Music

Year in Review: So, How Was Your 2020, Rhett Miller?

So, How Was Your 2020? is a series in which our favorite entertainers answer our questionnaire about the music, culture and memorable moments that shaped their year. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.

2020 found the Old 97’s making a new album under conditions that encapsulated this disastrous year: Recording in Nashville amid a devastating tornado and on the precipice of a deadly pandemic. The resulting LP was Twelfth, released this summer, but frontman Rhett Miller still found time to do things in quarantine, like hosting his Wheels Off podcast, binging on The Queen’s Gambit, reconnecting with a Pavement classic and marveling at Kevin Morby’s recent Sundowner.

The album I listened to the most in 2020 was:
Kevin Morby’s Sundowner is the perfect album for this year. The song “Campfire” dropped first and when I heard him sing “Thought that I saw Jessi, she was sitting in a crowd/Thought that I saw Jessi, then I got to feeling proud/To ever have known someone so pretty and so sweet/Who every-time she sang a song, it’d sweep me off my feet,” I just knew he was singing about Jessi Zazu of Those Darlins. I felt like it was my first real cry of the pandemic and I needed it. When the whole album finally rolled out, it became my go-to album of this weird era.

My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:
I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit like everyone else, but really the most fun I’ve had in front of the TV during all of this has been joining my 14-year-old daughter Soleil as she rewatches Gilmore Girls. So many of my friends pop up as actors and soundtrack contributors, it feels like I’m back at Largo in Hollywood at the turn of the millennium.

The song that will define “2020” for me is:
In addition to “Campfire,” the song that I’ll forever connect to this strange year is Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Night Rider’s Lament.” I learned it at the behest of my friend Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadors who was kind enough to make a setlist for the Friday Friends portion of my programming on StageIt, where I do four shows a week from my basement office these days. The lyrics of that song examine the lonely life of a cowboy, but they feel like they’re really about a traveling musician, which is what I’ve been since I dropped out of college so many years ago. Since that part of my life has been suspended, I miss it more than I ever imagined I would. Then old Jerry Jeff went and died and, well, now it’s all even sadder.

I’d define my current state of mind as:
Hell-bent on identifying and appreciating silver-linings. The good thing is they’re everywhere. Extra time with my two teenagers. Figuring out a way to stream shows from home that’s given me a job during all of this. The perspective that all this gives me when I’m feeling down. The simplicity of focusing on one day, even one moment, at a time.

The viral video I kept coming back to in quarantine was:
My friend Cat Popper posted a video of a dude with a Les Paul falling sideways off his chair into an upright piano. She’s an excellent source of content, as well as a killer bassist, also she has a sweet new song out called “Maybe It’s All Right” that’s an strong contender for best song of 2020.

The old-favorite album I returned to for comfort this year was:
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain by Pavement spoke to me this year for some reason. I hadn’t listened to it much since I wore it out upon its release, yet upon revisiting it I realized I remembered every word and lick and groove perfectly. Comfort food for my ears.

The old-favorite movie I returned to for comfort this year was:
Finally getting to introduce Waiting For Guffman to my teenagers was a particularly fun thing to do this year. Now the whole family can sing “Nothing Ever Happens On Mars” together as we experience the flat circle that is time during this pandemic.

A new hobby I picked up in quarantine was:
During an interview for my Wheels Off podcast, Brian Koppelman talked about his love of The Artist’s Way, and I realized that I’d had that book on my shelf for 15 years without reading it. I rectified that and I’m so glad I did. I now write Morning Pages daily or almost-daily. It’s a great way to wake up my mind and work through my anxieties.

The celebrity I’d most want to quarantine with is:
I’ve been enjoying Andy Richter’s Three Questions podcast and I think he’d be pretty fun to have around. He’s a sweet guy and he’s got a great laugh.

The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was:
I got the recipe for the vanilla cupcakes made by Magnolia Bakery in NYC, as well as their buttercream frosting. I’ve enjoyed making those, though now I realize that the most interesting thing I’ve learned to cook this year is literally “vanilla.”

The best book I read in quarantine was:
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell is brilliant. It’s hard to write about music and musicians and he did a great job.

Something positive that happened to me that nobody noticed was:
I became my poodle Ziggy’s favorite person in the house. All it took was feeding him every meal and letting him sleep on my legs.

The mistake I learned the most from this year was:
You can’t set your frame rate too high on your OBS desktop client when you’re streaming shows from your basement office. The fact that I even kind of understand that sentence is a testament to the utter weirdness of 2020.

The biggest hero of 2020 was:
Dolly Parton? Kamala Harris? My wife for putting up with my being home for the first long-stretch of my adult life?

A word or phrase I never want to hear again is:
“Unprecedented.” Has that been everyone’s answer?

The thing I’m least looking forward to in 2021 is:
The long winter months in the Northeast trapped indoors before the vaccine gets wide distribution and human interaction once again normalizes. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is:
Playing the songs off our new album Twelfth with my bandmates in Old 97’s in front of packed crowds of happy people who will have all come together to celebrate music. God, I miss that. And them. And it’s a great record. And we are first and foremost a live rock band. So… that can’t happen soon enough.

My biggest hope for 2021 is:
My biggest hope for 2021 is to make it down to Texas to hug my sweet mom. I miss her.

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