Monday, January 2, 2017

The Year That Was

2016 is over, and thank God for that. I was going to title this, Screw You, 2016, but something made me decide to go a different way. It was a rough year for celebrities. I'm not going even going to try to recount all of them, just the ones that hit the hardest for me. Also, I tend not to get real bent out of shape when a celebrity in their 80s or 90s dies. I figure that we should be happy that they were blessed with a long life. It's when they are younger that it gets me.

We weren't even two weeks into the year when the first big one hit. On January 10, David Bowie died, two days after his 69th birthday. This one was tough for me. Most rock stars burn hot and then fade away. A handful burn so hot that the flame never goes out, and they just keep going. The Rolling Stones are a great example of this. Others reinvent themselves. ZZ Top reinvented themselves in the 1980s and sold way more records with music that couldn't hold a candle to their earlier work as a rock blues band in the 1970s. To their credit though, they are still going strong. I have one of the later albums, La Futura (2012) and it's every bit as good as anything they did in the 70s. 

As rock stars go, David Bowie was unique. He was cutting edge, from the start and continued that way throughout his career. He was constantly evolving. In the 1980s, when he released, Let's Dance. He wasn't reinventing himself. That's where he just happened to be, in the center of it all. 

My wife and I go to a Goth dance club. They play a lot of music that most people reading this will not have heard of, bands like Covenant, VNV Nation, and Assemblage 23. A lot of the time, they have two rooms. In the back room they tend to do a mix of older tracks from bands I just mentioned, but mix in 1980s stuff, mostly bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order. 

A couple of days before David Bowie died, we were at the club, and the last song before we left was, Fame, Bowie's first number 1 single. There it was a 40-year-old song, played in a club filled with people most whom hadn't been born when it was originally released in 1975, yet it sounded every bit as cutting edge as anything they played that night.

Less than a week after David Bowie passed away, Alan Rickman died, also at 69. As a classic movie person, I don't complain when people call newer work, classic. Well, I might if it's only five or ten years old. And I will definitely argue that something is not classic, because I don't think it's good enough to be called a classic. Alan Rickman's first big film role was Die Hard, a film that is now almost 30 years old. I have no problem calling Die Hard a classic, both in age and quality. Like Bowie, Rickman was too young to die. Then again there are no guarantees in life. We would like to think that everyone lives to their 80s or 90s. The truth is many die much much younger.

Fast forward to April, when Prince died at  only 57. In some ways, Prince was a lot like Bowie in that he was always evolving. As a result, his music always seem fresh and interesting and edgy. He was definitely too young to leave us at 57. My favorite thing said about Prince after he died came from Dave Grohl, drummer from Nirvana and lead singer/guitarist from the Foo Fighters. Someone asked Grohl if he thought Prince was better guitarist than he was. It was a total bullshit question, designed to get Grohl to take a shot at an older musician, who was pretty much universally respect, after his death. Dave Grohl, class act that he is, said he thought Prince was a better drummer than he was.

Sure there were plenty of others between the deaths of David Bowie/Alan Rickman and Prince and more still by the end of the year. My point here was not to do a comprehensive list, but to talk about certain deaths that were important to me and maybe reflect on the nature of life and death at time of year when you tend to reflect on the nature of life and death.

December seemed to be really rough, among others, we lost the following:

  • Alan Thicke – The death of the TV dad didn't really affect me. I mention it mostly because he died in December and was arguably the first in a wave of celebrity deaths. Coincidentally, he was also 69.
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor – Again, this didn't affect me. I was more surprised to learn that she was still alive. Right after, I heard I found out she had been on life support for the last five years, not much of a life if you ask me.
  • George Michael  – Died on Christmas day, he was only 53, a year younger than me. Just a few days before that I had been trying to learn how to play, "Careless Whisper" on ukulele. Great song, great talent, taken way too soon. At this point, I'm thinking 2016 is being kind of a dick.
  • Carrie Fisher – Died December 27, she was only 60. I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, but she was good in the films. I posted a picture of her from The Blues Brothers, as Jake's bomb-, rocket-launcher-, and gun-toting ex-girlfriend. 
  • Debbie Reynolds (Carrie Fisher's mother) – Died the next day of a stroke. My wife said that if our daughter died before her, she would probably have a stroke too. Debbie Reynolds was a massive talent and had a great career. My favorite role of hers was as the backward country girl opposite tax collector Tony Randall in the 1959 comedy, The Mating Game.
These last two confirmed my suspicions that 2016 was just sticking it in and breaking it off.

Finally, today, January 2, I saw something that gave me a little perspective. I was on IMDB, trying to see if any classic movie people had a birthday today, none to speak of, at least none in the first two pages of 50 names each. I decided to see if any had died on this day. On January 2, 1963, both Dick Powell and Jack Carson died, both died of cancer on the same day. Dick Powell was 58, and Jack Carson was only 52.

People dying before their time is nothing new, and apparently, neither is celebrities dying in clusters. I've never been real big on New Year's resolutions, but if nothing else the one thing that 2016 has taught me, it's that we need appreciate the people around us, while they are still around, whether it's friends and family or the celebrities we admire. 

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