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?