Things That Eased the Pain in 2018

Goddamn, this year felt like a decade. Between the unending chaotic fuckery of Donald Trump and the polluted stream of information that is constantly flowing through our brains via our various screens, we are reaching a point of saturation where the sweet kiss of an asteroid would be a relief. Barring something that quick and cataclysmic (as opposed to the creeping cataclysm of climate change), we have needed our fixes of peace, things that can jack right into the pleasure center and tell us, "Spend some time in this other world for a little while."

So, in 2018, here are some of the things that made it all just a bit more tolerable:

1. Live comedy was a motherfuckin' salve. When I saw Marc Maron at the Beacon Theatre last month, his full-blown return to political comedy led to one of the funniest riffs on the hypocrisy of the Christian right that I've ever heard. It was so savage and crude and cathartic that I thought I'd pass out from laughing. Yes, John Mulaney's "horse in a hospital" bit was amazing, but Maron's starts with Mike Pence contemplating sucking cock and then it gets absurdly filthy.

For a sheer, bludgeoning rush of stand-up power, the tight ten that Robert Kelly did one night at the Comedy Cellar in April couldn't be beat, and Lynne Koplitz (who, full disclosure, is an old friend), on the same bill, unleashed a torrent of hilarious self-deprecation that ultimately was about how the culture around her judges middle-aged women. Some sublime shit there.

2. Continuing with the live stuff, big and small, Beck's big, visually impressive show at Madison Square Garden in July was a total grown-up dance party. On a smaller scale, Mitski's impassioned, artsy performance at Brooklyn Steel earlier this month was a powerful reminder of how you can feel music in your bones. Courtney Barnett's rain-soaked summer concert at Prospect Park was a raw display of guitar god shredding. And I finally got to see Foo Fighters, who have embraced all the cheesy rock cliches and come out with an awesome blast of a show, powered by Dave Grohl's obvious delight in being there, playing for us. For bliss upon bliss, listening to a group of Cajun musicians jam together while drinking beer and eating boudin at the Bayou Teche Brewery in Arnaudville, Louisiana, was about as fine a way to laze away an afternoon as I could conceive.

3. The albums that I've listened to endlessly this year are Historian by Lucy Dacus, which is a journey into heartache that moves from gorgeous hushes to gut-punching wails; and Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae, a friggin' masterclass in the history of modern black music, like most every Prince record was. Speaking of journeys, Alejandro Escovedo's The Crossing took the immigrant experience and the American experience and merged them into a gorgeous and brutal concept album. I could go on and on with all the great music released this year, like Father John Misty's God's Favorite Customer, his best album since his first; Kacey Musgraves's Golden Hour, her best album since her first; not to mention the new ones by Parquet Courts, Let's Eat Grandma, Noname, and the Decemberists, as well as the aforementioned Mitski, Beck, and Courtney Barnett.

4. I'm a theatre geek for plays (not much of a musical guy), and this year I got to fulfill a bit of a dream in seeing a live production of Amadeus, which was done with an onstage orchestra that moved in and out of scenes in an epic, huge, marvelous performance at the National Theatre in London. Also in London, the Bridge Theatre put on a vital, energized modern-dress Julius Caesar with David Morrissey as Mark Antony and Michelle Fairley as Cassius, where the we in the audience were the raging crowd in Rome, shoved and manipulated by Caesar's soldiers, forced into hiding during war.

In New York, the bracing and expansive production of Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman (which came from London) brought together the violence of myths and the violence of history and its effects on one Irish family. Two productions at the tiny Soho Rep were hypertheatrical examinations of race in a United States that can't get past its past: Is God Is by Aleshea Harris, about two scarred sisters on a journey to kill their father, and Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury, about a middle-class black family that literally turned the audience into the show. I also loved Yerma, in a massive staging at the Park Armory, and Hurricane Party, a balls-to-the-wall old fashioned theatre throwdown with sex, drugs, and violence.

5. TV? Fuck, where to start? The Americans had one of the best last seasons and finales of any show ever. Homecoming was a great mystery inside a mind fuck, with a performance by Julia Roberts that made you say, "Whoa, I forgot that she's this fucking good." If you're not watching The Good Place, you're just an idiot. Same with Bojack Horseman and Better Call Saul. Atlanta was so great that it essentially created its own genre. The Terror was a genuinely frightening, genuinely moving historical horror show. GLOW, Maniac, and Barry all took their plots and characters in exciting, novel directions. And my favorite new show this year was Killing Eve, with its two immediately indelible leading characters and more great plot twists than Agatha Christie on a bender.

6. And, hell, just go see or download or on-demand or stream: Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Mission Impossible: Fallout, BlacKkKlansman, Revenge, A Quiet Place, and Isle of Dogs. And if you haven't seen Black Panther, the fuck is wrong with you? (I'd put Hereditary and First Reformed in here, but they are both just traumatizing, so they don't exactly ease any pain.)

7. Finally, a couple of podcasts (other than Serial and In the Dark, which this season are just essential listening): One of the funniest damn things I've heard this year is Done Disappeared, a satire of true-crime podcasts that had its second season. Its host, John David Booter, is blissfully unaware of his ego running amok, and his ridiculous cases (like solving a crime that had already been solved) are immensely entertaining. And, finally, the second season of Limetown dropped. The first season is still one of the best fictional podcasts I've heard, and the second takes a couple of episodes to get back to the character studies of people tortured by the ability to read minds that made it so great, but when it does, it becomes as dark and compelling as a great mystery novel.

You know what I didn't do much of this year? Read books. It's like the relentless need to stay on top of the news overwhelmed my instinct to read for pleasure. A fuckin' shame I hope to rectify in the new year. (Although The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay was a great, discomfiting novel about a family that must decide if the world really is about to end.)

I want to be able to take in all this shit without the lingering anxiety that pervades everything now. I want us all to be feel free to get our rocks off without wondering if it's all in vain. But, at the very least, this bread, these circuses allowed me to put myself in other spaces in my own very cluttered head.