Monthly Archives: December 2016

Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye.

The end of year review is something of a trope. A chance to look back on the previous 12 months and muse on all that has happened. From newspapers to radio, to television news, everyone wants to get in on the act.  Why anyone in their right mind would want to waste the energy of even a single neuron on 2016  is beyond my comprehension, not that it’s going to stop me. Besides,  I want to get this done before anything else happens to bring us even lower.

I will gloss over the political aspects of the year, as both Brexit and the U.S. presidential election defy both understanding and reflection. They merely add grist to the mill of the old saw that the search for intelligent life in the universe must continue, as there’s bugger all sign of it on Earth. The theme of this year has been loss, and  it is on loss that I wish to dwell. Particularly that of loss in the music world. You may have worked out from oh, every single one of my post titles, that I am a music fan. Music has always been a part of my life, and a damn important one at that, so with no further ado, let’s get to it.

Of course, I have to start with the biggies. There is nothing that I can say about David Bowie that hasn’t been said already and much more eloquently than I could ever manage, but  I do have to reflect on the impact the news had on me. I was in a different job then, and had plenty of time to read the online news, so you can imagine my utter shock and disbelief upon reading of Bowie’s passing. Of course, I knew nothing of his illness, and it came like a punch to the solar plexus. A little later that morning, our delivery guy Richard arrived for his regular pick up of boxes, and we just stared at each other in disbelief. He is as big a music fan as I am, and we would regularly chat about our favourite bands and artists whenever he came by. But that day, we just exchanged “WTF?” stares and shook our heads.

There never was, nor will there ever be anyone like Bowie. No one could ever come close to his level of talent, ability for reinvention or originality.  Admittedly, I’m not keen on his work from “Let’s Dance” onward ( Black Star excepted), and I never paid attention to Tin Machine, but he left us so many seminal albums that any temporary lapse of genius can be forgiven.

Likewise Prince.  I only had the Black Album and a greatest hits tape, but even I could see the genius of the Minneapolis Midget. I know that overdosing is a very rock and roll way to go, but to die as a result of taking prescription  meds taken for injuries sustained whilst performing is just too much.  Had they been the only musical deaths of the year, that would have been bad enough, but of course, 2016 just hates us, so the list got longer.  Again, Motorhead were never my kind of band, but anyone with even minimally functioning hearing – most Motorhead fans, if truth be told – has to admit that “Ace of Spades” and “Bomber” are classic tracks. Lemmy was unmistakable, and whilst certainly no Ginger Baker, Phil Taylor was a ground breaking drummer. His style set the groundwork for thrash metal, and anyone who can kick start a new style, no matter how incomprehensible to most people, has to be accepted as a true talent.

It’s not my intention to catalogue all those we’ve lost, far greater sources have done that: http://blog.kexp.org/2016/12/14/to-those-we-lost-in-2016-part-one/ , but I feel honour-bound to continue.  No one would regard Leonard Cohen as a great vocalist, but his distinctive gravel growl combined with his wordsmithing made life much richer for so many people. I don’t begrudge Bob Dylan’s literature Nobel prize, but if Dylan could win one, Cohen should have been hip deep in them. I came to Cohen late in life, but haven’t regretted a second spent listening to him. His death, even though he was a good age really did mark  rock bottom in so many ways.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse. Of course it did. What did I expect, that the year would give us a break? How fucking stupid do you think I am? Actually, please don’t answer that last question. On a Friday not too long ago I set off to pick my daughter up from her riding lesson. Of course, the radio was tuned to KEXP and I was delighted to hear Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ version of “This Land Is Your Land”. It was too good to be true as  just after the song ended, the DJ announced her passing earlier that day. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!  You know how in every cartoon Wile E. Coyote will be pummeled by a deluge of rocks or other suitably heavy objects? The torrent stops and a suitably bruised Wile E. pops his head out of the pile only to have one last, immense boulder strike him with great force. Well, this is what it felt like that day.

Sharon Jones was a singer who could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money. I first heard her on “Sound Opinions” and instantly got hold of every item of her back catalogue I could.  She was an artist who on first hearing you just knew was a rare  talent. I can’t tell you how quickly I wrote down her name- probably before the track was four bars old.  Soul music is much, much poorer for her death. As indeed, are we all. She was the special guest at the opening of KEXPs’ new home, and although she and the Dap Kings played for only 30 minutes, it was such an energy packed performance that it could have powered a city for a month. I never had the opportunity to see her perform, and now, I never will. It is one thing that I really regret. Seriously.

Merle Haggard had a long, successful career, and to die at just 74 ( no great age these days) seems cruel. Any man who can start a song with a line like “I turned twenty one in prison doing life without parole” had a lot going for him.

It’s not just music that got hammered this year. Gene Wilder is a talent that can’t be replaced. Just watch any of his films and I dare you not to laugh. “Blazing Saddles” is still funny. Offensive, crude, vulgar for sure, but still a movie to have anyone with a pulse laughing out loud no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. Likewise “The Producers” and “Stir Crazy”. “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” is still a classic that simply doesn’t age. I’m not a fan of musicals, but that one gets a pass. And of course, who hasn’t thrown the phrase “Actually, it’s pronounced Fronkensteen” into a conversation at least once?

Entering the last week of the year I assumed we were in the clear. Well, you know what they say about what happens when you assume, don’t you? Yeah, I’m talking about Carrie Fisher. My love of “Star Wars” doesn’t reach the level of Fanboy obsession, but having watched all seven episodes, and taken my daughter to see “Rogue One” only two weeks ago, this one really stung. I still remember standing outside the Odeon cinema in Liverpool in 1977 for over  two hours waiting for the doors to open.

George Michael was never on my list – I despised Wham and their manufactured corporate style. Still, he did pretty well for himself and to die at 53? It makes me wonder about my own mortality. At 94, I guess it was only a matter of time for Richard Adams, so I can’t feel too upset. Like a lot of people, I read “Watership Down” as a kid, and had the joy of reading it to my son a few years ago. At least he had a full life.

The year still has three days left, so I am a little wary. I wouldn’t put it past 2016 to have one last kick in the balls waiting for us.  Has anybody checked on Mick Jagger lately?

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Filed under Celebrity, death, Music

Fuck Christmas

You may not be too surprised to learn that in general, I am a miserable, sour-faced old git. Better living through chemistry helps, but even so, it can’t overcome my contempt for the forced, almost mandated so-called “spirit of Christmas”. Spirit of Scotland, yes, particularly if said spirit comes from the highlands or the island of Islay and is at least twelve years old. But I digress.

This year was particularly egregious in getting the holiday underway, as on a number of occasions I saw Christmas items competing for shelf space with Halloween stuff! Yep, you read that correctly. That really is too much, and it put me in a bad mood right from the start. I really dislike the fact that we’re all supposed to get excited about Christmas regardless of our age. No, it isn’t the happiest time of the year. It’s cold, the sun is gone by 4 p.m. and everyone is stressed out by having only just recovered from Thanksgiving and facing the prospect of plunging straight back into the fray.

In general I try to avoid this as much as possible, wearing earbuds with the volume turned up to eleven, and not doing much in the way of decorating. My house is not only too small to have a tree, I don’t even have the storage space for decorations. I do have a few things: paper decorations made by the kids, some glass balls my sweetie bought that are about the size of gumballs and a two foot tall tree composed entirely of tree ornaments, but that is it.

Not so my sweetie. She  decorates every square inch of her home and takes  great delight in her mid century modern aluminium Christmas tree. My kids take  almost as much delight in assembling it. It consists of three sections that form the trunk and a large number of branches covered in silver tinsel which have to be inserted into holes in the trunk in a specific order. Despite the fact that she is a hard core Seinfeld fan, she insists on assembling the tree so it doesn’t look like a Festivus pole. Admittedly, that would lead to the traditional airing of the grievances, but she usually saves that for special days.

The kids love assembling the tree, as they have for the last three years or so, and it brings out the best in them: my son gets to organise, and his sister gets to indulge her artistic side. Of course, we let them do all the hard work this year and they had a blast, as usual. I really couldn’t have cared less, but did my duty hanging decorations on the tree. I think the kids enjoy the novelty of an artificial tree, as they have grown up knowing only a ten foot Noble Fir in the corner of their living room.

Of course, the big issue is presents. As the kids have grown up, their tastes have become not only more sophisticated, but also harder to discern. This year was a real trial. My son the tech head is impossible to buy for without a very specific list. Thankfully he provided one eventually, but so much of it was pure wishful thinking that my choices were somewhat limited. My daughter was just as difficult – eventually giving me a half arsed list on the 13th. To some extent I understand. Neither of them is particularly acquisitive and both of them pretty much have everything they need.

My sweetie is a different issue in that for her, I was able to pick up things as I saw them, and when she did provide me with a list I was pretty much done shopping for her. I hate to buy only gifts on the lists people provide, so with luck she will be surprised when she starts the unwrapping – pleasantly, I hope.

Another thing that irritates me is the forced jollity. Peace on Earth and good will to all men is a fine sentiment, but why restrict it to Christmas? Shouldn’t that be the policy all year round? Am I missing something? I do realise that this year much more than most has been thin on the good will, and peace has been noticeable by its absence, but surely we can make an effort for rather longer than the last five weeks of the year.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for the kids I wouldn’t bother with Christmas at all. It just seems like such a waste of time. I’d rather wait until the spring and celebrate surviving another year and another winter. At least getting through another spin around the sun is something to celebrate, an actual achievement worth acknowledging , much more so than some  Iron Age fairy tale that went unwritten for three centuries. To quote Terry Jones in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” “Creeping ’round a cow shed at two o’clock in the morning doesn’t sound very wise to me.”

I could go on, but if any of you are still reading, you probably don’t want to read much more. Besides, I have a lot to do today: I have to harness Max and remember to make sure to take the last can of Who Hash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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