Last year I posted a list of my favorite sonic moments of the year with the intention that I would “keep my ears open more during 2008.” But then the election and the financial crisis got in the way and I kind of stopped paying attention. Next year, I’m taking notes. Anyhow, just under the wire, these are the that things broke through the muck and into my ears.
5. The Smidgen of Peanut Butter in Of Montreal’s Wicked Wisdom
The new Of Montreal record scared me. Or more to the point, with all it’s psychosexual button pushing, it made me feel like a prude. But just when you were feeling a bit weirded out, a phrase that felt so familiar and close that it felt like it came from your own head would hit you upside the uh…head. But this isn’t about one of those moments.
I was listening to the album at work earlier this year. It was maybe the 36th time I heard it, but the first in headphones. And then just about 1:12 in, not long after Kevin Barnes sings, “I’m just a black shemale” and just before a musical break he slips in the words “peanut butter.” There’s no reason those words are there. But hearing them for the first time I was thrilled and surprised in ways that pop music has a hard time doing. And that’s like 26 seconds before you get to the lyrics “When we get together it’s always hot magic.”
4. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Group Hug
Months before Blagojevich made it clear to the rest of the country how bizarre Illinois politics can get, Chicago Public Radio’s political reporter Ben Calhoun gave listener’s this account of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s hug fest at the DNC.
The story is bizarre. It’s funny. It’s informative. But mostly, it makes politics real and human in a way that reporters hardly ever capture.
3. Spontaneous Human Exhilaration
As a California native with a little of bit of Los Angeles still in my heart I have to say—this is in no way an endorsement of the Phillies. But oh my. It is a glorious thing to live in Philly these days.
The night the Phillies clinched the World Series in a strange three inning conclusion to Game 5 people started screaming. They were screaming all up and down Broad Street and outside my apartment in North Philly. Every few seconds for hours there were spontaneous outbursts of human exhilaration. Mostly they were the kind of “Woos!” that make men start fights if they go on for too long. But there was so much joy in those cheers—a sentiment this city isn’t well acquainted with. And sure there were some broken windows on Broad Street, but the city’s still standing right?
2. The Sound of a Car Exploding 6,074 Miles Away
Sometimes the radio is just like hot water. You turn it on in the morning and it’s there. It wakes you up and reconnects you with the world. And it’s so reliable that you forget that there are humans somewhere bringing the product to you. This Morning Edition story by Ivan Watson was a startling reminder that people are risking their lives to bring us the news. And also, why it’s critical to always keep the tape rolling.
1. Planet Money Podcast
This American Life’s Giant Pool of Money was a great primer on the financial crisis we’ve all come to know too well. Problem is, the crisis kept growing and there were lots of questions about seemingly complicated issues that we all wanted answers to.
I tried to isolate a moment from the new NPR project Planet Money that Adam Davidson started after that initial This American Life story. But no small moment sums it up. Because every night I found it essential listening to understand, in clear and mostly uncomplicated terms, what each new turn of the crisis meant. I can blame Planet Money for the fact that I listened to a whole lot less music while washing dishes in 2008. And also, why I have some hope that it’s not going to feel like this forever.