So in essentially the year of crap, there were still some cultural gems present to nourish us. Here are some of my highlights.
1. Beyoncé- Lemonade
It was a close run thing, but this was my album of the year. My favourite songs have varied week on week, and month by month (and I did listen to this album endlessly for months), but they are all outstanding in very different ways, from the country vibes of Daddy Lessons to the raw power of Don’t Hurt Yourself. The visual version of the album was also memorable, with the poetry of Warsan Shire interspersing some of the most striking visuals I’ve seen for some time in mainstream film-making (I think I spotted Beyoncé’s name in the Director credits too).
Ms Carter-Knowles I salute you.
2. David Bowie- Blackstar
My second favourite album of the year. If you’d asked me 13 months ago what I thought about David Bowie, I would have said that I didn’t have any thoughts about David Bowie. I certainly didn’t dislike his music, but I didn’t really feel familiar enough with most of it to comment, and I knew even less about him as a person. Sadly, it was his death that made me realise how much his music had inserted itself into my consciousness without my realising, and how amazing some of that music was. And how amazing David Bowie himself was. Blackstar would be an excellent album, whatever the circumstances, but the added resonance of his death gives this dark, immersive but still tuneful work an extra level of depth.
3. Adam Buxton podcast
Some of the most intelligent, sweetest, thought-provoking, ridiculous and insightful words which entered my ears last year were from Adam Buxton and his podcast guests. For pure fun, the ones with Louis Theroux and Joe Cornish rule.
4. Bridget Christie- A Bic for Her
I know this book has been out for a while, but I only read it last year. And it turned out to be one of the best things that I did read. I was somewhat unsure about the self-deprecating opening premise, but this book swiftly developed into a fascinating account of working in stand-up comedy as a woman, combined with an analysis of the deep rivers of misogyny that run through our society. But all written in a very accessible and entertaining way. We need more books like this about modern feminism.
5. Bruce Springsteen – The River Tour
I promised myself that I would go and see Bruce Springsteen live at least once in my life, and 2016 turned out to be the year. This tour was billed as a complete reprise of The River album, although ultimately there were almost as many songs from the rest of Bruce’s back catalogue, which was fine with me. Seeing as Bruce pretty much only plays stadiums these days, he still managed to maintain an amazing connection with the crowd, many of whom (including me) were verging on being several miles away from him. And playing for well over three hours, I’m not sure who enjoyed the show more, Bruce or the audience. But for me, he is undoubtedly one of the best live acts and best people around at the moment.
6. Tig Notoro- One Mississippi
The best television (does streaming on Amazon count as television?) of the year for me. I have loved Tig Notoro ever since she appeared on This American Life with her Taylor Dane story. Since then I’ve dipped in out of her life as she’s gone through cancer treatment, break ups, bereavement, and unintentionally funny mother-in-laws. One Mississippi is a sort of comedy drama, which captures some of these elements of her life, but is mainly based around the relationships with her family. It’s poignant, funny, recognisable, and goes in unexpected directions. I am very much looking forward to season two.