A unique feature of the destabilizing, horrifying Great Interruption of the past year and a half (and counting) is that it has nudged so many of us into a period of protracted introspection and reassessment. Superficially, we've discovered the wonders of sourdough starter and urban gardening, but beneath the surface something more significant has been going on. Especially during those long, pre-vaccine months of sheltering in place, it became somewhere between interesting and necessary to recalibrate, to inventory what we value, to look at who and what we surround ourselves with, and why.
Part of this process for me has involved a careful survey of what is literally on my shelves, which includes an ungainly collection of music housed on old media: vinyl, CDs and cassettes. I've deliberately reached for albums with which I have distant, uncertain relationships, producing new revelations. Foolishly, I'd dismissed Randy Newman as a Hollywood lightweight, but a return to the sharp, subversive danger of his 1974 album "Good Old Boys," and the more recent "Dark Matter" from 2017, reminded me of his particular genius. The magnificent gospel compilation set "Goodbye, Babylon" from 2003 bathed me again in its heavenly glow every time I put it on, making me wonder why I'd ever consigned it to mothballs. Similarly, both Sun Ra and the Shaggs found their way back from the nether regions of my stacks and into regular rotation once again, each now making more sense than ever. And it had been too long since I'd spent time with Scott Joplin's opera "Treemonisha"; the relevance of its poignant, resilient finale, "A Real Slow Drag," gave me goosebumps.