the “decade’s” best

"Father Time" engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi (circa 1470)

Is it purely pendantic? Or, a mere matter of semantics? I don’t think so.

I know it’s not that folks can’t count, and I’m convinced it’s not a simple matter of mass delusion, either. Although that explanation may actually come closer to the truth than anything else.

What else accounts for the curious phenomena of premature celebration that happens every time the calendar approaches a new decade or century (or millennium)?

Think back to the buildup to the year 2000. Yes, it was certainly something to be alive at a time when we went from noting the year in “19s” to “20s”. It felt special. It was special. But despite the misinformation that many sources kept pushing out, I hold with the camp that the year 2000 was NOT the beginning of the new century NOR the new millennium. That did not happen until the big silver ball in Times Square dropped a year later, at the start of 2001.

(Funny, but I’d swear I can actually hear the sound of eyes rolling right now! Bear with me. Please.)

So here we are at the end of 2009 and the “end of the first decade of the new millennium” lists have already started appearing, even though we still have a whole year ahead before the first decade actually ends. That’s all fine and well, in a sense – a lot of remarkable music and art has been created in the last nine years. It should be acknowledged. But before we can start creating these definitive “best of the first decade” lists, shouldn’t we give the final year of this decade a chance to make its mark first? Who knows WHAT will happen in 2010? It would be a shame to categorically exclude 2010’s contributions because all of the surveys happened a year early, here at the end of 2009.

It is a bit surprising how widespread the “2009-is-the-end-of-the-first-decade” buzz actually is among some fairly high profile media and pop culture contributors, like these:

– From WBUR, the On Point program from this past week devoted to “The End of the ’00s” (which is true, we are coming to the end of the years marked by an ‘0’. That does NOT make the end of 2009 the end of the millennium’s first decade! Come on, Tom, we expect better journalism from you.)

– From NPR, The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings (whose introductory paragraph begins with this erroneous opening statement, “With the first decade of the new millennium coming to a close, we decided to compile a list of the 50 most important recordings of the past 10 years…” )

…and then there are also the regular ol’ “end of the decade lists”, here are a few:

– WNYC’s program Soundcheck, reviewing the Decade in Jazz and World music

– From the Guardian UK, The Observer Music Monthly’s Top 50 Albums of the Decade

– ABC News’ “End of the Decade” survey

Personally I advocate celebrating the beginning of every new year like it’s the new millennium. Calendars are just another relatively meaningless form of subjective, human-designed time management anyway, right? And life itself is reason enough to celebrate. But in the effort of consistency (and acknowledging the indisputable fact that we’ve universally accepted the Gregorian calendar to keep track of our time) I’m not sure why, as a society, we’d consciously choose to stop short on this not insignificant point of accuracy: the second millennium’s first decade does not conclude until Dec. 31st, 2010.

Best wishes to you for the new year, starting later this week, and for the start of the millennium’s second decade – when it arrives a year from now.


  • Celebrating the start of the new millennium in 2001 may have been accurate, but you may recall it was far from being the popular position. Douglas Adams approached the topic in his own, typically wry way: check out Adams’ “timeline” of millennial celebrations.
  • As the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke would seem a natural expert on the topic. He celebrated the start of the new millenium on Jan. 1, 2001 at his home in Sri Lanka
  • Australia’s prime minister John Howard was voted “biggest party pooper of the century” by many of the country’s newspapers, when he advocated for national millennial celebrations to be scheduled for new year’s eve on Dec. 31st, 2000. Love that!

Ed. NOTE, 12/31/09: Just to be clear, the problem here is not someone stating that Dec. 31st, 2009 is the “end of a decade”. By definition, a “decade” is a ten-year period of time. Any 10-year period. Feel free to claim the “end of a decade” every Dec. 31st if you need to hang on to that milestone to create a “best of” music list, or for any other reason you choose. BUT – Dec. 31st, 2009 is NOT the “end of the first decade of this millennium“. That’s where the declamation runs an indisputable factual roadblock…we have another year to enjoy the first decade of the second millennium, so let’s just relax, hold off on the “best of the first decade of the second millennium” surveys for now and let’s see what the next year has in store for us. Around this time next year, we can take a look back with the full perspective of 10 years time and assess what the “best of” lists should hold as we review the first decade of the millennium. Happy new year!

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