Notes From The Record Room: The Year In Review (Which I'm Not Reviewing)

To whom it may interest,

It's Wednesday evening, three days before we stick a pin in 2021, which has largely been a garbage year.

My day-well-into-night job drudgery has been excessive over the course of the pandemic and its viral offshoots that keep Americans both stupid and sick. The professional imbalance of my life was significant enough this year that I didn't feel I could even come up with a good list of favorite listens for 2021.

I did, however, contribute to this year's round-up for No Ripcord. It's worth a look.

When the aforementioned pandemic was at its peak in 2020, live music was obviously not happening. So, when vaccination efforts began and some live venues began opening their doors back up this year, I was planning on getting back to writing concert reviews. It was naive of me to think I could that, understanding that my profession doesn't allow the phrase "after work" any gravity or consideration. And then Phawker, the Philly-based outlet that would normally feature my live coverage, suffered an immeasurable loss around September when the Editor-in-Chief, Jonathan Valania, tragically passed away. I didn't get to post an obit, but I did write a small dedication:

My first written piece for Phawker was a single paragraph review of a No Age gig at the PhilaMOCA. This opportunity also presented my first experience working with an editor, Mr. Jonathan Valania, a figure of prominence to music scribes in the general Philly area. As an amateur writer, I felt the need to prove my worth and not waste this man’s time.

Arriving at the gig — a messenger bag strapped across my chest and heavy with an expensive camera, writing implements, and a notebook — I nervously juggled the responsibilities of the job, trying to capture a professional live shot while madly scribbling every fleeting detail before my sieve-equivalent brain lost all of the vital information as it was happening. I felt like I was continually scooping up ocean water with a single hand, trying to hold onto it long enough to preserve the experience.

By the time I’d submitted the article, I’d written many drafts and second-guessed every iteration. I was relieved when he replied: “Just skimmed this, looks good. Will get this up when I get back home this afternoon. Thanks for turning this around so quickly.”

All of this pressure was self-imposed, but it motivated me to do the best work for Jonathan, himself a writer possessing a distinguished and biting wit, an insightful perspective, and a peerless intelligence. For an ensuing six-year stretch, I covered many shows and contributed a few record reviews for the obligatory year-end lists. I’d approached every one of these assignments with the same level of nervous energy as the first, the payoff of a positive response from Jonathan being met with a self-congratulatory fist to the air and the eager anticipation of seeing my words published beneath that bold header.

Following midyear 2019, I hadn’t been able to contribute much more to Phawker, my day-well-into-night job swallowing up most of my free time and then the unfortunate absence of gigs throughout 2020 due to the worldwide pandemic leaving only silence to remark upon.
The news of Jonathan’s passing saddened me, especially in that I’d never met him face-to-face or thanked him for granting me the privilege of being part of this team of contributors, some of whom I had the pleasure to work with and now consider friends. To be listed among them is an honor.

Thank you, Jonathan. I’ll never have a better boss.


One bright spot this year was that my daughter became interested in concerts. I was happy to take her to three shows: Japanese Breakfast, Mannequin Pussy, and Destroy Boys. We were also able to obtain tickets for her to see Mitski in DC next March. She's very excited. 

I turned 45 on 12/21. I worked until 11PM that day. It was the earliest I'd signed off in weeks.

Thankfully, my employer granted us the week between Christmas and New Year's off, so, following the turbulence of the holidays, I've been trying to recover a bit from being perpetually burned out and exhausted. No day off goes unpunished, though, so… expect silence again following the break.

Happy New Year's, everyone. If you're still reading this, thanks. Stay safe out there. 

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

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