In A Star-Crossed Year, Anything Can Happen

It’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t been a great year so far.  In fact, it’s fair to say that 2020 is not only below average, it is probably the worst year that I’ve experienced in my lifetime.  With the coronavirus pandemic, government-ordered shutdowns, massive shocks to the economy and resulting unemployment, and widespread civil unrest, it’s safe to say that, when the clock nears midnight on December 31, no one is going to be looking back fondly on the year limping to a close.  To the contrary, I would expect that people will be drinking heavily to forget the year gone by and to toast the arrival of a new year that is bound to be far better — that is, assuming we make it to December 31.

And that’s really the significant, underlying problem with 2020:  it has forever altered our perception of what could actually happen.  Before 2020, anyone predicting the arrival of a strange new virus, sweeping closures and stay-at-home edicts, and the other elements that make this year such a bummer would have been laughed out of town.  But now — well, it seems like just about anything is possible, doesn’t it?  That’s why gun sales, survival gear sales, and, relatedly, liquor sales are through the roof.  So far, 2020 has been like Edvard Munch’s The Scream brought to life.

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So when I read that scientists have measured significant “earthquake swarms” underneath Yellowstone National Park that could presage the eruption of a catastrophic “supervolcano” in one of Earth’s hottest hot spots — something I would have scoffed at until recently — I now think:  “well, it’s 2020 — why not?”

The strikingly counterfactual element of 2020 opens the doors to many possibilities that seemed absurd only a few months ago.  Remember those stories we see from time to time about asteroids and meteors coming uncomfortably close to Earth?  Well, it’s 2020, so . . . better get that survival gear handy.  And for everyone who’s wondered about when we’re actually going to make contact with intelligent alien life, well, it seems like 2020 is the ideal year for that to happen, doesn’t it?  And it’s not going to be cuddly, adorable E.T. aliens, either.  Because it’s 2020, after all, think Independence Day or Predator or Aliens, and you’re probably going to be closer to the mark.

To prepare myself mentally for the rest of this year, I’ve tried to identify every worst case, disastrous scenario that we’ve been warned could happen — locust invasions, massive solar flares, global warming and cooling, zombie apocalypses, Ragnarok, the reunion of ABBA — and am bracing myself that they all might happen this year.  And if we make it through without finding ourselves on a denuded, brutalized planet that has to endure a remake of Waterloo, I’ll raise my glass to 2020 come December 31.

ABBA-Dabba-Don’t

I let out a heavy, appalled groan over the weekend when I read that ABBA was going to release its first new material in 35 years.  I suspect that I was not alone, and that elsewhere in the world husbands who have learned the disturbing news are bracing for the potentially devastating impact of new ABBA songs on their happy households.

Photo of Agnetha FALTSKOG and ABBA and Bjorn ULVAEUS and Anni Frid LYNGSTAD and Benny ANDERSSONIt’s fair to ask why, after 35 years of blessed, ABBA-free silence, the four musicians in ABBA would see fit to inflict another bouncy, saccharine song upon the unsuspecting world.  Don’t the carefully coiffed Swedes in their curious apparel realize that the world has enough troubles?  Don’t they appreciate that only now, years later, are the ears and cerebral cortexes of human beings across the globe recovering from the inhumane punishment of the Mamma Mia! Broadway musical and follow-on film, which itself was one of the most devilish developments in the sad and sordid history of our species?

And that production, at least, was limited to old, familiar ABBA material.  After years of hearing ultrapop songs like Dancing Queen and Fernando and Take a Chance on Me, the ABBA deniers have been able to erect mental defenses against those audio onslaughts and go to their own mental happy place to hear the strains of The Who’s Baba O’Riley or Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love instead.

But, alas, there won’t be any prepared mental defenses against new ABBA material.  We’ll be walking down the street, passing a Starbucks or bakery, and the next thing we know we’ll be exposed unexpectedly to the new material and the shrill tones will become embedded in our brains where they will lurk forever.

The only good news is that ABBA has apparently recorded only two new songs, so the damage will be limited.

Rock And Roll Hall of Lame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their list of 2012 inductees recently.  The list was uninspiring and showed that another “hall of fame” is heading on the wrong track to Lameness Town.

In case you missed it, the 2012 inductees in the “performer” category are the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Faces/Small Faces.  Yawn.  Really?  Laura Nyro wrote some nice songs for the likes of The Fifth Dimension, and now she’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  The Beastie Boys are a rock and roll act, and not wannabe rappers?  (I’m not quite sure how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even defines “rock and roll.”  Any genre that encompasses Neil Diamond (a 2011 inductee), ABBA (a 2010 inductee), and the Beastie Boys, among others, is not focused with laser-like precision on “rock and roll” as I understand it.)  Do any of these guys really deserve mention in the same breath as, say, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen?  Is the motivation behind enshrinement of these new inductees recognizing giants and ground-breakers — or is it just wanting to have a few more acts to perform at the 2012 induction ceremony and TV broadcast?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become reflective of a culture where everyone gets a trophy.  If you’ve written a few decent songs and had a few hits, you’ll probably get in.  It’s like the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The first class, in 1936, included only five true superstars — Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson.  The years pass, and after the turn of the century the Hall is down to admitting players like Bill Mazeroski and Ron Santo.

If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wants to mean anything, it needs to commit itself to being truly selective and to limiting its scope to real rock and roll, not every musical form that has existed in popular culture since 1950.  The exhibits to inductees like the Beastie Boys and ABBA are just clutter that will get in the way of visitors who want to see Buddy Holly memorabilia or learn more about the music of The Doors.