Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016, The Reaper's Bumper Crop

As I walked into work yesterday morning, I wished a friend a happy new year. He said 2017 had to be better than this year which began with the death of David Bowie and ended with the election of Donald Trump.

It's only natural this time of year to reflect upon the past 365 days. For my family and me, 2016 was actually a pretty good year, my boy and I traveled to New York, and all four of us had a lovely summer vacation which included the cities of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, as well as a memorable visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent Fallingwater, the home he built on top of a stream for the Kaufmann family in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We even managed to sneak into West Virginia, a first for all four of us.

Both kids have been doing well in school, despite not necessarily liking it one hundred percent of the time, and have been involved in other activities that give them great pleasure and keep them out of trouble. My wife and I both managed to devote time to our artistic endeavors, not an easy thing when combined with the responsibilities of working for a living and raising a family. Knock on wood, while there have been health issues here and there, nothing earth shattering thank God, and a double knock on wood, we didn't lose any loved ones this year.

And yes the Chicago Cubs won the World Series which was great news for everyone except for fans of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox, well actually only a handful of disgruntled ones that is.

In short I'd say my family has much to be grateful for at the close of this year.

Yet many people will recall this as a year that particularly sucked.

Another New Years tradition is the reading of the passing year's necrology, the list of notable people who died. Sadly, 2016 proved to be a bumper crop for the Grim Reaper at least as far as famous people were concerned, especially musicians. In some circles, particularly at home, I'm known for my morbid fascination with the obituary pages, but this year even I couldn't keep up.

Every year has its Abe Vigodas, and Zsa Zsa Gabors, those celebrities whose death inspires the inevitable remark, "Really? I didn't know he or she was still alive."

But this year seemed to have a disproportionate number of unexpected celebrity deaths. I learned that David Bowie was seriously ill at the beginning of the year. He was not a young man, but coming through his creative spirit there was still an eternal, timeless youth about him and I was blown away at the news of his passing, coming as it did on his birthday, January 8th. Like mostpeople, I was blindsided by the death of Prince. It's disconcerting when I hear of someone who is exactly my age, as Prince was, suddenly dropping dead. I'm not proud to say I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that his death was attributed to the pain killers he used to alleviate the agony resulting from the many years of unbelievably athletic dance moves he used in his performances. He literally gave his life for his art. Poetic and romantic as it may be, I simply can't relate.

Both men were extraordinarily talented and had they lived, they would have continued to produce remarkable music. But those two only scratched the surface of losses that the world of music suffered in 2016. Here's a woefully incomplete list in no particular order, of musicians we lost in 2016: Ralph Stanley, Buckwheat Zydeco, Pierre Boulez, Paul Kantner, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake. Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Neville MarrinerDan Hicks, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Scotty Moore, Guy Clark, Mose Allison, Vanity, Billy Paul, Nikolaus HarnoncourtGato Barbieri, and Merle Haggard.

Although he was less known as a musician than as perhaps the most famous music producer the world has ever known, in 2016 we also lost George Martin.

Indeed, heaven's chorus added greatly to its ranks this year but it will have to wait at least a while longer for Keith Richards who remains at this writing, probably to the surprise of no one more than himself, not only merely, but really and most sincerely alive.

The sports world lost at least four remarkable legends this year: Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, and of course, Muhammad Ali.

They say that deaths come in threes but this year proved there is no limit to the number of celebrity deaths that can occur over a short period of time. As I remarked when Vaclav Havel and Kim Jung Il died, one right after the other a few years ago, death makes for strange bedfellows, in that case, two national leaders who were the polar opposites in everything else. The most absurd celebrity death matching I can recall was the quintessentially elegant and proper Katherine Hepburn, and the crude actor/comedian Buddy Hackett who died within a day of each other in 2003. I can only imagine the conversation that took place when the two of them marched up the steps to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Just this week we learned of a trio of deaths with an unusually strong connection. revolving around the passing of the actress Carrie Fisher, best known known for her recurring role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film series. Much was written a few days ago about that role and her portrayal of it, unique for its time, as being a female hero and role model "in a male-dominated genre."

Well it so happened that real life female hero-role model in a male dominated profession that also dealt with intergalactic space, died this week. Her name was Vera Rubin, and she was the astrophysicist who proved the existence of dark matter.

Of course the other, more tragic connection to Carrie Fisher was her own mother, singer and actress Debbie Reynolds, who passed from this world one day after her daughter.

I could go on and on listing the famous people, the pioneers, politicians, playwrights and poets, the authors, artists, athletes, actors and astronauts, who died this year, but the time remaining in this year is short, so I'll just take the easy way out by linking to the New York Times list of the Notable Deaths of 2016.

Whether we heard of them or not, they all touched our lives and shaped our world in one way or other, some of them in good ways, some of them in splendid ways, some of them in inspirational ways, and some of them, quite the opposite.

But the world would be a much different place without them and tonight at the stroke of midnight, let us all raise a glass to the lives that were lived by the people we lost in 2016.

Happy 2017.

Stay healthy my friends!

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