2011: In pace requiescat!
Whenever an artist dies too young, particularly when it is a self-inflicted surrender, there is an inevitable (irresistible?) tendency to romanticize or lionize. That Winehouse joins the infamous “27 club” (Jimi, Jim, Janis, Cobain, etc.) only ups the ante and ensures that the same folks who salivated at her death-spiral will now weep amphibious tears.
I’m disappointed, as a fan, that we won’t get a chance to hear her mature and evolve from the immature chanteuse whose destructive and self-loathing tendencies overpowered the better (and prettier) angels sulking deep inside. I’m sad, as a fellow human being, that a woman with so much talent and potential was not able to love her life –and herself– enough to see how much discovery and excitement lay ahead of her. I sincerely wish she could have listened to her own music and felt the same thrill and astonishment so many millions of people felt. It may not have been enough to save her, but it might have been enough to help. And sometimes help is the first step to salvation.
I hope, and trust, she is sleeping well. And if there is any karmic justice she is able to feel some measure of peace and fulfillment that in some small way approximates the pleasure she was able to provide so many of us, despite the pain she was so obviously in for so long.
Read the rest, here.
Portrait of the artist as a young pup.
Wait, did I say artist? I meant barbarian.
No, that’s neither fair nor accurate. It’s difficult with Quinzy– he was many things, frequently at the same time: tameless beast, gentle soul, abominably-behaved, adorable, impish, awe-inspiring (of which more shortly), incorrigible and, above all, utterly unique.
Check it out: I have three separate, visible scars on my right hand. All of them are from Quinzy’s teeth. The largest scar is from a bite he gave me, while I was petting him.
I used to say (and I was more than half-serious) that while I did not believe he could ever die, if and when he did, the medical community needed to study him and find the cure for cancer. I’ve never seen a dog that simply did not show any signs of weakness or age for so long. He was not hyper, he just went at the world in a way that Auggie March would fully endorse. So with apologies to Saul Bellow, I’ll take the liberty of embellishing that famous first paragraph from his masterful novel: “I am an American, (puppy-mill)-born—…and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a (dog)’s character is his fate, says Heraclitis, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles (or muzzling the snout).”
Quinzy treated the world like his bitch and while I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) necessarily emulate that approach, it’s hard not to admire and respect it. I’ve never met a human –much less an animal– that slurped so much ecstasy out of every second he was allowed to enjoy. Quinzy got his eyes, ears, snout and occasionally his teeth on anything and everyone within his reach and he never hesitated and he never slowed down. Until he slowed down.
But we never thought he would die. We actually thought he would live forever. Or at least shatter some canine records. I still reckon that scientific minds should study his DNA and come up with the antitode for illness, aging and depression. He was the most alive dog I’ve ever known and I’ve known a lot of dogs. Dogs, if nothing else, are very alive and adept at living (they are dogs, after all).
I won’t get carried away and claim that the scars on my hand, which I can see right now as I write these words, are the ironic gifts Quinzy left me. But in a way I could not appreciate until this very second, perhaps he was giving me something I could not fully fathom, since I’m a human. Did he understood and appreciate that he had been rescued from abandonment or a premature appointment with the veterinarian’s least-loved needle? Who knows. Who cares? What was he supposed to do, thank me? He did more than that anyway, and he did it without guile or the expectation of gratitude, since he was a dog. He showed me how to live a less contrived, more memorable life. He left me with a part of him that I can easily keep in my head and my heart. Finally, in his own incomparable fashion he ensured I had a visible reminder or three I’ll carry with me until the day I finally slow down myself.
Full tribute to this amazing dog, here.
Sad new from the wire: guitar legend Bert Jansch has passed away (another casualty of The Big C). Story here.
My introduction to his work was, presumably like many punks my age, courtesy of Neil Young. In particular, Neil’s epic album-closing statement from his (greatest?) album On The Beach, entitled “Ambulance Blues” apparently owes more than a slight debt to Jansch’s ’60s tune “The Needle of Death” (interesting in its own right, as Young would of course write the enormously affecting –and popular– anti-heroin anthem “The Needle and The Damage Done”).
While I’m congenitally disinclined to join the choruses of hagiographers anointing this outstanding marketer, salesman and genius as some type of saint, I’ll certainly throw my hat in the very crowded ring and concede that our world would be much different (and not for the better) without his influence.
As trite as it may sound, Jobs did in many ways help transform fantasty into reality. For that alone, he is a monumental figure in American history and should be celebrated as such.
I am less concerned about what further inventions and innovations we may not now see with him gone, and lament the more simple –and human– fact that he is yet another human being gone entirely too soon because of the awful disease called cancer. It seems very sad to me that once again we are reminded that death is inevitable (not always a terrible thing; carpe diem and all that) but that cancer does not give a shit how rich, powerful or brilliant you are. For some reason it stings a bit more to see people with all the money and connections in the world reduced, like rubble, by this awful ailment that is an equal-opportunity force of destruction. I worry much less about which new toys Apple will produce and the fact that his family has lost the husband and father at the disgustingly, offensively young age of 56.
For now, it seems right –and human– to celebrate the life and accomplishments of a man who undeniably left his mark, and provided a past, and future that would be radically different (and not for the better) had he not made his mark. Equal parts iconoclast, countercultural guru and corporate crusader, he made a complicated motto (Think different) and turned it into a postmodern religion of sorts. We could have done much worse. Whatever else he did, Jobs thought differently and in the process, took much of the world with him. What else can be said but kudos on a life well and purposefully lived?
R.I.P., Smokin’ Joe. Another casualty of The Big C; yet another instance where even the toughest amongst us can’t overcome that greedy and too often indomitable disease.
There is not much I can, or would want to try to add to the remarkable life story of Smokin’ Joe. Whether it’s the made-for-the-movies image of Joe pounding slabs of meat in a Philadelphia factory (see: Rocky Balboa), or the way-better-than-fiction melodrama of his relationship with Ali (the fights, the hype, the acrimony, the endurance, the bitterness, the not-fully-resolved antipathy), there has never been anything quite like Joe Frazier. And his relationship with Ali which, well….just watch the HBO documentary The Thriller in Manila. Beyond Sophocles; beyond Shakespeare. No bullshit.
For mere mortals like the rest of us, how could we begin to understand what it feels like to come that close to death in what could accurately be described as blood sport? In front of millions of eyeballs in real time. Preserved forever on tape. And that’s just the (inconceivable) brutality that was inflicted and endured. What must it have been like for Frazier to know that he could and perhaps shouldhave won that fight? You think you’ve had regrets in your life? How about knowing that Ali had no intention to come out for the 15th? I can scarcely comprehend how Frazier got out of bed each day with this thought gnawing at him like a rat feasts on a cold bone. It’s likely that the same thing that defined him is what redeemed him: the stubborn, unflinching, brave and single-minded drive. To survive. To be the best. To be true to himself.
One need not denigrate Ali to elevate Frazier. It comes dangerously close to cliche, but it must be said that Frazier was a true champion. In many senses of the word. He was a fighter, but his biggest bouts always took place outside the ring.
It is a shame it did not happen while he was alive to see it, but it’s long past the appropriate time for the city of Philadelphia to erect a statue for its favorite son. The one created in the dank, reeking gym where they build legends, as opposed to the bright, plastic city where they make movies. If there is a statue for Rocky, there damn well should be a statue for the man who inspired him.
See whole thing, here.
Some extended thoughts from 2011 regarding hockey, violence and cognitive dissonance, here.
So what is complicated about it? For starters, hockey fighting remains a diversion that people who genuinely deplore violence (like this writer) endorse and get excited about. What does that say about us? I’m not certain. But I do know that unlike the “real” world, it is exceedingly rare for two hockey combatants to enter the fray unwillingly. Yes but, doesn’t that make it a great deal worse, if they do it because they get paid? (Well, is boxing beatiful? Brutal? Your opinion here will go a decent way toward explaining your ability, or willingness, to negotiate the enigmatic charm of the expression “five minutes for fighting”.) That gets to the not-so-easily explained sensibility of athletes (in general) and hockey players (in particular). Hockey players have traditionally been paid a great deal less than other athletes in more popular sports. It is, therefore, a bit ironic to consider that these players are more immune to pain and prone to play a regular season game like the world is on the line. It is, for hockey fans, refreshing that the players have an integrity that has been ingrained from generations and is remarkably resilient against the corrupting forces of salary, fame and product endorsements. Put in less exalted terms, people tend to get (understandably) cynical when, say, a baseball player with a multi-million dollar annual contract goes on the D.L. with a strained hamstring. That type of commonplace indifference is especially noticeable –and appalling– when one realizes that hockey players routinely return to the ice moments after receiving stitches, or losing teeth, or suffering bruised (and in some cases, broken) bones. Google it if you don’t believe me.
Another giant of whom we’ll never see the likes of again has left the planet. R.I.P. Hubert Sumlin.
I’ll resist the urge to say it’s the least they could do, since at least they are doing something, and acknowledge this nice gesture by the Glimmer Twins (who owe a great deal to Sumlin and his former employer).
You can usually measure an artist’s legacy by the people who worship said artist. If the names Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix mean anything to you, it should provide some manner of perspective for how huge and influential this understated guitarist was –and will remain. Like all great artists (musicians or writers) he knew instinctively to do more with less and use silence as strategy. Although he was remarkably proficient (listen to his grease-in-a-frying-pan lead on the immortal “Killing Floor”, later covered to excellent effect by a young Hendrix) he also had the smarts to step back and let the almost overpowering presence of Howlin’ Wolf run rampant. The result is the cool and effortless grace that so many subsequent rock stars trying to play authentic blues –including some of the ones listed above– have ably imitated but never duplicated.
The Wolf, of course, would have still been a supernova without the (amazing) band he assembled; he was too much of a force of nature, musically and otherwise, to settle for less. But he was wise enough to employ and retain Sumlin, who gave those old Chess classics their distintive edge and inimitable swagger.
In a sad, sadly typical way, this is appropriate, since there was not a lot of fanfare surrounding him while he lived.
This is a terrible shame for many reasons, the most important being he may be the best singer you’ve never heard.
The dude just could never catch a break. Joplin’s cover gave him the opportunity he needed but…it just never happened. Bad timing, bitterness and frustration followed, and a man who should have dominated the decade ended up homeless, addicted to crack. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Fortunately, he found religion and got his act together. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Better still, he was able to record and perform. It’s nice to think he received a modicum of the respect and appreciation that should have been accorded to him back when it would have mattered a lot more. But he did not die unknown, and he did not end up dead in the streets. So that’s something.
You can –and you should– grab hold of some history (for under $10) here and here (his song “Where Did My Baby Go”, which unfortunately is not available on YouTube, is worth the price of admission: Howard Tate sings the SHIT out of that joint and it’s a travesty that this did not go straight to number one and make him wealthy and well-known. The Lord works in mysterious ways).
I’ll resist the urge to note how untalented ass-clowns are getting record deals and reality TV shows, because it has always been thus. It’s still thus, only more so. And while that makes it harder than it normally would be to swallow the karmic injustice of a man like Howard Tate not breaking through when he might have, it is what it is. Besides, now is not the time to lament or complain: it’s time, as always, to celebrate what we did get, and what we’ll always have.
The music, of course, lives on (stop me if you’ve heard this one before).
Full thing here.
The best tribute I can offer to Hitch is that even when he infuriated me (something he did often when he wrote about politics after 9/11), he excited me. I’ve never read a writer who thrilled me as consistently and thoroughly as Hitchens did. He is one of the very few writers who could write about virtually anything and I’d want to read his take. Even, or perhaps especially, when I disagreed with him I came away a more informed and better equipped. In this sense, Hitchens –who at different times could accurately be described as a Marxist, a contrarian, a reactionary and an iconoclast– provided lessons for how to engage intellectually and spiritually (yes, spiritually) with the world. And think about those four words (and there are many others I could use): how many public figures could conceivably, much less convincingly, be described thusly? If Hitchens had sold out, his ostensibly contradictory stances might seem like a case of cognitive dissonance. In actuality, it was the evidence of his ongoing evolution, as a thinker, writer and human being. Evolution is never static, and Hitchens was always moving forward: ravenous, curious, ornery, insatiable. Above all, he burrowed into the world with the glee and intensity of a converted soul. His salvation was not religion; it was the simple and profound act of existing: I think, therefore I am.
Hitchens combined the range of Twain, the erudition of Mencken and the irreverence of Hunter S. Thompson. Of course he also had the political courage of Orwell, the acerbic wit of Cyril Connolly and the adroit literary acumen as his great friend Martin Amis. Of all the writers whose work I’ve worshipped, Hitchens was the most fully-formed summation of his influences; as a result of his monomaniacal addiction to knowledge, he produced an insight that is at once all-encompassing and wholly unique. At his best, Hitchens could remind you of any number of geniuses; at the same time, nobody else is like Hitchens. The Hitch is sui generis, on the rocks.
Much more, here.
So what did I like so much about him? Well, you have to be a soccer (i.e., football) fan to understand in the first place. You also probably had to be young and in love with the game. As a soccer freak, I was consistently at awe with how he managed the field. As I got older and understood he got his nickname because of his inconceivable temerity to actually read books, he became a hero on an entirely other level. He also was a chainsmoker. Suffice it to say, those were different days, my friends. More, he was a big drinker. Not celebrating this (indeed, the smoking and drinking undoubtedly led indirectly, if not directly, to his awfully premature death), but just putting it out there: the man knew how to live on and off the field. Oh, did I mention that he actually became a doctor after his playing days? Or that he was very progressive politically? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this motherfucker rocked the beard.
More man love, here.
Regarding the amazing life of Vaclav Havel, there is nothing I can say that he did not say better himself:
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
Another irreplaceable giant has left the planet.
Sam Rivers, always graceful, elegant and cool as a mofo, certainly carved out his own niche in the jazz idiom.
While his work as a leader will –and should– be celebrated, he also did remarkable work on sessions led by his compatriots.
Anyone not familiar with this great reedist should proceed directly to the tri-fecta of Fuchsia Swing Song (1964), Contours (1965) and Dimensions & Extensions (1967).
Check him out on Dave Holland’s classic Conference of the Birds (1973), Tony Williams’s Spring (1965) and Bobby Hutcherson’s Dialogue. After that, enjoy picking and choosing from the gems he created over five decades on the scene.
In one of the early obits to hit the press, this revealing quote from his daughter pretty much puts the man and his work in proper perspective:
“Music was his life, music is what kept him alive,” said his daughter Monique Rivers Williams of Apopka, who also handled her father’s concert bookings and learned from him the joy of making music. “My father, in my eyes, was on vacation all his life. He used to tell me, ‘I’m working, but I’m loving every minute of it.’ Retirement was not in his vocabulary. ‘Why do we even have that word,’ he used to ask me, ‘there should be no such thing.’”