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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The ones that got away

So, was it good for you? The highs and lows, the ins and outs and ups and downs? It never seemed to end, 2008 — hell, the world’s official timekeepers have added one second to the length of the year, presumably to correct some celestial blip in the earth’s rotation or somesuch. But maybe they’re just messing with our heads, stringing this thing along for as long and extended an extended long duration as possible.

The ‘Vox won’t go on here picking the highs and lows, etc. A lot of both were the stuff of our watercooler conversations, our letters to the editor, our hopes, our fears, our dreams — our lives.

A lot got our attention, maybe more than enough. But there were some that got away, events that (somehow) flew pretty much under the 24/7 radar of modern times — noted, but forgotten maybe too fast.

We said goodbye to Buddy Miles in February. The drummer for Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys died in Austin, Texas, succumbing to heart failure and a host of health woes. A powerful, propulsive player whose burly, bear-like countenance helped give his sound the throw weight it required, Miles was a versatile drummer who formed his own band, the Buddy Miles Express, which merged funk, rock and horn arrangements. But the drum was center stage: Listen to the punch and power of "Them Changes," the thunder that animated "Machine Gun" (on Hendrix's live album at the Fillmore East) or any of his work as a solo artist. Buddy Miles was the baddest of the bad.

Mitch Mitchell took off to join the rest of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the amen corner of the sky church. Mitchell, Hendrix's original drummer, died in November in Portland, Oregon, hours after performing at a concert with the Experience Hendrix Tour, and days after a tour stop in Seattle, where we saw him play, slower, clearly a shadow of the dynamo he once was, but still game for the stage. Listen to the Experience's recording of Jimi's classic "Fire." If Charlie Watts' percussion in the '60's was musketry, Mitchell's was machine-gun fire, full auto, an exercise in blistering speed and precision that was perfect for the era.

Bo Diddley passed, and with him the living time signature of rock music. Ellas Otha Bates McDaniels brought that rhythm, that drive to early rock n’ roll. That chunk-achunk-achunkchunk chunk pattern that was part of the DNA of rock? That onstage swagger, that lyric braggadocio that became common to the rock persona? That was on Bo Diddley.

Listen to his classic “Who Do You Love?” It’s all there, all the attitude and passion of every rocker who’s walked out on stage ever since. He never had a strong presence on the pop charts; that level of success according to units shifted and platinum records hung in the hallway eluded him. But rock culture couldn’t have existed without him. Him do we love.

Those of us of A Certain Age remember when personal development hinged, rightly or wrongly, on experimentation with various … chemical agents. One of them was LSD, a felicitous laboratory accident created by Albert Hoffman, the Sandoz chemist whose discovery opened doors of perception that a generation eager for perception embraced and used to define itself and help shape its world view. LSD aroused controversy; the drug expanded and sharpened aspects of the personality that were already there. For some, even many, it was a dangerous experience; the term “acid casualty” has long since entered the language, and for good reason. But Hoffman’s curiosity as a scientist — he took LSD numerous times himself — was and is foundational to the human experience. LSD painted the decade of the ‘60s in indelible colors that are part of the canvas of life today.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones died this year, passing of an aneurysm at the heartbreakingly young age of 58. That's the too-brutal shorthand for a public life that mattered fiercely to her constituents in Ohio, and importantly to the rest of the country, whether they knew who she was or not.The name may not register, but the congresswomen was a political groundbreaker. The first black woman to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee, she’d go on to ably represent her state as chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee. An early champion of Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency, Tubbs Jones carried Hillary’s water in memorable ways. We won’t forget the rhetorical drive-by she and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews performed on a hopelessly ill-prepared Obama spokesman from Texas, calling him on his knowledge of the candidate he supported … and then flashing the gums-showing, gotcha smile that was an indicator of her personality and her utterly irrepressible love of life. Miss you, sister Stephanie.

◊ ◊ ◊

Three of the icons of pop culture whose style and sound got us through younger days came to grips with the same even-numbered birthday, the one that tends to focus the mind wonderfully. Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson all turned 50 this year, saying adios to at least some part of the vigor that typified their earlier careers. Losing a step here and there, as we all do. Of the three, Prince has weathered the storm of time’s passing the best, holding on to that funk, that spirit, that mystery, that Princeness that’s kept The Purple One at, or damn sure near, the top of his game. Madonna has had her issues this year, mounting another tour, saying goodbye to another husband (this time after writing the check for about $75 million), and raising more of the eyebrows she’s raised for years — living a career and a life more or less on her own terms. And Michael … Michael’s still being Michael, for better and, sadly, for worse.

A shoutout’s required for Yankee Stadium, the House That Built Baseball. Spare me, Yankee haters, that spot at East 161st and River Avenue in the Bronx is close to a cathedral as sports has ever produced. Yankee Stadium hosted 37 World Series, 26 of those won by the team whose uniforms hung there. With four consecutive seasons of four million fans each season, the Stadium never lost its allure for the citizens of New York and fans of the game. The team’s getting ready to move across the way this coming season, to the new Yankee Stadium a block or so away. Some things will change. When the original Yankee Stadium opened in April 1923, a grandstand ticket cost $1.10; that decimal point moves sharply to the right next season. But what matters remains: the memories (of the white latticed scallops that ran the whole stadium ‘round, the games, the wall of cheers) and the milestones, which speak for themselves.

This was the year when the newspaper, that fact of everyday American life, came to say a virtual goodbye as it faces its biggest challenges yet, challenges that many are saying can’t be surmounted. As 24/7 media furthered its relentless hold on our lives, the newspaper industry — slow to make changes necessary for its own survival, slow to shift in its perception of its readers, impossibly slow to recognize the value and importance of diversity within its ranks — witnessed a storm of economically-driven layoffs and consolidations that continues today, and is likely to go on for months to come, death by a thousand thousand thousand Web sites.

◊ ◊ ◊

For now, we’ve lost an old reliable friend, one we’d counted on to take care of us when we were old and gray. The bull market we embraced and nurtured for so many years is still in the operating room. The prognosis is for a long-term coma. The vital signs are not good; the stock market was down 34 percent this year over last, the worst year-over-year decline since, you guessed it, 1931, in the depth of the Great Depression. A new team of doctors starts its shift on Jan. 20, and there’s great hope something can be done. But with the stock market thoroughly intertwined with the housing market, and fully connected with the global economic situation … hope is all we’ve got.

And you know what? At the end of the day, hope is all we ever get. This year, last year, next year, Hope (not the campaign rubric but the real thing) is our bright spark, what gets us out of bed in the morning, putting one foot in front of the other, getting to the business of life. Hope, that optimistic peep over the horizon, that gut sense that it’s gonna get better. Despite new fighting in the Middle East, despite old fighting in our old country; in spite of the cloudy forecast, the shadow on the X-ray, the weight of breaking news that summons the unexpected and the unbelievable — in spite of all of it … there’s Hope. Faith in the evidence of things not seen. It’s all we can count on. In some ways, it’s all we need.


It’s down there in the canyon of Times Square, and a hundred thousand other places here and around the world: right now some young man is down on one knee and showing a ring to some young woman. Will you? he asks. Will you take a chance with me? Do you believe in hope? Do you believe in tomorrow?

It’s there in the sunrise. It’s plain as day in the eyes of a child.

And it’s implicit in that song they sing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the end of the last trading day of the year, every year, reliable as clockwork even if the stocks they trade are anything but reliable. High or low, up or down, they sing that song all the way to the last line —

”Wait til the sun shines, Nelly, bye and bye …”

Bye-bye. Until tomorrow.
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Image credits: Buddy Miles: drummerworld.com. Mitch Mitchell: Linda McCartney. Albert Hoffman: Philip Bailey, republished under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license. Stephanie Tubbs Jones: Public domain. Prince: Micahmedia, republished under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, 2.5, 2.0 licenses. Yankee Stadium: Silent Wind of Doom, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Dead bull: The Huffington Post.

5 comments:

Annie said...

Besides the economic woes, i hope 2008 will mostly be remembered as the year that the first African-American president was elected!

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