Death was the main character of the past year, and, like knife fodder in a slasher film, we ran, hid, and isolated in the hope of clinching the crown of final girl: the one who survives the carnage. We woke up every day and read, fretted, and argued about death. We obsessed over mortality rates. We mourned personal friends and public figures. We united—to the extent that such a thing remained possible in a society splintering into fiefdoms of accepted and unaccepted truths—around the question of how to carry ourselves in the shadow of certain doom. Revelers partied in defiance of it; distancing flourished because of it. Auteurs made art that, to use one of the year’s favored turns of phrase, “hit different” because of our circumstances.
Last month, Paul McCartney released McCartney III, an album recorded in isolation at his home studio in Sussex in the quiet of quarantine. It’s the latest in a series of albums that classic-rock legends— including Ozzy Osbourne and Bruce Springsteen—released in 2020. At any other time, this output might scan as business as usual; one thing old-timers are going to do is worry that the best of life is in the rearview. But these albums confronted the veteran rockers’ mortality, each in its own way taking the pulse of what motivates us all these days.
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