I’d like to end these last few days of 2020 with something a bit more personal for this blog, and, in an unlikely turn of events, something positive about the year.
I’ve been thinking about a note I made when I listed my favorite albums of the year, where I questioned whether the music of this year would live on any further from 2020. Certainly not every song or album referenced specific 2020 events, unintentional or otherwise – and really, the ones that did only seemed to make up a small percentage anyway – but there is something to be said for how music shapes a moment in time for us. Typically, that’s used to reminiscence on something good; nostalgia at its finest, really. Timing is everything, and there’s no escaping the personal connection that comes with hearing a piece of music that feels like it was made just for you, at just the right time. For me, Sierra Hull’s “Escape” was just one such song. Not a song about me, not a song made for me – but a song made for Hull that resonated louder for me than it might have at another point in time, and maybe for you, too. Or maybe it was something else. After all, the country music tent is so wide open, it’s hard to accurately capture everything that speaks to a person’s soul.
Of course, while music can shape those good memories, it can also shape bad ones, and I have no doubt that, come some years later, it may be hard to look back at the music of this year without inviting that darkness back in. After all, this was the year where artists couldn’t tour off new music, or support their crews, or even themselves, maybe. This was the year where we, the listeners, didn’t get to experience music as it was intended, and may have even had to set aside one of the finest joys in the world just to stay alive and sound in this dark year. Really, again, it’s all worth pondering – will the music of 2020 live on?
In my opinion, yes. I am, of course, mostly speaking to my country music and country music-adjacent readers, but if you were a fan of music – be it through supporting a virtual concert, supporting a new release, buying merchandise, rediscovering an old favorite, or simply keeping up with just about anything – you helped give it a heartbeat this year, albeit a much different one than in years prior. As clichéd or overwrought as you may find that statement, it’s true. If anything, this was the year for a “record year” – to absorb and understand the deeper details that artists probably always hope we pick up on, if only to offer our own interpretations or craft our own meanings behind it. It was the year to really sit and listen, which, while maybe a bit boring for some compared to the live experience, is another way in which artists intend for listeners to experience their craft.
And you know what? Let’s not even consider it “the music of 2020” any longer. Music has no expiration date. It lives on in spite of the tight time frame critics assign to it in some measly attempt to stay “relevant.” You and I will discover something new next year, even if it wasn’t initially released that year. There’s a rare sort of joy in that that’s worth truly appreciating, however minuscule it may seem in the grander scheme. And if there’s any testament to that, it’s a remembrance of those we lost this year – the artists that paved the way for others and soundtracked lives, not just a year or two within them. I’m talking about Kenny Rogers, and Jan Howard, Joe Diffie, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hal Ketchum, Billy Joe Shaver, Charley Pride, Doug Supernaw, Mac Davis, Justin Townes Earle, K.T. Oslin, Charlie Daniels, Tony Rice, Johnny Bush, Jimmy Snyder, W.S. “Fluke” Holland, “Wild Bill” Emerson, Fuzzy Owen, Jimmy Capps, Gary McSpadden, Eric Weissberg, Biff Adam, Paul English, Chris Darrow, Eddie Setser, David Olney, Lindsay Lagestee, Harold Reid, John Lancaster, Benny Garcia, Jamie Oldaker, Jimmy Rabbitt, and too many more, sadly. Remember them. Discover them if you haven’t already. Remember specifically why Diffie, Prine and Pride died. But remember that their worth is defined by the life lived and the music offered, not the way they went. Remember Nashville, Tennessee, too, which mainly houses country music’s heartbeat and suffered in far too many ways this year.
So if there’s anything positive that came out of this year – just in a general sense, but, of course, applicable to a musical one – it’s to hold on to and appreciate the little things that offered comfort, escapism and a reality. Those little things may have been the ones that mattered most, and were larger than life in helping us push on through. And as far as the music goes, even if we shaped it around our own personal circumstances, there’s lessons learned and healing offered from the pain and sorrow this year brought us, and if you learned something about yourself or used music to push on through until you did, then 2020 had its own heartbeat, indeed; one that won’t be wasted. And it will be an important strength to carry through to 2021 and beyond.