Echoes from last year’s Rock Music Big Year

The opening verse of “Sweet Dreams,” the opening track of Angel Olsen’s Phases:

“Every time I close my eyes, something small within me dies. Can’t say if it’s dark or bright, but it’s all I’ve ever known and when I sleep, I sleep alone.”

Last year’s Rock Music Big Year brought Angel Olsen’s magnificent My Woman album to my attention, and Phases, an interim album of outtakes, etc., also delighted me. What intrigues me is that both have haunted me since, and today I brought them out to listen to while walking to and from Bar Ristretto. It’s the timbre, the sound, the boomy attention to detail, that hits my heart.

Fitness Big Year: Phew, got there . . .

The photo is a Darwin suburban jogging scenario. It’s not an easy place to jog but I got out every day, mostly doing shorter runs (5 kms) but managing one 10 km effort. Back in Melbourne, yesterday I ran a final short route to achieve 2017’s goal of 1,000 kms. What a relief!

And today I’ve cycled one last time, just 20 kms, to meet the year’s goal of 4,000 kms.

And on Friday I visited the gym for the 100th time, right on target.

In the end I reached my goals. It took more effort, both physical and mental (much fussing over when and how), than I’d anticipated, and possibly I shouldn’t be putting quite so much emotional effort into exercise. But, hey, I feel as robust and fit as I’ve ever felt, so I’d say it was all worthwhile.

2017’s Big Years: Sayonara

Farewell to a trio of obsessions (and when I say obsession, I mean day on day, everyday, not quite mania but sometimes damned close):

Writing Big Year – you drove me mad and I let you down and you didn’t “work,” but I can’t gainsay the many huge gains I made over the year. I’ll learn from you and turns 2017’s disappointments into 2018’s successes.

Fitness Big Year – you were tough to uphold (man, did I bitch and moan!) and I recast you a few times, but I’m now half a cyclist on top of being a jogger, my fitness is improved (whatever that means), and I’m addicted to daily workouts. My gratitude to you, old friend.

Rock Music Big Year –  your daily aural treat was sublime, and if you haven’t rekindled my old fixation on life-saving toons, something nascent smoulders inside me now. Bless you (and I wish I could repeat you in 2018).


Rock Music Big Year: Andres’s ears

(I’ve expressed in a number of ways my dissatisfaction with many of the aspects of this big year. The 123 albums I listened to weren’t the ones I should have heard. I mostly heard stuff that at one level impressed but at another level had me yawning. Rather than ending up fired up about music, as I was in my teens, twenties, thirties, and forties, I’m seized by a sensation of torpor.

So the whole thing was an unmitigated flop? Now this is where it gets interesting. For I found the daily listening discipline quite satisfying and the year’s accumulated sounds have crystallized in me an even deeper yearning to find the heart of modern music, to use grandiose terms.

Put it another way. There won’t be another obsessive year of music for at least a few years but I’m now fully committed to implant listening into my life. My ears, my ears, I catch myself murmuring.

I have no idea where such thinking will lead, but here are a few possibilities for the future:

  • Deep listening – pick a small number of artists to blitz
  • Surrender to Spotify playlists and see where that takes me
  • Find a local pub and max out on garage bands
  • Start a post punk band? An electronic outfit
  • Support some artists, coupling music appreciation with patronage
  • Run a Meetup group, maybe the “Sonos New Music Club”

(Photo from Visual Hunt)

Fitness Big Year: I’m fitter than ever. Why am I slower?

In 2016 I ran 1,700 kms in 10-kilometer sessions. I’m slow and my pace ranged between 6:10 and 6:40 minutes per kilometer. I got under 6:00 a handful of times.

2017? I’m still jogging 10 kilometers (also shorter distances) but all year I’ve struggled to get back to 2016’s speeds, slow as they were. My 10-km pace is now around 6:40. I can barely imagine 6:20 or faster!

I feel stronger, more robust, and “fitter.” Why not faster? I can think of physiological reasons. At my age, does a year older mean slower? Does cycling mean tired muscles? What role does diet play?

Maybe, maybe . . . but might it be the mind? I’ve always observed how much my thoughts affect my running, generally adversely. My brain forever invents reasons to not head out into the day. During runs, my mind chatters like a grumpy monkey. Adding in cycling over 2017 might constitute a factor, for riding a bike is nothing as invasive and painful as pounding the streets, and maybe my mind wants me to abandon running for riding. Perhaps my problem is mental not physical.

If it’s all in the mind, can I run faster in 2018? Dangerous territory . . .

Not a bad excuse at all

The dog ate my homework . . . the classic excuse. A couple of days ago, desperate to jog some kilometers towards my end-year goal, I headed to the clothes line to fetch my drying jogging shorts. I found them on the ground, chewed up by an enterprising dog. A great panic ensued. (A trip to Kmart fixed me up.)

Higher Calling, a recent book: Why cycle up mountains?

Reading about an interest is a powerful way to pursue that interest. Over 2017, while trying to instil a habit of regular bike riding, I tried to read as many cycling books as I could absorb.

Higher Calling: Road Cycling’s Obsession with the Mountains, written by troubadour writer Max Leonard, is my final cycling book of 2017 (and next year I’m switching topics), so I was disappointed to get little out of it. Leonard is an energetic, adept writer, but after an intro dealing with “Everesting,” which I do find fascinating because I know people involved in it, the book loses narrative coherence, at least in my view. The cover blurb describes Higher Calling as “blending adventure and travel writing with the rich narrative of pro racing,” and to me that’s what it felt like, an unholy mix of stories from all over the shop, stories told well but to me, a beginner cyclist, somewhat baffling. In the end, it’s a stylish read but it certainly doesn’t answer its opening question: “why do we have this obsession with cycling up mountains?”

Rock Music Big Year: The hunt for the new Beatles

To ensure a daily diet of new albums, I had to curate the world’s rock music, to source stuff I reckoned I’d enjoy. I used a couple of monthly music magazines, some review sites, random media pointers, “best of” lists, and so on. Sophisticated listeners close to me contributed some of my more memorable finds.

My aims? To find the next R.E.M.! To weep with joy! To find songs I’d play on repeat a hundred times! To glimpse the future! To finger the pulse of a new generation!

How did it work out? Well, at a mechanical level I ended up with enough listening music, but overall, the process was deeply flawed. Most of my 123 groups/artists were older rather than younger, much of the content was in my traditional genre. I stumbled upon a handful of exciting acts, but far, far too few. I couldn’t help feeling I was curating from a dusty record bin in a run-down music store in a depressed town.

Reflecting now, perhaps what I came across in 2017 is a symptom of the shift from analogue to digital. Could it be that the shift to playlists and songs, rather than 10-song albums, means my music sources are penned by my generation, not younger listeners? Have I been hopelessly out of touch throughout my Big Year? If so, does it matter to me?

Reflection needed, Andres . . .