Tag Archives: mortality

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

Under My Thumb.

“Under my thumb is a broken bone and a stretched tendon”.  Hmm. Somehow I can’t see Mick strutting around the stage to that lyric, and probably nor can you. This summer I took a tumble whilst walking round on the boat, jamming my thumb into the steel plate deck. Just to quash any rumours, no, I wasn’t drunk. It was 6:45 am, although that is never proof of sobriety in itself, but this time it was.  After some initial swearing and dusting off I picked myself up and headed to work. By the time I reached my desk, the pain had not subsided and the right half of my left hand had swollen considerably, but was not bruised.

This lead to an experience that happens daily in the part of town where I work; namely, being ripped off in a drug deal. This occurred not in some evil smelling back alley by a character of dubious intent, but in a clean and brightly lit store by an ageing, balding, well presented store clerk who had the decency to wish me a speedy recovery.  There is a convenience store across the street whose business model is based on the concept of a captive audience, hence my being forced to pay $1 a pop for Aleve. Humph!

Eventually the swelling went away, but the pain never did, which is why in early December I made an appointment to see my doctor who told me that I had indeed broken a bone and stretched the tendon in my thumb and would need a cast. Again, humph! I’m right handed, so I didn’t think it would cause too much inconvenience, but I was wrong. One never thinks of how having one’s non-dominant hand hors de combat, but it turns out that it is almost as bad as breaking the dominant one.  I was unable to hold a knife, and so for three weeks ate a diet based on using only a fork, which was a cakewalk compared to dressing. My first day at work after the cast was a nightmare as I was unable to button my trousers after taking a comfort stop due to my inability to grip, so I was forced to rely on zip and belt alone to prevent me from a citation for public indecency. In fact, a large portion of my wardrobe was off limits to me for this reason and I was forced to rely on my older, and somewhat looser fitting clothes for three weeks.

Work was no easier than home. Have you ever tried to hit Control Alt Delete with the fingers of one hand immobilised, or opened mail with no grip? What a pain. Of course, I had no support but I managed although it did slow me down considerably.

I realise I’m making something of a meal of this, as many millions of people deal with far worse  permanent issues on a daily basis, but as someone who has passed his half century without ever having a cast, it came as something of a shock to be faced with the realisation that one handed life is harder than imagined. One thing I had anticipated, though was the fact that by the half way stage, my unwashed paw began to smell like a three day festival, but a search of the darkest recesses of my bathroom cabinet produced some old  aftershave which at least hid the truth from all within noseshot.

You can imagine my relief when the cast was removed. Despite washing it twice immediately after release, it still stunk of the cast, and my thumb, immobile for three weeks ached like the devil and it wasn’t until three days later that I could move it without discomfort. Thankfully, the rest gave the tendon time to return to normal, precluding the need for surgery.

This may all seem to be much ado about nothing, but given that it could have been much worse, for instance a broken wrist or arm. it was yet another indication of my mortality and how easily one’s condition can change in an instant. I know of one person who hit a traffic cone whilst cycling, was thrown over the handlebars, landed on her head and was dead before her body came to a full stop. An extreme example for sure, but still, had I been walking down the stairs instead of up, things could have been much, much worse.

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My Death.

Lest you all start popping champagne corks and bursting into spontaneous renditions of “Happy Days Are Here Again”, let me assure you that I am in excellent health. Having turned 50 I recently underwent a  couple of medical tests and whilst they were both positive in their findings, they resulted in me spending more time than usual contemplating my mortality. Most people my age have college age kids, and most people with kids the ages of mine are a good ten to fifteen years younger than me, so this leaves me in a sort of generational netherworld.

I’m being purely selfish here, in that I often wonder if I will live long enough to see my grandchildren. Yes, I know how petty that sounds, but I see how much my dad enjoys spending time with my kids, and my mother just adored my daughter so it makes me jealous to some extent. My son is twelve and if things pan out as I hope, he will go on to get some sort of engineering PhD after graduation. He may well have to invent the particular branch of engineering in question, so at best, it may be 20 years before he starts a family. My daughter is only 9, so twenty years doesn’t seem unreasonable for her either, seeing as she is as needle-sharp as her brother. I hope that I will be a hale and hearty seventy year old, but one never knows what will happen. There is an old joke that goes: “How do you make God laugh? – tell him your plans”.

Whilst unpacking in my new home ( see “Space Oddity” – coming soon) I found a couple of old photographs: one was of my son when he was not yet two years old, the other of him and his sister taken a little over a year later. Not to get maudlin, but both pictures showed two adorable, sweet, happy and contented children and I couldn’t help but think about their development over the intervening years and how much wonder, joy, satisfaction and pride I’ve enjoyed in seeing them flourish. That sweet little round cheeked boy has now turned into a sensitive, intelligent, handsome young man and his sister is an insightful thinker, artist, soccer player and equestrian who is, I am sure, bound for greatness in at least one of those fields.

It breaks my spirit to think that I may not live long enough to see my putative grandchildren reach the age my children are at now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be around for their college graduations unless medical science makes some significant advances in the next two decades. Grandchildren are the payback generation, in that we put in immense amounts of physical, emotional and financial resources to ensure that our kids have as fulfilling a childhood as possible in the knowledge that when they themselves become parents we can sit back, reminisce about the early years and dote on our grandchildren who will never know what it was like to be a parent at the start of the century.

I think also that grandchildren are the ultimate validation of our parenting skills in that they are proof that we raised well rounded human beings who were fully aware of, and integrated into the world so that they had the skills to raise children who would be better human beings than their parents, as their parents were compared to their own parents. I know I should be living in the moment and enjoying seeing my kids turn into young adults, and I do, but there is part of my brain that just can’t let go of the thought of all that I will be missing.

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Filed under lifestyle, mental health, Personal health

Tango Funebre

Three weeks ago today, the world lost a truly wonderful human being. Witty, charming, intelligent, self effacing and always willing to help. His death is proof that the world isn’t fair, as if any of us needed it. I found out by chance, glancing down at my phone as I sat on the futon reading, I saw I had a message waiting, and read with increasing horror and disbelief of the death of a friend I had known for four years.

Suffice it to say that the rest of the day was spent in a blur of emails and Facebook posts as the community came together in order to share its’ collective grief and attempt to process the news. When one learns of news like this, there is a need to congregate, share stories and attempt to make sense of events in a group setting, and this was achieved through an ad hoc gathering at a tribemates’ home . Normally, such meetings are joyous affairs, with much joking and ribbing, but this was different. The room held an air of stunned incomprehension as we all tried to make sense of the days’ news, swapped stories of the last time we’d seen our friend and attempted to numb the pain with alcohol.

Five days later, we gathered at a local church for a memorial service. I and four others who had been in the same close learning circle as our friend acted as ushers, handing out programs, directing attendees and trying ( although not succeeding) in maintaining an air of calm. Around 250 people attended, with another 55 watching proceedings online, and it was heartening to see the extent to which our friend had affected the lives of others, as well as the respect, appreciation and love the community had for him. I doubt if anyone remained dry eyed through the memorial, and I will admit to losing it, especially during the singing of “All Through The Night” which ended the event.

But life goes on, we all have to continue with our regular activities, not as an insult to those who have passed on, but as proof that we remember them, honour their lives and keep the memory of them alive with us. After a formal reception, many of us adjourned to a tribemates’ house for a second gathering, which I know our friend would have enjoyed. Drinks flowed, plates were filled and emptied, stories were repeated and jokes told, so that the pain of the day was softened by the presence of so many people whom we had not seen for many months. It was hard on all of us, no one could truly comprehend that someone as vital, loving and caring as our friend was no longer with us. I’m not going to descend into platitudes, but it was clear during the weekend that the whole community developed a sense of how fragile life is, that no opportunity to meet with friends should ever be passed up, that we need to stay close to those whom we had previously regarded as peripheral. This is not to say that we don’t grieve for our friend, or have concern for the welfare of his wife and children, but there is now an awareness that even the bitterest of events can bring forth an understanding of how much love one person can create, and a sweetness in shared memories and experiences.

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