Band: Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle
Best song:It’s one song.
Worst song:N/A

Childhood memories are weird things. I’ve noted a lot that my earliest memories are of Chicago Stadium, at ‘Hawks games. If I’m being honest, they’re more vignettes and sense memories. The smell of stale beer and piss in the bathrooms or the deafening organ and “De-troit sucks!” chants emanating from the rafters. But, those are the ones that are most vivid because they fit a narrative of hockey-as-family with my dad and I. I have other memories fro that period involving my sister or mom or friends, but those hockey games are both the most vivid and the best to fit my own life’s narrative of my relationship with my dad.

One that is decidedly less vivid is when I was eight was my dad’s 40th birthday. I don’t remember much at all, in fact, I mostly remember thinking that it was weird that everyone was joking about how old he was. My dad seemed pretty young to me. At least he didn’t seem like an old person like my great grandmother, Big Nonnni, or her sister, my great-great-aunt Mary. But my mom threw my dad a party and people brought gag gifts of stuffed animals and cards festooned with things about his being “over the hill.”

When I turned 30, I did a retrospective of albums for each of my 30 years on Earth, reviewing one for each year. I started with Face Value and culminated in The Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. The latter was chosen because of the lyrics striking me so deeply earlier that year.

So now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
now what does that say about me…
Oh man what I used to be
Oh man oh my oh me
Oh man what I used to be
Oh man oh my oh me
The occasion for my 30th birthday let me reflect on reaching the age of my parents when they had already built a life for themselves. My sister had been born and I was coming in the years ahead. They were married for a while. They were adults in all courses. I reflected on this, as I saw fit. Your mileage may vary as to whether you think I made any good points or sounded like an idiot.

My 40th birthday saw no party. It was spent inside, like I had almost every day for the previous 11 months, waiting out a pandemic like someone from the world’s most boring dystopian entertainment. Time stopped having meaning.

I can’t say much about the pandemic that you haven’t read or thought about before. Like everyone else looking back on 2021, I have trouble differentiating between my first and second years of the pandemic. In looking back at the things I started doing or accomplished, I always had to check something online to see that, in fact, that shit happened in the summer of 2020.

It’s fucked ultimately, because big things happened in 2021. The January 6 insurrection was the spiritual beginning of the year as well as the spiritual end of the Donald Trump presidency, as it laid bare a lot of his supporters’ rhetoric. He was kicked off Twitter soon thereafter, robbing him of some of his power in the public’s mind (and my industry’s, which is a whole different conversation).

The Biden presidency has fulfilled its promise of restoring a bit of “normalcy” to American society, especially with regards to the pandemic. This is not a compliment. The analogy that keeps coming back to my mind is going on a nature hike with some camp, as a kid. And the guide picks up a bit of wood that looks dead but normal on the side we can see. The guide picks up the wood and overturns it to see bugs and rotting bark and fungus and a whole lot of things the kids don’t want to see. Everyone yells “ewww” and the guide turns it back over.

The pandemic has been our nature guide to the civilizational and structural failures of the creepy crawly American society. We have no public health system to speak of; this wasn’t a major failure to non-poor people until March 2020. We have a cultural value of the individual (“Freedom” is shouted about everything any asshole wants to do) over any collective responsibility; people fought (and continue to fight) about basic safety measures like masks and vaccine requirements. We’ve lost all faith in institutions; the scientific community became target practice for the worst actors in the world. We have no safety net for, well, anything.

If you ask anyone from another developed country visiting or living in the U.S., they’re almost universally surprised by the lack of any public help in anything. American life is to live on the knife’s edge. Our lagging the world in a real public health system is the glaring failure during the pandemic, as tests, vaccines and treatment had been throw into the buzzsaw that is the for-profit health system. Unsurprisingly, the poor – who have less access to said for-profit system – have died at exponentially higher rates than the rich. Older Americans were thrown to the wolves earliest in the pandemic – Texas’ Lt. Governor said on television that grandmothers would be happy to die for “the American way of life” in a particularly ghoulish move – but the poor continue to be thrown into the shredder. The CDC, in a recent tweet, unknowingly laid out the shittiness of our health care system.

(I’ll do the usual caveat here: No one has been prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Save for rich island nations with small populations – Australia, New Zealand and Japan come to mind – no one has controlled the pandemic well. There’s a conversation about U.S. influence on these things – and particularly, our need to travel worldwide while spreading the thing – but broadly, even EU countries with better governments have had problems. But, ultimately, the fact remains the same: the U.S. death count is exponentially tracking higher than our population. We’ve failed, even in the face of something that no one could control.)

All these things existed before March 2020 and they existed before Trump was inaugurated (for the #resistance dipshits who think he was the only problem) and they existed before – and after – Obama was elected. America has been broken for a long time, probably – to center myself – for the entirety of my life.

I was born about a week and a half into Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He is, in a lot of ways, the ur villain in society’s collapse (not the only one, for sure, but the easy figurehead). Few people have said more destructive things about collective responsibility than “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” His entire raison d’etre – though it wasn’t realized until after he left office – was to reduce government and the trust of government. Richard Nixon opened the door by being openly corrupt and his predecessors simply codified corruption as legal, deteriorating any trust in government as a way to help people. Government was, in all forms, now the enemy.

In February, a few weeks after my 40th birthday, our show hit its first anniversary. I’m proud of it. At that point, I had hosted my own professional podcast for a year; I’d spoken to some of the world’s most preeminent experts on government administration, including former governors, high-level officials and former agency heads. I was going to look back and write about my favorite shows we did, but time has been my enemy overall, both in its flatness and its relentlessness. We did a lot of shows in ‘21 that made me proud – our 9/11 coverage was pretty good! – but I keep coming back to a show we did in October 2020 with Dr. Alastair Roberts.

We mostly talked about something he wrote for the journal Current History about the Reagan-Clinton governance model – “The Reagan–Clinton formula envisaged a federal government that had fewer responsibilities and was more disciplined in its decision-making” is how he sums it up – and its response to crises, particularly with the backdrop of the pandemic. But, Roberts has written about this regarding shocks to the system in his books and how our system simply cannot address them.

My interpretation of our situation is simply that the U.S. never plans for anything. We – our leaders, the voters… everyone – think the good times will last forever (Roberts writes ”In many ways, the story of the past 20 years is about a descent from hubris.”) and even things like 9/11 or the pandemic could not disabuse us of these notions. We continue to make the same mistakes – never planning for a rainy day, never spending money on protecting the vulnerable, never even trying to fix problems outside of “let the private sector deal with it,” etc. – with the confidence of, well, a con man. It’s shocking how little has changed.

The year-end tweets of people I admire/like/know/etc. end up being something like “Professionally, this year was good. Personally, it was good. It was bad for the world.” I would write something similar, but I don’t know that I can say that about any of it, save for the world being bad. My professional life is good, such as it is. I’m of some value in my little corner of the world, but I’d hardly be missed if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and left this earthly plane.

Personally, well… I think it’s safe to say that I’m a failure by most definitions. I’ve a Master’s degree in a useless subject (communications/journalism), with no children and no marriage. I’m single. I’ve no great works to point to (no, my dumb RS 500 thing doesn’t count). As mentioned above, I’m proud of the place I occupy in my professional space, but that’s a decidedly professional place.

It’s hard not to be expansive about how I got here – bad brain chemistry, indecision, poor choices, an upbringing with some flaws, etc. – but I’ll refrain from it. Rather, inertia is something I’m trying to avoid. It’s how I ended up moving this year, as my old place was a symbol of sorts of my shitty life. It was small, it was poorly-maintained (both by me and more by the management company) and it had problems. The only things speaking for it were not important anymore (location and the use of yards). In a pandemic and with a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, I’m happy being someplace far away from everything and without off-leash yard space.

Moving will not fix things inherently. I know this and it will be a struggle to make something of myself on the back half of my life. As 2022 approaches, I hope I can find something. I’m not sure I will. I have no one but my dog to share this birthday memory – alone, awaiting the end of a plague – with and I only have me to blame.

My favorite song of the year was released as a single about ten months ago. I suggest you check out the lyrics and watch the video, done by the terrific Cressa Maeve Beer .

The song is beautiful, haunting and strong. It’s a lyrical mind-read of the past two years, built from the minds of two perfect songwriters.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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