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So, How Was Your 2020, Sharon Van Etten?

Singer-songwriter talks revisiting Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, making bagels, and crying to Steel Magnolias in quarantine

Ryan Pfluger*

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.

Before she found herself making bagels at home, Sharon Van Etten was scheduled to embark on a tour last spring followed by a trek opening for the National. The pandemic, of course, squashed those plans, but Van Etten made the best use of her time in quarantine — performing her 2009 debut for a benefit livestream, covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” for National Suicide Prevention Month in September, and getting in the holiday spirit with some Christmas classics.

At home in Los Angeles, Van Etten has been listening to Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head with her son, reading Susan Burton’s memoir Becoming Ms Burton, and crying to Steel Magnolias. The singer-songwriter also tells us about anticipating her anticipation to have her son and the grandparents embrace once the pandemic ends and her hopes for 2021.

The album I listened to the most in 2020 was:
Roy Orbison “Mystery Girl” — the melodies feel so good to sing. My new songs are feeling in this direction at the moment.

My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:
Mandalorian. Our son’s new obsession is Star Wars, and me and my partner are catching up. It’s been fun to watch together.

The song that will define “2020” for me is:
YG & Nipsy Hussle’s “FDT” (Fuck Donald Trump).

I’d define my current state of mind as:
The practice of being adaptable.

The viral video I kept coming back to in quarantine was:
Donald Trump’s legal team press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The old-favorite album I returned to for comfort this year was:
Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head. Beastie Boys were huge for me in high school and my son heard a song of theirs on the radio and freaked out. We listen on the way to school to get him pumped and he air drums and asks what “scratching” is and we laugh.

The old-favorite movie I returned to for comfort this year was:
Steel Magnolias. Sometimes you just want to cry about something else.

A new hobby I picked up in quarantine was:
Home organization. As most of my friends and family know, I am the stereotypical Pisces/”artist” that leaves piles and to-do lists everywhere… the act of organizing without being organized. I excel at that. I recently bought glass jars and shelves for my cabinets. Learning what we eat as a family on a regular basis is a skill. I wasn’t born with it. Meal planning is hard!

The celebrity I’d most want to quarantine with is:
Bill Murray.

The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was:
Bagels. Having lived in NJ/NY for so long, I miss the hell out of a bagel. I like a spot out here, (Belle’s Bagels) but I wanted to learn the process. Still learning how to use yeast… but my first attempt at an everything bagel was C+ so hopefully gets better from here.

The best book I read in quarantine was:
Susan Burton’s memoir, Becoming Ms Burton. I discovered her through an online sociology course I took this summer. There was an interview with her on Democracy Now! I was so moved. Formerly incarcerated herself, she helps women newly released from prison by putting a roof over their head, helping them receive therapy, training and camaraderie. She works out of Southern California and I hope to be more active with the organization in the coming years.

Something positive that happened to me that nobody noticed was:
I am getting quality family time after working a lot in 2019. I’m able to be present and nest and let my roots grow.

The mistake I learned the most from this year was:
Definitely make the ice cream mixture the day before you try and churn it.

The biggest hero of 2020 was:
All of the essential workers who are busting their ass day and night for their communities.

A word or phrase I never want to hear again is:

The thing I’m least looking forward to in 2021 is:
Tempering my optimism with patience and caution.

The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is:
Watching the grandparents and our son embrace for the first time since December 2019. Real hugs.

My biggest hope for 2021 is:
Things keep getting better, and we all keep working together towards “the better” together.

From Rolling Stone US