilege comes a responsibility: being strategic about how I use the reserves of energy I have for dealing with bad things. I get to focus it on the areas that I am best equipped to make better.
So is it the thing happening in the United States? Probably not. Is it the less well-documented things, happening closer to home? Almost definitely. Is it less political and more economic things happening in other parts of the world? Quite likely.
There are probably hundreds of ways I could more effectively spend my energies and positively change the world than spending more time focused on the latest what, REALLY? moment coming out of the online conversation.
This isn’t an excuse to be ignorant. This isn’t a throw-your-hands-up-and-watch-Netflix-cuz-we’re-all-going-down-anyway moment. It’s a question of which path is the most morally right one, with a rather utilitarian view: how can I be most effective?
I did a bit of research (Wikipedia) and found out that the Serenity Prayer as I’ve always known it is not actually the prayer in it is original form. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had a number of versions over the years, but one of his later drafts had a subtle shift, imploring us not to change what we can but to change what we should:
“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
Another one done, it’s been fun.
Over the Christmas break, I visited the home of Rose and Nael Tohme who, along with their children, were the first family of Syrian refugees to come to Prince George.
Since it was the break I had more time than usual, so I was able to speak with them for an hour- a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from pets to faith to food to music.
The end result is one of the reasons I love working with audio over other mediums. There are moments in here that I feel capture something lost in print and even lost in video because having a visual element takes you out of the narrative more than simply sitting and listening does. It’s intimacy without distraction.
I didn’t have any goals going into this except to tell an honest version of their story. I wanted to avoid any preconceived notions of what the end-goal would be, and tried to focus on personal moments rather than larger narrative ones about the conflict and the numbers. I wanted to hear from these two people as people, not as symbols of anything.
I don’t know if I accomplished it, but I have heard they are happy with how the story was portrayed. They were generous with their time and thoughts and I thank them for that.
This year my listening habits were torn in two directions. On the one hand, my switch over to Spotify after the death of Rdio had me listening to a lot more single tracks. Discover Weekly is a pretty darn good tool– every week, a mix of 30 new tracks I haven’t heard before, tailored to my listening habits. Add things like Daily Mix and Release Radar and I could easily do nothing but listen to algorithmically-generated playlists.
On the other hand, with the deaths of career artists like Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie and the stark reminder of Gord Downie’s mortality, I found myself gravitating towards wanting to spend time with albums and discographies of music I might want to return to, again and again, rather than chasing the hit of whatever’s new.
This year’s mix is a reflection of both these impulses. About half the tracks are by artists I was already familiar with, who put out new work this year. About a quarter are by artists I wasn’t familiar with but who I am now interested in following where they go next. The rest are just really good songs that came my way.
As far as format goes, I decided to go with a mix that would fit onto two 80 minute CD-Rs, just like the old days. I even threw in a “hidden” track at the end that wouldn’t technically make it.
I once again followed the Said the Gramophone rules for year-end lists, which is: every artist only gets one song (with two exceptions, which I deal with below), and the songs are ones that I heard for the first time in 2016- a couple came out at the tail end of 2015, but I didn’t catch them then so they are here.
As for other odds and ends, my favourite album of the year was, hands-down, Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It’s a work of art and an all-time classic.
I am still working out how I feel about Life of Pablo by Kanye West, but given that he’s released one of my favourite albums of the year almost as many times as he’s released an album, it feels worth noting it here.
My favourite live artist was Crones who have advanced to a point in their performance that they should be moving above the ‘local artist’ stage, imho.
For the first time in a while, there is no single song that stands out to me as my absolute favourite.
My other favourite musical discovery worth mentioning here is Slip Disc, a compilation of 60’s era Indian rock music that I bought at a restaurant in London.
Three songs that came out to early to make this cut but were discoveries for me in 2016 are “Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent (2013), “Journey” by Drishti Beats and “Floors” by Abhi The Nomad & King Sadboy (too early in 2015 to make this cut).
Almost every song I sorta liked this year can be found in this Spotify playlist.
Previous year-end mixes:
And here’s this year’s mix:
Nostalgia isn’t about missing the way things used to be. It’s about missing the way we used to be.
waves of sound, get lost in them
Anderson Paak is an artist I was introduced to via an algorithm that turned out to be worth spending time with. Malibu is a top-ten 2016 album and Paak is an artist who I will be listening to whatever comes out next.
The first exception to my one-track-per-artist rule because 1. “I Love Kanye” is so short and 2. this is more of a showcase of Chance than anyone else. It took me a long time to listen to the rest of Pablo because I kept hitting repeat on this.
If I were really going to nit-pick about the one-track-per-artist rule I would substitute Chance’s “All Night” here. It’s a lot of fun.
I like the slow burn of this one. Often rock bands using strings and choirs is a sign they’ve got a bigger budget and lost their creativity, but they are put to good effect here. Reminds me of Exile-era Stones.
I don’t actually know anything about Lucy Daus, but this came up in my Discover Weekly early in the year and I keep going back to it. A song about not liking the box you’re in.
One of my top five albums of the year, as high as number two, definitely number three. Another track about humour and heartbreak. “Now that we all know the punchline. Can I make you understand?”
You ever notice how the journey home goes so much faster than setting out on a new path?
This is a song about the internet but honestly that description makes it sound so bad and that’s why Samson is a poet.
It’s weird that in a year where we lost both Bowie and Prince we got the 1975, who seem to be an equal mix of Bowie and Prince. I listened to their album quite a bit, and I still can’t decide whether they are genius or terrible and I suspect only time will tell.
I was at a wedding this summer and when this song came on people danced and sang along and that’s basically all it takes to get on here.
The trouble with Drake is that I could put almost any Drake song on here. So I am starting to have trouble telling whether he is really good at making songs or if he is just really good at making people (myself included) think he is good at making songs.
DJ Snake has actually secretly become one of my favourite artists by just continuously releasing good tracks that I don’t know are him until I look at the credits.
Kaytranada was kind of like water, he was so ubiquitous this year- winning awards, popping up at the top of critics year-end lists, remixing and producing all the top-name artists. I like this track.
I have not followed the story of Gucci Mane. I do not know why he was in jail and I do not know his music enough to get excited about him getting out of jail so he can make more music. But I enjoy this song.
Anytime Skratch Bastid and Shad work together, it’s an absolute delight.
Beyoncé and A Tribe Called Red put out my two favourite albums of the year, and for similar reason: there’s a vitality to what they have to say, a political urgency, in addition to creating straight-up awesome music. There’s a straight line from each going back to Public Enemy and Marvin Gaye: artists with a purpose.
This is the second exception to my one-track-per-artist rule because although Tanya Tagaq put out her own incredibly worthwhile album (top ten), this moment with ATRA is the best showcase of what she has to say.
Slow down and chill.
Anti was the album that moved Rihanna out of the “singles artists” category for me. Though not as fully realized as some of my other favourites, it is definitely more than a collection of songs and it was tough to choose between putting this or “Love On The Brain.” Ultimately I chose this because while “Love” is a great showcase of how Rihanna could do classic soul, this is a showcase of what makes her unique to the now.
I wasn’t aware of Car Seat Headrest or the album Teens of Denial until I saw them come up again and again in other people’s year-end lists. I haven’t spent enough time with them to know whether this will be a favourite album/artist for me, but what I’ve heard – a more garage-rocky version of LCD Soundsystem, to my ear- it’s worth including.
End disc one on a celebration.
I usually hate Canadian bands singing about America, but this is the second instance of it I’ve included on this list.
If this were really a favourite-songs-of-2016 mix virtually everything from Lemonade would be on here. I like this track because it’s the moment in listening to the album that I realized “oh, there is something really special going on here.” And it’s track two. If you haven’t heard Lemonade yet, stop this and go change that.
I loved the Avalanches when they released their first album. After so long, I never thought I would hear new music from them. I’m glad I get to, and I’m glad this is it.
Pharrell knows how to make a heavy beat and Skepta knows how to use it.
Nothing to say about this, I just enjoy this song.
Same. How’s it going?
I find it interesting that whenever I find a good garage rock song, they are from Canada. Are we really the only ones making that much good garage rock? What’s happening to Britain and the U.S.?
I’m a little worried that sometime in the future Tegan and Sara’s move towards electronic/dance style production will date them, the same way so many sixties and seventies musicians went synthy in the eighties and now it’s this weird blight on their legacy. But I’m enjoying it for now.
I don’t know what the musical effect is that makes a song sound like it’s being stretched out like an elastic, but this does it and does it well.
In other years, I might have thought “eh, this isn’t M.I.A.’s best work” and left this off the list, but as I said in the intro, this year I’m doing more appreciating artists for being who they are, not just for being new.
Golden Boy – Elf Kid
“1 Thing” was a jam and I’m glad someone recognized it this way.
There’s long been a cliché of saying “everything but country” when asked about musical tastes, but in recent years indie rock has been creeping towards country music while mainstream country has been creeping towards classic rock. Whitney is the former, Simpson is the latter (plus, he has the Dap-Kings– Amy Winehouse’s band!). Both these albums are great to put on with headphones.
I would actually be happy if Jepsen just kept releasing outtakes from Emotion every few months. This whole EP was great and while a lot of people seemed to have an issue with the silliness of this song- she doesn’t want to break up with someone so she’s just going to the store and never come back- I still love it.
Like I said, I don’t have a clear favourite for song of the year, but this would be on the contenders list.
Two Canadian icons confront mortality. One sweetly, the other dark and haunting. The latter is a fitting sendoff, the former hopefully won’t be but if it is, it’s a good one.
Part Beatles, part the Flaming Lips, a much needed chaser.
A late addition to this list since I heard for the first time yesterday, but when I found myself humming it this morning I knew I had to leave a spot for it.
OK, so someone outside of Canada is doing garage rock.
Not an official release and technically a Rihanna tune, but funky enough to want to share with you. Nothing else has happened on his Soundcloud page since this came out seven months ago, but I’ll keep checking.
“Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in”
“Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed/ The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows”
– Everybody Knows
“I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?/Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet”
– Tower of Song
“I have to die a little/ Between each murderous thought/ And when I’m finished thinking/ I have to die a lot”
– Almost Like the Blues
“You want it darker/ We kill the flame”
– You Want It Darker
There are any number of post-US-election hot takes for you to digest right now, by people who were following the race far closer than me. The analyses of how Trump won, why, and who’s responsible are coming fast and furious.
One thing that I don’t think is controversial is this: he received a lot of coverage from the press. From the New York Times in March, here’s the amount of free media coverage he received versus the other contenders for leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties:
Whether that coverage was fair is debatable.
Some of his supporters might feel it was a relentless attack that mischaracterized the nature of his campaign and his appeal.
Some of his detractors might feel it was a free pass, normalizing bigotry and racism in favour of ratings.
But either way, Trump took up a lot of space, at the expense of other candidates, and a lot of time was focused some of his more… outrageous… talking points at the expense of other issues.
As you may or may not know, there is a Conservative Party leadership race underway right now. At the risk of drawing too many parallels to the Republicans, it is:
By the way, of the twelve people running, here’s the only one who’s received a national magazine cover:
And Kellie Leitch is making her way into Canadian headlines today thanks to a 3 am email reading:
“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president
It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.
It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada
It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values
I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites – that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.”
The temptation to go COULD A TRUMP CAMPAIGN SUCCEED IN CANADA? is strong and is already well underway. But I think some real thought needs to go into this, regardless of where you stand on the candidates or the issues.
Some questions for Canadian media going forward… and bearing in mind I’m not suggesting I have the answers:
“It was just this sense of we’re not being listened to, and we feel like this guy’s going to listen to us… it was more of a message of ‘I’m tired of my voice not being heard’. I think that there’s some congruency to the Brexit results, as well. The Brexit rhetoric sort of boiled down to two very polarized camps: it was either you’re a bleeding-heart leftist socialist for wanting to help these people, or you’re a racist for questioning how we integrate, how we successfully integrate newcomers into the country, and there was no sort of pragmatic middle ground.
“I think for us in Canada we have to be very careful to not fall into that same trap, for not having a place where we can talk about legitimate issues in a way that is positive for the growth of the country, that we don’t shy away from tough topics… because I feel like that was a big dynamic that happened down in the US, it happened in the UK, and I certainly don’t want to see it happen here.“
So how do we have those conversations, while keeping them grounded in reality? I think there’s a temptation, sometimes, to take some of the most polarizing voices on a controversial issue and pit them against each other, and act like that’s fair. My suspicion is there might be more value in renewing efforts to actually examine these debates in an informative way- one that treats all sides of an issue with respect, but doesn’t allow misinformation to go unchecked.
These aren’t opinions so much as sketches of questions floating through my mind. Interested to hear your thoughts.
99% Invisible talks to Kate Wagner about just what it is about McMansions that is so grating. There’s a lot of reasons, but I found this one illuminating:
“According to Kate, the age of the McMansion saw the shift of the house from a place that we live in, potentially for the rest of our lives, to an asset that we are decidedly not supposed to live in forever.
“‘People started designing their houses with the notion of selling them in mind. Realtors would advise ‘oh, I wouldn’t buy or do this because then the house isn’t going to sell very well.’
‘So we sort of devised this culture where we thought about selling our houses before we spent one night in them.'”
When I was buying a house the focus seemed to be on potential resell value rather than, you know, what it would be like to actually live there.
As I’ve written before I am a fan of freedom of speech. However I also recognize the damage that can be done when that freedom is abused.
I am also aware of a strain of thought that posits, basically, if people don’t exercise freedom of speech then it doesn’t really exist. They praise those who test its limits by allowing us to re-affirm our collective belief in the need for this freedom.
For a variety of reasons over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about this argument and determined I don’t agree with it.
Apply the same logic to other values- rule of law, for example. We have rule of law because we believe it to be better than mob justice or allowing whoever happens to be in charge to arbitrarily determine the fate of those who are accused of committing a crime.
Does this mean we should thank and people who commit increasingly heinous crimes because they are testing how far we will let someone go while remaining committed to the belief in rule of law? Should they be praised as “rule of law activists,” willing to push our boundaries? Does rule of law really exist if no one ever makes you use it?
While I do think it’s important to maintain freedom of speech to the fullest extent possible I don’t think it then follows that exercising that freedom is in and of itself a praiseworthy thing. And I’m putting this here as a reference point for the next time a free speech argument inevitably arises.
“We’re calling for a Radio/Podcasting heading in the arts section — including listings of local events — but audio storytelling also demands more. We seek recognition of the Radio/Podcasting genre through thoughtful reviews, criticism, and a deeper examination of styles and trends. Press must move beyond listicles ad infinitum citing the top 10, 20 or 50 podcasts of the week, month, or year. That approach was okay a few years ago — when podcasts were a bit of a mystery — but now it’s time to actually consider the impact of audio storytelling.”
I visited England this year. You know what they had in the newspapers? Reviews of radio programs: Wimbledon coverage, documentaries, interviews.
This should be expanded.
Update: One month after I first wrote this I think I need to add an important caveat. While I think it’s still worth remembering and pointing out that people have always lived in different realities, it is also troubling that people are rejecting verifiable facts and embracing outright falsehoods. I’m not sure if this is true or not but it feels to me as if in the past people were ignorant about major issues because it wasn’t being reported on- it wasn’t easily accessible. Now, it is easily accessibly but people just don’t seem to care or no longer believe sources of facts. So this post still holds true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are some major problems with the way information is consumed and shared.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Once upon a time we all lived in the same world. We watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music, and, crucially, read the same newspapers.
We may have disagreed on some things but we were at least coming at it with the same baseline knowledge: whatever was in the news was what was going on in the world.
Today, we are splintered. No one watches TV news. People get their news from specialized sources with specific angles and Facebook algorithms send us into echo chambers where we only see things we agree with.
We may as well be living in different realities.
* * *
I’ve seen this same basic story told in many different ways. Sometimes people are mourning the death of capital-j Journalism as a time when the News was respected rather than ignored in favour of memes. Some people are mourning the death of a cohesive society altogether.
I have a tough time mourning this because I have spent my entire adult life in the internet age. I can’t say with absolute confidence that things aren’t worse now than they were back then, but I suspect they are not.
I think, for example, of a recent story where a woman was saying there was no racism in America until Obama was elected. This could be used as exhibit A in a series of stories about how we are living in different realities.
Clearly she is being fed this information by some right-wing site attempting to blame all the ills of the world on Democrats rather than a good old-fashioned centrist news source- right?
Except consider how she got here: she would have spent all of her time pre-2008 being completely unaware of racism. All those years of everyone watching the same nightly news and somehow she missed this. Only now has she become aware that racism exists in America. She may be upset about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and think it stupid, but she is aware of it. Unlike every other similar movement that preceded it.
Closer to home, here in Canada, most Canadians spent their time being completely unaware of residential schools. You want different realities? How about one where you could read the papers and watch the nightly news and not be aware of a cultural genocide taking place in your own country?
* * *
These are the sorts of things I ask whenever I read someone mourning for a better-informed, bygone era.
How much journalism was there about Indigenous rights against major infrastructure in the 70s?
How well-examined was policing against people of colour?
How many voices from women, transgender, Muslim people were being heard in media?
I suspect people weren’t better informed in previous times. My guess is the threshold for being well-informed was just lower.
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