Song of 2020: I Know The End

Somewhere in Germany
but I can’t place it
Man, I hate this part of Texas

The comic sense of dislocation that opens I Know The End lands us right in 2020. Few of us have ventured far this year yet familiar surroundings have acquired darker hues as we’re confined with an oscillating mix of panic, fear, boredom and, on the good days, contentment. There are millions of people who’ve had it worse. We’re reminded of it every day. So there’s an odd guilt present too.

Phoebe Bridgers is queer and I think there’s a queer specificity in the alienation-you-have-to-laugh-at that permeates her songs. That’s been present in the pandemic too. Queer bars aren’t just places we go to drink, they’re places where we go to at least feel welcome and safe and, really, to find a sense of ourselves that we feel comfortable with after years growing up where that often seemed beyond our reach. Queers don’t need to hear the Queen telling us ‘we will meet again’ – we need to be together, dancing to our queens. There are lots of pop records I’ve loved in 2020 and I’ll never experience them ‘unfiltered’, as it were, on a dancefloor. When I’m finally able to hear them in The Glory, they will already be at least months old, and they’ll forever be The Pandemic Songs We Danced To In Our Rooms.

When I get back I’ll lay around
Then I’ll get up and lay back down
Romanticize a quiet life
There’s no place like my room

It’s been a fucked up time. However much we may enjoy our own company, being unable to socialise in order to ward off death, whether yours or other people’s, is not something we could ever have prepared for. What’s made the pandemic particularly cruel is that, in this strange time of forced separation, we’ve faced an onslaught of the stresses that we all endure at some point. Turbo-charged and tossed at us like confetti. Like so many others, I went through a redundancy process at work. I kept my job but with a workload that’s the most demanding I’ve ever experienced. My boyfriend lost the job he’s had for his entire adult life. My dad got ill and has been in and out of hospital. Christmas was the one time I was expecting to be able to see my parents and the government cancelled this with less than a week’s notice. It’s tough. It’s tough. What else can you do but try and find, or invent, some positives from being stuck at home? There’s no place like my room.

But you had to go, I know, I know, I know
Like a wave that crashed and melted on the shore
Not even the burnouts are out here anymore
And you had to go, I know, I know, I know

Phoebe Bridgers’ plaintive, delicate delivery here speaks to an ache inside me. Grief for things lost, yearning for better times, an understanding that I’ve had almost no control over any of this. A hope that this, too, shall pass.

So I gotta go, I know, I know, I know
When the sirens sound, you’ll hide under the floor
But I’m not gonna go down with my hometown in a tornado
I’m gonna chase it, I know, I know, I know
I gotta go now, I know, I know, I know

We are, together but apart, living through a historical disaster. Just trying to survive is enough, whatever that means for each of us. And we’ve had to learn, and keep learning, to go easy on ourselves. Sometimes the yearning ache for life has been so overpowering that we’ve wanted to race out onto the streets and hug the nearest stranger. By and large, though, that sense of reckless abandon has only been directed inwards, as we second-guess ourselves, feed our sense of guilt, want to scream like Meryl. We’re surviving and that’s enough. A thought that snaps me into focus when I get lost in the certainty that none of this makes sense, and none of this is fair. We’re surviving and that’s enough.

Driving out into the sun
Let the ultraviolet cover me up

I mean, we’re going to get through this. We have to get through this. Then you remember climate change really hitting, in the sense of irrevocably changing the life of everyone on the planet, in our lifetimes. And it’s hard not to think, ‘fuck this’.

Windows down, heater on
Big bolt of lightning hanging low
Over the coast, everyone’s convinced
It’s a government drone or an alien spaceship

I’m not sure if beliefs in conspiracy theories, and distrust of traditionally ‘authoritative’ sources, is greater than it’s ever been or it’s just never been easier for us to hear about it. It was going to very dark places even before the pandemic, and political expressions like Trump and Brexit seem barely anything more than anti-human cults. Yet after this year, it’s difficult to get particularly worked up at people who distrust authority to quite extreme degrees. Our government has chosen to use the pandemic to enrich its class with cronyism and corruption placed well, well above the population’s survival, both in terms of actually being alive and also being able to live a good life. Yet on both sides of the Atlantic this has been set against the inflaming of a petty, nativist nationalism which sees large swathes of people actually cheering it on because they somehow believe governments stuffed with millionaires are actually anti-government. Aliens don’t sound too bad in comparison. The end is here.

Either way, we’re not alone
I’ll find a new place to be from
A haunted house with a picket fence
To float around and ghost my friends

To return to the particular cruelties of the pandemic, we’ve been forced apart due to reasons that have meant we need each other more than ever. So we devised new ways to relate. Friends became faces on a screen as we chatted, quizzed and experienced the uniquely 21st century buzz of getting drunk on Zoom. Good friends are the ghosts of our past, our present and our yet-to-be and even in digital form, they’re worth more than we understood a year ago. Even if sometimes, you just pretend you’re having internet troubles. We’re all going to be scarred by this. If we can all speak openly of these scars, maybe it won’t seem so bad?

No, I’m not afraid to disappear
The billboard said “The End Is Near”
I turned around, there was nothing there
Yeah, I guess the end is here

I don’t need to say much about how this captures 2020, do I? The absurd thing being that it’s perfectly possible, maybe even likely, that we’ll experience years even more apocalyptic than this one. The end is here.

But what else are we going to do? Let’s keep living.

Songs of 2020