The last couple years I’ve done a column of the Worst of the Year in Music. This is not a normal year. It’s been so bad that the worst of music is, at best, a footnote. So I’m not going to come in here and try to tell you the fact that there hasn’t been a non-fatal concert since February is among the worst things of the year. So this year, and hopefully only this year, I’m not sticking to music. Let’s go month-by-month. Buckle up, because here’s the Worst of 2020 in review.
You’re not gonna believe this, but Donald Trump’s impeachment was this year. No, seriously! In 2020! It started in December 2019 but it was handed off to the Senate to die in January. Of this year.
Why was Trump getting impeached bad? Because the Senate had the chance to end this and put someone in charge who wouldn’t treat a plague like a PR problem! That would have come in handy! But instead they didn’t hear witnesses or treat it with any seriousness whatsoever. Then the rest of 2020 happened.
This was the month the Niners lost the Super Bowl. You didn’t even remember that, did you? That the Niners were in the Super Bowl? No, not the time with Kaepernick. Super Bowl LIV, where Kansas City made the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara look downright foolish. That was this year.
February was also the last time I saw live music in the Bay Area. Raphael Saadiq at the Fox Theater in Oakland, specifically. If I’d have known it would be more than a year until my next one I’d have enjoyed it more.
Oh, March had such promise. I began it in New Orleans, enjoying myself, cracking jokes about this coronavirus thing everyone was all worried about. Silly, foolish me, I assumed the federal government would just run the tried-and-true pandemic playbook they ran for things like ebola and SARS to great effect. Remember the Bird Flu? No, because the playbook worked.
Then, while sitting on a plane waiting for my flight back to the Bay to take off, I got an email that I was potentially exposed to COVID at the conference I was attending. My doctor recommended a 14-day quarantine to make sure I didn’t catch it. Thankfully I did not, but I’m on Month 10 of that 14-day quarantine.
I was supposed to see Pussy Riot at the UC Theatre but it was probably postponed or canceled.
I was supposed to see Rage Against the Machine on April 21 and 23 at Oakland Arena.
I am a huge Rage Against the Machine fan, but I have never seen the band perform. During their heyday I was a minor and, for some reason, my mom didn’t want me going to their shows. I don’t get it myself.
They reunited from 2007 through 2011, but most of that was either out of the U.S. or more expensive than a rookie journalist could afford, so that was also right out. Then I did see most of them as Prophets of Rage, but despite my undying love of Chuck D, it wasn’t quite the same.
So when they announced their Oakland Arena show I actually waited in digital line to buy tickets, and ended up with tickets to the second night. I also put in for a review ticket for the first night. I thought this may be my last chance. “They may never reunite again, so I need to cover my bases! What are the odds they’ll cancel two shows!?”
What I’m saying is I’m sorry, the pandemic is my fault.
On May 25, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis for eight minutes and 46 seconds as he repeatedly pleaded for his life. Floyd died under Chauvin’s knee. While he was by no means the first Black man to die at a police officer’s hand, the bystander video of those excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds were the last straw for millions of people.
The protests began the next day, quickly spread around the country, and eventually around the world. There were still protests going on in October. Police responded to the protests with disproportionate force and chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions from being used at war.
Black people are still being killed by police to this day. All the token gestures by those in power, the murals on the street and the kneeling in solidarity, led to no meaningful actions.
The month was dominated by the increasingly widespread protests, which quickly expanded scope from opposing police violence to seeking racial justice in a general sense. Statues were toppled in multiple nations. It didn’t amount to much but it was a nice distraction from the ongoing plague.
And we did! We forgot about the pandemic for most of June! There were rumblings on social media that, gasp, what if COVID wasn’t the “Story of the Year?” What if we got it wrong and the pandemic was a flash in the pan? We bent the curve! Remember bending the curve, the holy grail of public health? We did it! The story is protests now!
In late June the U.S. death toll hit 125,000 people and we were horrified that it had gotten so high. We were so young then, back in June.
Literally nobody remembers July.
It’s true, ask around. We collectively blacked out for the entire month. It’s a blank spot in our memories. The stresses piled up and we all subconsciously agreed to just skip it.
I did look it up to see if anything happened while we were in our comas or whatever, and apparently that was the month in which Instagram influencers all posted black and white selfies with the #ChallengeAccepted hashtag for… some reason. I don’t think anyone asked. July was the month Instagram finally stopped pretending they cared about a cause and just made something up as an excuse to post another selfie.
July was truly our most normal of months.
I haven’t mentioned music in a while. Nothing could have possibly happened in music that was so bad it even registered over the summer. But now I’ve got one. Outside Lands should have been held this month. It would have been my fourth straight as a reporter. I have a love-hate relationship with Outside Lands; I love it before and after the fact, but I hate it while I’m there. It’s either too hot or too cold, often both in the same day, and walking about 25 miles while writing nearly 10,000 words over a long weekend is a difficult combination even if you don’t have arthritis in your knees and back.
This year I was trapped at home for the sixth straight month. Being miserable in a different place for different reasons sounded really good.
Back in the real world, Jacob Blake was shot by Kenosha, Wisconsin police. This, tragically, isn’t unusual; there’s an entire Wikipedia page just for killings by law enforcement in August 2020. But this one was notable for two reasons.
First, a 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse brought an assault rifle to the resulting protests and murdered two people in front of a crowd of witnesses. Rather than condemning the multiple homicides, the right wing hailed him as a hero. In a year of sickening displays, the effusive wave of support for someone who gunned down two people in cold blood was a new standard.
Second, professional athletes refused to play. For three days there just weren’t sports. It was an astonishing act of solidarity that got an immediate response from elected officials, who forgot about all the promises they made as soon as the athletes started playing again.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. That by itself was sad enough—she was a pioneer of women’s rights and a towering figure in not just law but American society—but what made it sadder is that her dying wish was for Trump not to appoint her successor, and that was not honored.
Instead, we got a profoundly unqualified new Justice and appointed to a lifetime term in a confirmation hearing that was such a sham the nominee didn’t even bother to bring notes. It was all a formality. Her dearth of judicial experience or controversial views didn’t matter; it was rubber-stamped without a second thought.
Then, in an unprecedented move, the newly installed Supreme Court justice celebrated with the President in the White House Rose Garden. The party was a COVID superspreader event.
In music news, The Uptown in Oakland closed. As much as it stings to see a music venue close, especially one of the relatively few in Oakland, it could have been worse. Early on in the pandemic there were fears of widespread decimation of independent venues which, at least in the Bay Area, at least for the most part, didn’t come to pass. Part of this was the meager stimulus and the changing dynamics of the plague landscape, part of it was the ingenuity of venue owners finding new ways to make ends meet, but part of it was the work of newly founded trade groups like NIVA fighting the good fight to make sure there’s somewhere to go see shows when this is all done.
Oh, and one more thing to make up for that brief interlude of optimism and sincerity: Remember when the sky turned blood red for like three days in September? Because I didn’t! I had to be reminded about waking up to a bright red sky! That says a whole lot about the quality of this year that I could forget something that unnerving and traumatic after, like, three months. Most of the state was on fire, thousands were displaced and losing their homes. It looked like the End of Days, and it just kinda just blended into the endless wave of constant horrors. What would have been the biggest, worst story in literally any year since 2001… didn’t cross my mind.
High school history classes in the future are not going to believe any of this is real.
Most surprisingly, the Presidential campaigns did not dominate the conversation in an election year. Apparently there really is something that can overshadow the campaign cycle.
The first debate was in September, and it was a disaster. The President of the United States looked like a complete fool. Then he caught COVID but refused to debate remotely, because apparently actually having an extremely contagious disease isn’t enough reason to not shout in a room full of people. There was another Presidential debate but nobody with any sense watched it.
There was also a Vice Presidential debate, in which a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head and stayed there for an uncomfortably long time. Remember the fly? The fly was all the rage for about a week. Oh how we fixated on that fly. We laughed and laughed, because the coup hadn’t started yet.
In retrospect this was all completely obvious. Of course Trump would lose, and of course Trump would refuse to accept he lost.
But for some reason, possibly self-defense, we refused to acknowledge the lengths Trump would go to in an effort to overturn the results of the election. He was clearly willing to tear the entire American system of government to the ground. Fortunately for the American system of government, he sent the world’s dumbest man to do it.
Immediately after his loss Trump dispatched Rudy Giuliani to handle the lawsuits he planned to use to overturn the will of the people through the courts. Giuliani was, of course, coming off an incident in which he was filmed with his hand down his pants in a hotel room with a woman he thought was underage for a movie, which was pretty much the tone throughout the process.
Giuliani held a press conference in front of the warehouse for Four Seasons Total Landscaping rather than the Four Seasons Hotel. He claimed to be a member of the District of Colombia Bar Association despite having his membership suspended for non-payment of fees. He spent an entire press conference with hair dye running down his face. His team blamed Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro for the supposed fraud despite both those men being extremely dead.
Make no mistake, it was all a coup attempt. It’s a legitimate, sincere attempt to overthrow the government of the United States of America. It just happens to be perpetrated by utter and complete morons. But that doesn’t make it any less terrifying, because it’s still going and it has the support of millions of heavily armed people.
And that brings us to now. Trump and his clown car of doofuses are still committing sedition. COVID death totals topped 300,000 and are due to rise fast thanks to a lot of profoundly foolish holiday travel. Armed gangs are roving American streets vandalizing predominantly Black churches. It’s still all the apocalypses from every dystopian novel happening at the same time.
That said, there are glimmers of hope. The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are being administered. Biden formally won the Presidency in an Electoral College vote that’s usually purely ceremonial but this year was legitimate news because of the coup attempt. It’s entirely possible that in 2021 the United States will at least stabilize, if not improve slightly.
At the very least, if next year is as bad as this year, I won’t have to write another of these columns. There will be no Internet, or electricity. You’ll be able to find me roving the wasteland, spikes welded to my car, probably starting some sort of cult. I’ll have to shout the things I dislike at my acolytes from atop my steel throne.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.