Everything Else, 2018 Edition

My top songs, everything I listened to, and all of the other moments that made 2018 the year that was!

My Top Songs:

Everything I Listened To:

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out. This will have additions through December 31.

Favorite Non-2018 Discovery:

Grateful Dead. Duh.

Other Stuff:

Personal: Getting engaged to Ali! Finally getting the opportunity go overseas! Moving into a house. Walking across Abbey Road with Camie and Cory. Getting to see a show at Preservation Hall in New Orleans! Meeting musicians I admire all year long.

Travel: FINALLY WENT OVERSEAS! London and Paris. Amazing. I flew fifteen times this year. Places I visited: Austin, London, Paris, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Asbury Park, Atlanta (first time!) Toronto, Minneapolis, New Orleans for the first time (so good!), Brooklyn, and the requisite Milwaukee trips.

Concerts: I attended 46 concerts so far in 2018. Maybe a few more? Here’s the list.

Health and Wellness: Arthroscopic knee surgery, bronchitis, sinus infections. Still did the Race to Wrigley 5K on a bad knee. This was not a banner year health-wise. More massages, acupuncture, still all good things.

The Hold Steady: SHOW 100! October 13, 2018. To get there, I did 20 THS shows in one year, including my first ever shows overseas. It’s the the most-ever in one year for me, eclipsing my 2009 record of 18. Ended the year at an all-time total of 106. I went to everything outside of the three San Francisco shows. Really great experiences, Massive Nights III may be the best four run stretch I’d ever seen. Best band, best people. New singles were great and everyone seems to be enjoying the live bootleg series.

Wrestling: Witnessing the biggest independent show ever with ALL IN. Went to Starrcast, met a bunch of great wrestlers. Pretty much any NXT PPV was good, including the North American title latter match WrestleMania weekend. Attending NXT Takeover: Chicago with Ali was great. Getting to witness Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet live. Daniel Bryan winning the title back. Hard to pay attention to so much of it but the indie stuff captured my imagination this year.

Food:

Atlanta: Octopus Bar Varsity, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Jang Su Jang

Chicago area: Gideon Sweet (RIP), Craft Donuts + Coffee, Duck Duck Goat, Girl and the Goat, Kitakata Ramen Ban Na, Mockingbird

London: Dishoom, Beigel Bake, Harrod’s, Dark Sugars, all the pop ups at Camden Lock.

Paris: Les Philosophes and the cool crepe place at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

Philadelphia: Pat’s Steaks – had all of the ‘big 3’ after this one – Jim’s is the best. Reading Terminal Market.

Toronto: Egg Bae, Bar Raval, Baker Bots

New Orleans: Commander’s Palace, Cafe du Monde, Mother’s, NOLA, Port of Call, Tableau, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, District

New York: Lilia, Frankel’s Delicatessen, Peter Luger’s Steak House

More Music:

Big Sky Hunters released an album this year called Distance and it is very good and I feel lucky I got to be there when they recorded most of it.

Telethon’s Modern Abrasive is excellent and you need to hear this, as well as last year’s The Grand Spontanaean.

The Rest of the Best of 2016

Favorite Moments of 2016

1. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Being in Wrigleyville during the series. Being at the parade. Pure emotion. Being with Jordan when they won. Eamus Catuli switching to all zeroes. Not quite giving up hope when it seemed all but over MULTIPLE times. Continuing to ride that wave.

2. Meeting Bruce Springsteen the day before my birthday. Also, his show at United Center on August 28. Magic in the night.

3. The Hold Steady: Reunite with Franz Nicolay, play a bunch of really awesome shows behind my favorite album of all time. The Frenchkiss reissues of AKM and Sep Sunday. Lifter Puller twice in one year, including the opportunity to stand on stage at Red Rocks. Denver meh, Chicago good and New York was wonderful but I could have done without the concussion. Great openers: Titus Andronicus, Laura Stevenson (so nice!) and Lifter Puller. Nights go on forever and guitars are cool.

4. Nashville visits, March-August (Just a few: recording in the Third Man Booth, all the food, Infinity Cat House. City Winery, meeting Daddy Issues and Diarrhea Planet, and pretty much everyone that made my time there awesome.)

5. More travel: Austin, TX trip with my Mom. Hanging in Boston and candlepin bowling with some of my best people and Vineyard Youth in Pawtucket, RI. Additionally, anyone who came to visit me and had a good time.

6. Health and wellness: PRing my third 5K on the October 30 Hot Chocolate Run. Exercising regularly for the first time in my life. Reading the most books this year than I’ve read in a decade.

7. Personal: Getting the opportunity to write for Men’s Journal and interviewing Dolph Ziggler, Chad Gable, Hot Doug and Andrew Wyslotsky.

My team beat his in the World Series. I ain’t sorry.


8. Wrestling: American Alpha winning the NXT and WWE Smackdown Tag Team titles in the same year (all of the great wrestling this year, seriously.) Owens and Zayn at Payback in a total mindblower. Zayn and Nakamura at Takeover Dallas. DIY and Revival at Takeover Toronto. Meeting Jerry Lawler randomly in Memphis inside his restaurant and being able to tell him we shared a birthday.

9. Food: Qui, Parachute, Rolf and Daughters, Husk, Mitchell’s Delicatessen, Maketto, Pinewood Social, Row 34, Mission Chinese and a ton I’m missing.

10. Trash Pandas releases two EP’s and having involvement in them. They make me laugh and proud I did a thing that’s out in the world.

Shows

I saw 37 shows this year. Take a look.

Everything I Listened To

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out.

Getting Up Seems Impossibly Grand

With the year in its final days, I’m giving some last thoughts to all of the amazing stuff I’ve been able to do this year.

I saw the Rolling Stones. Ate amazing food. Went to more live professional wrestling shows than I’d like to admit to. I even learned to appreciate certain types of mayonnaise.

But that’s nothing, really. I don’t think there’s anything I’m more proud of this year than getting back on an airplane for the first time in almost five years.

It wasn’t always like this. My first flight was at two-and-a-half weeks old in December 1985 when my mother took me to New Jersey. My grandmother was terminally ill and it was one of the few opportunities she’d have to meet me before she passed.

The first I remember was another trip out east a few years later. My mom surprised me after a day trip on a Metra train in preschool. When she went to pick me up, she asked; “Do you want to take an airplane too?” She had packed my bag and we went straight to the airport. I remember sitting in the window seat staring out the window, looking at the ground below and wondering where the adventure would take us. Taking a plane was always something special. We didn’t do it all too often, but when we did, it was always very exciting. Little did I know that some people I knew didn’t have that opportunity until they were older.

But when I turned 21, it changed in an instant. On another trip out to New Jersey (I apparently don’t go anywhere else), I was with friends that were several rows in front of me. I’d never been by myself where someone I knew wasn’t arms length of me on a plane. The anxiety started to build. The sensation of takeoff – what seemed like a ceaseless climbing feeling was unbelievably intense. Every synapse fired. I gripped the armrests and my palms sweat. Slight turbulence was heartstopping. I have no idea how I got there and back. I managed to fly two more round trips the following year, and after that, September 28, 2008 would be the last time I’d get on a plane for four-and-a-half years.

I’m positive that after that flight I didn’t actively decide to stop flying, but after abruptly canceling a plane trip that December it started to come into focus that it wasn’t going to happen.

After that, I wove an artful tapestry of excuses and devised alternate routes of travel to get me where I wanted to go. Oddly enough, these were the most active travel years of my life so far, as I saw The Hold Steady perform nearly fifty times in cities across the United States and Canada. I’d carpool with friends, take Amtrak or make creative and elaborate Megabus itineraries. One time I even took a 40-hour train trip from Chicago to Spokane where my friend from Vancouver picked me up, and then we drove the eight hours back to Vancouver. On the way home, I took the same train back, only to stop in Minneapolis before taking another bus ride. It was not for the faint of heart.

For that first year it was easy to say that my travel-by-ground scheme was cheaper since we were going to so many cities in such a short time to see one band. But after that, it was a hinderance. It became an avoidance of a very obvious fear. I was openly admitting I didn’t like to fly. It was a way of life. In 2010, I moved to New York. Every time I came home it was a 20-hour Amtrak ride. Once was in a car, but the trip was cut down only by a few hours. I had lost touch of the problem. I’d lost the feeling of what it was like to be up there. All that was left was bad memories and a lot of wasted time.

In retrospect, this was a relatively innocuous personal issue. By 2011, my health took a serious downturn. I was also deeply depressed and made the decision to return to Chicago and seek help. The first six months of my illness were the most difficult. I was very paranoid and fixated on fears that had no bearing on my current situation. A major focus point? You may have already guessed.

Flying.

At this time, I was unemployed and spent most of my time watching reruns of “The Wonder Years”. That was most of my day. If I wasn’t doing that, I would be thinking about flying. If I could do it again. If I could go anywhere, really. I wasn’t much for leaving the house at that point either. I knew it was time to go back into therapy.

After spending most of that year learning how to refocus and deal with my issues in a proper manner, I started to focus on smaller issues and knew in my heart it was time to face my fears. I had bought a ticket to WrestleMania in November, and by the time it came in April, I wanted to be on a plane to New York to get there.

It helped that my Mom would be joining me on the flight because her sister lives nearby in New Jersey. So, I wouldn’t be alone. My therapist and I strategized about what exercises I could use to preoccupy myself when I got on the plane. I have never told anyone about this, but I watched videos on YouTube of people secretly recording takeoff so I could remember what it sounded and looked like. Lastly, I got a low-dose prescription to help settle my nerves and curb a potential anxiety attack.

April 3, 2013 came quickly. I remember waking up very calm. No real nerves. As we rode to the airport, I sat quietly and stared out the window, and noticed a plane in the sky. I realized that would be me in a few short hours. It was here. It was happening. No turning back now.

We sat at our gate for what felt like forever. As we boarded, I remarked how little room there was between rows of seats. It seemed so much more compact than I remembered. Soon after, the plane taxied down the runway and time stopped. The moment was here. The rumble began, it moved forward. I stared out at the ground, and almost effortlessly, we were in that “precipice between groundlessness and flight”, as Ani DiFranco once said. I was in disbelief until I saw Allstate Arena below me out of a window on the opposite side of the plane. It was over. I was in the sky.

It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to do something that absolutely terrifies you. The moment you cross through that passage is like nothing else on this Earth. It’s a revelation. Any construct you have immediately crumbles. It empowers you. You’ve conquered it.

I’ve flown three more times this year – home from New York and a round trip to San Francisco. For the most part, it’s been fine. Flying takes you places you could never go any other way. Or maybe that it’s simply convenient and time-saving. There’s many ways to look at it.

For me? I suppose I’ll be staring out the window, looking at the ground below and wondering where the adventure will take me.

Top Albums and Songs of 2013

Without further adieu, here’s my top ten favorite albums of this year (in order), and then my favorite songs of the year (in no particular order).

Top Albums of 2013:

1. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

The story goes like this: Former Drive-By Trucker who regularly outshines his peers with his contributions leaves the band amidst a variety of personal issues. Spends the next few years cutting good-not-great solo records. Finally sobers up and puts out this collection of crystalline beauties that are not just a stone-cold classic this year, but in ANY year.

Check out: “Cover Me Up”, “Flying Over Water”, “Relatively Easy”

2. HAIM – Days Are Gone

Hearing “The Wire” for the first time was one of those fulcrum listens. Either it was going to be the best thing HAIM ever did, or it was just a taste of what the band was capable of.

Luckily, it was the latter – the sisters beat the hype and wrote a record of sun-kissed classics. Make no mistake, this is pure pop appropriated for an indie audience. You know that’s true. “I know, I know, I know, I know” that too.

Check out: “The Wire”, “Falling”, “Running If You Call My Name”

3. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels

El-P and Killer Mike took the hip-hop world by storm last year with their solo releases – El’s “Cancer For Cure” and Killer Mike’s “R.A.P. Music” (which El-P produced in its entirety). Both guested on each other’s records. Both also landed on many year-end lists.

So what to do for a victory lap? Join forces, obviously. The eponymous debut from Run the Jewels was released for free on the internet this June. What could have been phoned in with the cut-and-paste feel of a mixtape is instead a tight collection of straight-up bangers with monster beats. El-P and Killer Mike seamlessly flow into each other’s rhymes with bravado. No – scratch that. Gusto.

Check out: “Run the Jewels”, “36” Chain”, “Sea Legs”

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National – at least from “Alligator” and forward, have brilliantly constructed top to bottom classic records that give the air that they were furniture, they’d be refined from the most skilled of woodworkers. Every sound is considered before the final product. Allegedly, on an earlier release, they recorded the same drum sound an exhaustive number of times until it ‘sounded right’.

If anything, “Trouble Will Find Me” is a surprise. It’s the sound of a band loosening the reigns for the first time. The songs feel more organic. They have a sense of space that’s not part of any of the earlier releases. If there’s any knock on it, is that it sort of feels like a band in transition. What you get here is a band pushing the boundaries out just a little more. It’s exhilarating for them, and it’s exhilarating for the listener. But you can’t help but think what they’ll do next time.

Check out: “I Should Live In Salt”, “Sea Of Love”, “I Need My Girl”

5. John Moreland – In The Throes

Admittedly, this is a late addition to this year’s list, but a well-deserved one. Oklahoma-based Moreland delivers a thirty-eight minute gut punch. It’s intimate. It’s vulnerable. It’s big-hearted. It’s an album full of simply great songs delivered simply. No bullshit.

Check out: “I Need You To Tell Me Who I Am”, “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore”, “Break My Heart Sweetly”

6. Kanye West – Yeezus

At this point, even giving a brief rundown of Kanye’s album-by-album trajectory is pointless. His public persona and his role of an artist are now so diametrically opposed that the thought he’s actually a working musician is an afterthought. Everyone has an opinion about Kanye West. He has many about himself. The amount of noise between the artist and the public is overwhelming, from fans to non-fans. That’s the best thing that ever happened to him – it freed him to do whatever he wants in the studio.

So, he does.

For as spontaneous as some of his other career moves seem, “Yeezus” is quite the opposite. It’s a carefully crafted, reductionist masterwork, laying waste the grandeur of much of his previous work. The beats are brutal, guest spots as brilliant as they are puzzling (Justin Vernon and Chief Keef on the same track?), and the message unfettered: he’s taking no prisoners.

We’re far past the point where a Kanye West album is a showcase of peerless production and top-notch talent. It’s art for art’s sake. He might even agree with that. Everyone else might too, if they stopped talking and listened for a change.

Check out: “On Sight”, “I Can’t Hold My Liquor”, “Bound 2”

7. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

The sense of insularity and delicate nature of Laura Marling’s fourth album leaves me fighting myself to compare it to the great early records of Joni Mitchell. Obviously by typing that sentence, I’ve failed. Perhaps the best way to put it is to suggest “Once I Was An Eagle” is its spiritual cousin. The four-song opening suite is startling and effortless, delivered with the maturity of a person far beyond her 23 years. From there it ebbs and flows, (“Master Hunter” is a definite highlight) one beautiful melody and texture after another. It’s an album best experienced in one sitting. You’ll know that as soon as it begins.

Check out: “Take The Night Off”, “I Was An Eagle”, “Master Hunter”

8. Deafheaven – Sunbather

We live in the time of the egregious usage of the word ‘epic’. Here’s an album worthy of the phrase. On “Sunbather” walls of whatever-brand-of-metal you call it and sweeping melodic passages combined with bridge effortlessly with vocalist George Clarke’s screams to create a whole that is like nothing else I’ve ever heard. I may not understand a damn word he’s saying, but the sheer ferocity of his vocals seize your attention. It’s metal for non-metalheads – beauty in a genre where you expect something ugly.

Check out: “Dream House”, “Irresistable”, “Vertigo”

9. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

In the summer of 2008 I watched Vampire Weekend perform selections from their debut album to a crowd of thousands at Pitchfork Music Festival. Then, they were a relatively unseasoned live act, a fine listen, but not quite capable of that knockout punch of the others that played the stage the same day. My feelings of their debut album and it’s follow up were similar to this – songs that were okay for the moment, but didn’t hold a whole lot of resonance. I figured they’d be fun to bring up for a laugh a few years down the road or to recapture that moment when we were just a little bit younger and thought we were a little bit hipper.

Instead, they grew up with us. “Modern Vampires of the City” is a headfirst plunge into uncharted territory. It’s a series of calculated risks for a group that treaded dangerous waters as a very (popular) one trick pony. Here, the band deals with heavier themes such as life and death. Look no further than the pitch-shifting prowess of “Diane Young” (Get it?) for example. The differences are also textural – the wispy “Step” and soothing synths of “Everlasting Arms” are obvious departures. The big takeaway though – there’s plenty of nuance here when none was ever really expected.

Check out: “Unbelievers”, “Step”, “Everlasting Arms”

10. Disclosure – Settle

The debut by English brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence kind of passed me by on first listen. I didn’t think much of it and shuffled it away pretty quickly.

Then I heard “Latch”, a perfect piece of elastic electro-pop. It turns out that’s just the gateway into the many gifts that this record holds. Jessie Ware drops in for the robot slink of “Confess To Me”, and “F For You” competes with London Grammar on “Help Me Lose My Mind” for the second best hook on the album. I’m going to stop now – play this album and get ready to dance.

Check out: “Latch”, “F For You”, “Confess To Me”

——

Top Songs of 2013:

HAIM – “The Wire”
Drake – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Disclosure – “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Superchunk – “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”
The National – “I Should Live In Salt”
Jason Isbell – “Cover Me Up”
Run the Jewels – “Run The Jewels”
CHVRCHES – “Gun”
John Moreland – “Break My Heart Sweetly”
Laura Marling – “Take The Night Off/I Was An Eagle/You Know/Breathe” (Opening suite)
Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
Zedd – “Clarity (feat. Foxes)”
Jai Paul – “Crush” (Jennifer Paige cover)
Kanye West – “On Sight”
Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”
HAIM – “Forever”
Jason Isbell – “Relatively Easy”
Deafheaven – “Dream House”
Arcade Fire – “Afterlife”
Justin Timberlake – “Mirrors”
Jay-Z feat. Justin Timberlake – “Holy Grail”
The Replacements – “I’m Not Sayin” (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
The National – “Sea of Love”
CHVRCHES – “Recover”
Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
HAIM – “Don’t Save Me”
Neko Case – “Man”
Paul McCartney – “New”
CHVRCHES – “The Mother We Share”
Jason Isbell – “Flying Over Water”
The Dismemberment Plan – “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer”

A Case For Hair Metal

My favorite bar in Baltimore is Rocket to Venus. It’s a hipster enclave smack dab in the middle of the working class neighborhood of Hamden. The people who hang out in Rocket are pretty cool. The jukebox reflects the sophisticated taste of the clientele. John Coltrane, David Bowie, The Replacements, the Descendents all share space in the box. I was there with my friend Brad for happy hour, and we were drinking and having a good time. My hipster guard was up at first, namedropping trendy bands like Los Campesinos!, The Hold Steady and the old standby of Bob Dylan. The drinks continued to flow and I was feeling rather comfortable. I was so comfortable that I forgot to be cool. Suddenly I found myself discussing Faster Pussycat.

Just mentioning Faster Pussycat in hipster circles is bad enough, but I was writing a dissertation. Here is a reenactment.

“I’m telling you Brad, Faster Pussycat’s first album is a CLASSIC! It’s sleazy from start to finish, and most of the songs are about strippers! Their second record, Wake Me When It’s Over, has its moments, but the first one rocks like a motherfucker!”

Brad has been a close associate for several years now, so he is used to my ramblings about hair metal. Most of my friends are. It comes with the territory. If you become friends with me, three things will probably happen.

1. I will ramble about hair metal at least once a week.

2. I will send you a YouTube video link at least once a month. This month’s selection is “When the Children Cry” by White Lion, because the solo is awesome.

3. I will drag you to a show, where you will pretend not to be embarrassed as I pull out old Ratt records for Stephen Pearcy to sign.

Hair metal is the red-headed stepchild of rock n’ roll. Critics hate it, most people grow out of it and today’s generation sees it as a joke. I understand why people make fun of it, because it seems silly and frivolous, especially when compared to Nirvana or Pearl Jam. As a young adult, I understand the need for people to relate to a band. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to listen to a record and say to yourself, “Wow, that guy knows exactly how I feel.” However, if you are looking at hair metal the same way you look at R.E.M., you are missing the point entirely.

I discovered hair metal a decade ago. I was fourteen. I had a crooked spine, bad hair, braces, completely and utterly uncool. I’d never been kissed, never been on a date, never been invited to a real party. I was stuck in the suburbs, a world of carefully manicured lawns and Dave Matthews records. I was pretty unhappy.
Then I bought a record by a band called Poison. My parents had gotten me a generic 80s metal compilation for Easter, and one track stood out. The song was called “Talk Dirty to Me,” and it blew my mind. The song was about the most glorious, dirty, seductive, sinful, carnal sex I could imagine….and they were doing it for fun. It was so catchy that I bought Look What the Cat Dragged In about a week later and I never looked back.

The album is a fantasy from beginning to end. There is no substance to be found. Bret Michaels and the boys party without consequence for about 45 minutes. Whenever I pressed play, the party started. Whenever the party started, I was always invited. I was a huge nerd, but Bret didn’t care. The Crüe didn’t care either, nor did Ratt. Whenever I listened to the records with a friend, they were invited too. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, you were always invited to their party.

During the height of my hair metal fandom, I did not want to be told that my life sucked. I already knew that my life sucked, so why did I need Morrissey to remind me? The music took me outside of suburban normalcy and into the sleazy glamour of the Sunset Strip. I wasn’t John Nagle when I listened to these records, I was Johnny Toxic. Johnny Toxic dated five Playboy Playmates at once, because he could. David Lee Roth considered Johnny Toxic a close personal friend. Johnny Toxic had the tightest pair of leather pants money could buy, with hair that defied gravity. Johnny Toxic didn’t take any shit from bullies, and if he did…his buddies Nikki Sixx and Sebastian Bach were there to back him up. After they kicked the bullies’ ass, they drove around in a hot tub mobile with several scantily clad women, because they were rock stars.

That’s what hair metal gave me. At a time when I felt awkward and unsure of myself, these bands gave me confidence. I’ve never forgotten that.
My tastes have expanded quite a bit in ten years. Poison is no longer my favorite band. Hair metal is no longer my favorite genre. However, I will always defend it, because it played such an important role in my life. Besides, the first Faster Pussycat record still kicks ass, I don’t care what Rolling Stone says.

———-
John Nagle is a music journalist based in Baltimore, Maryland. He has written for Baltimore Metromix, B-More Live and 411Mania.com. You can also check out his blog, Rant N’ Rave With John. Mr. Nagle lives in Timonium, where he occasionally pretends to be Stephen Pearcy in the “Wanted Man” video.