Let’s Put It This Way…Fuck 2016

For anyone who has been around a good length of time, there are years that are remembered more fondly than others. For myself, there’s 2006, when I met my lovely wife; 2008, when we were married, and 20xx when we had our son. Then there are those years that are better left unsaid (mine was 1988 and let’s not get into why except to say that I came out of it a better person). With all of this said, there’s only one way to put the latest ‘trip around the sun’ and that is…fuck 2016.

There were two main areas that were ravaged over the past 365 days (and we’ve yet to actually reach New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake). One was the entertainment industry and, in particular, the music industry. When the year kicked off with the death of David Bowie (January 10) from liver cancer, it caught everyone by surprise simply because the very private Bowie had not informed the world he was in failing health.

A little more than a week later, another stunning death occurred. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey would pass away on January 18 following intestinal surgery and, by the end of the month, a band’s history was decimated by the death of two former members. Oddly enough on the same day – January 28 – Signe Toly Anderson, the original vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, and the former lead guitarist for the band, Paul Kantner, both passed away at the age of 74.

Arguably the most surprising death of the calendar year was the passing of Prince in April. “The Purple One” was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home on April 21, ending a charade that had been going on apparently for years. Bedeviled by pain from his strenuous and acrobatic performances over the last 30-plus years, Prince was found to have been using the painkiller fentanyl and overdosed on the powerful drug.

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The sheer number of deaths of legendary figures of the music world continued to mount throughout the entire year. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4); Merle Haggard (April 6); Leonard Cohen (November 7); Sharon Jones, a fiery soul singer often called the “female James Brown” (November 18); two members of one band in Keith Emerson (March 11) and Greg Lake (December 7)…the legends that left had many music aficionados stunned into silence. To administer the coup de grace for the year, former Wham! front man and solo sensation George Michael passed on Christmas Day.

Add these in with the deaths of such acting icons as Alan Rickman (January 14), Abe Vigoda (January 26), Garry Shandling (March 24), Patty Duke (March 29), Gene Wilder (August 28), Florence Henderson (November 24) and Alan Thicke (December 13), sports legends like Muhammad Ali (June 3), Gordie Howe (June 10), Arnold Palmer (September 25) and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (June 28) and political figures such as Nancy Reagan (March 6), Elie Wiesel (July 2), Fidel Castro (November 25) and John Glenn (December 8), and even the hardest of souls would have to say that this has been a pretty devastating year (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of those who passed in 2016 – the awards shows this spring are going to be pretty somber affairs when it comes to the “In Memoriam” segment).

It is often asked why people get emotional over the death of entertainment figures, sports heroes or even politicians. It is because it is usually a link to our youth that has been snatched away from us by the talons of the Grim Reaper. Along with that past link, there is also the wealth of work that we will never hear or see those people perform again. In some cases, yes, the person has lived a full life…it still doesn’t make it easier on those who consider themselves fans of the person or their achievements in life to recognize the passing of the body but not the soul.

The other area that was particularly screwed up in 2016 was the world of politics (sorry if you were looking for something else). At the start of the year, it seemed that there were legitimate candidates on both sides of the aisle that would provide for a good choice for the citizens of the States of America. Then a narcissistic, xenophobic racist fascist stepped to the fore.

The man who would eventually become the GOP nominee was not challenged by his own party, partly because they thought he was a joke (and he is) but also because they thought that he had no chance to win. They also didn’t want to offend the “base” that flocked to him like lemmings off a cliff because that “base” was something they had taken a long time to create through their actions of the past 16 years. By pushing them away too hard, they would threaten their own chances when the GOP nominee fell out of favor.

The only problem with that was he never did. Instead of falling from favor, more members of the Ignorati came along for the ride. And because they could not coalesce behind an alternative member – one wasn’t conservative enough, another was too conservative, another’s family had been there before, another was too young, etc. – they allowed a travesty to take over their party. In fact, many of those stayed on the sidelines EVEN WHEN THEY NOMINATED HIM and thought that the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, would be the one to take him down.

Through the mechanizations of many parts, Election Day instead resembled “The Purge” as the Ignorati worked such an unlikelihood that no one considered it possible. To win, the GOP nominee had to sweep at least four states – some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida – to be able to win the presidency. The GOP nominee took six of the seven, with Virginia the only holdout. The margin of victory in those states amounted to around 100,000 votes and the GOP nominee would actually lose the popular vote to Clinton.

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Now we enter a world that, with Twitler in charge, is a much darker place. He continues to threaten different agencies, looking for the names of those scientists who have done research on climate change or women who have worked to advance women’s rights in foreign countries. He continues to harp on developing a registry for Muslims, threatening to enrage a religion that is the second largest in the world with 1.6 BILLION devotees. He also threatens to take us back to the era where a simple error – lost contact with command and control, a “broken arrow” of a stolen or misplaced nuke or a simple regime change in a country – could bring us to the brink of thermonuclear disaster.

The only way to stop such a despot is to fight on every corner, for every fiber and inch of earth that is possible. It will be more difficult in 2017 as the GOP has complete command of the government, but they now also have no fucking excuses when (and it will be when) things go FUBAR. There may be those who say wait for a couple of years to change the narrative, but the time is now to stop any forward momentum that the GOP nominee may think he has (which he is highly mistaken – there is no “mandate” as many members of the Ignorati have been claiming).

These were just the two jewels of the crappy crown that topped the Year 2016. With hope, we can put this year behind us and find better things going on in the New Year. Let’s blow the horns, rev up the noisemakers and tip the bottle of champagne…fuck 2016! It’s done! And let’s hope that 2017 brings us better circumstances than the previous 365 days has.

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A Treatise Remembering the Thin White Duke

Many years ago, I was but a wee one who was still trying to forge my identity, my signature, my own style, if you will. At that age perhaps it was a bit young to even think about things like that, but everything you go through at that age would help hammer you into what you will become. I always had an interest in the space program – this was a time after NASA had landed astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon, but also just after the failure of Apollo 13 put the kibosh on moon missions for a period. I also was beginning to build an interest in music, although in the beginning only one format was made available.

My mom and father were both avowed country music fans – to the point of using that line from The Blues Brothers where Joliet Jake and Elwood ask the woman what type of music was played in the honky tonk bar they’ve arrived at and she says, “Both types:  country and western” – so there wasn’t much beyond the staples of the time in the house:  Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn…you know, the basics. If there was some “renegade” country music played, it was George Jones or perhaps Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings or something along that level. I always knew that there was something else out there, especially when I poked around through my mom’s album collection and saw bands that looked nothing like the country artists she listened to, folks like The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Jefferson Airplane…I knew someday I had to hear those groups.

Fortunately, that day came much sooner than either my mom or father ever thought would be possible. My father had another son by another woman, my half-brother Monty, who sometimes came around when he was “in the area.” On one of those trips, my half-brother and I ended up riding around in his Monte Carlo, for no apparent reason, when he finally said to me, “Hey, you like space…here’s something you should check out.” He pulled out a cassette and popped it into the player. After a few moments, the intro to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and its fade-in synthesizers gently entered my mind for the first time.

From the first listen to that song, I was hooked not only on the artist but on the music. The guitars, the lyrical storytelling, everything was there that was in country music, it just seemed better in this format. Monty would move on a few days later – leaving the cassette with me – and I would wear it out. I only saw him a few more times over my young life and, to this day, do not actually know whether he is alive or not.

When I heard about the death of David Bowie this morning from cancer at the age of 69, I remembered that time long ago in my life and how much that Bowie had been interlaced with my existence. The days of “Space Oddity”, of course, begat the Ziggy Stardust Era of Bowie’s work, where he took on the persona of an outer space alien that came to Earth. The music that emerged from that era – “Starman,” “Jean Genie” and “John, I’m Only Dancing” being particularly memorable – seemed to be something that others in what was called “rock music” weren’t doing.

Then came the stage of Bowie’s career that I particularly enjoyed. Blending the sounds of rock, soul, German and synthesizer music, the Thin White Duke epitomized the cool of the 70s. Supposedly an offshoot of his character from the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, the Duke was a distantly cool but always in tune person. Unfortunately, Bowie probably was able to draw the ability to conceive such a character – as I learned later in life – because of massive amounts of drug use (while drug use can help artistic performance and development, it can also be the destroyer of those same worlds).

Fortunately for Bowie, he was able to emerge on the other side for what was arguably his greatest phase of his career. Following a few Brian Eno/German influenced albums (especially Low and Lodger), the 80s would be where Bowie would truly bloom. Perhaps because of the video element added by MTV – or perhaps because of his own development as an artist – Bowie would crank out his finest work in this decade. Scary Monsters (and Super Freaks), Let’s Dance, Tonight and his work with Queen on “Under Pressure,” his Live Aid performance and his duet with Mick Jagger on “Dancin’ In The Street” all gave Bowie the credit as an artist that he truly deserved. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and, over the two decades since then, has simply delighted us fans with everything he ever did (and this is completely glossing over all the work he did in films and on stage as an actor).

And I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there for most all of it.

Bowie was formative in my early years and during my career in radio. That era of the 1980s was his heyday and was the apex of my career in Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio and, in reflecting back on those times, it always seemed as if Bowie was just ever so slightly ahead of the curve, as he had been since his days of “Space Oddity” and Ziggy Stardust. Even after I left the radio business, his later work still had that artistic edge, looking forward to the next big thing, that was always the benchmark of Bowie’s life and career, whether it was in music, acting, art or a myriad of other areas he would dip his fingers into.

Perhaps it is a sign of age, or the passing of time, when we begin to lose our heroes, be they athletic, musical, acting or even familial, that it begins to hurt the worst. Even from my time in radio, I’ve been unfortunate to see men younger than me pass away:  Jani Lane of Warrant and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots are two who come to mind off the bat, but their deaths were from their own problems and issues. Even some of the greats that I thought I’d have in my old age, like Stevie Ray Vaughan, were unable to join me in potentially making it to my rocking chair. Lemmy just passed and some of the others, like Bruce Springsteen and others, are on the other side of 60; hell, Bono only has a few years on me!

David Bowie led one of the most remarkable lives that mankind can even imagine. He was at the forefront of his generation, but he was also mindful of his place in the world. He was an artist, but he also appreciated the beauty in the work of others. The world is a much darker place without the visage of the Thin White Duke looking down upon it.