Reflections as the Ball Drops
"And surely ye'll be your pint-stoup! and surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne."-Robert Burns
I’m writing from snowy Tahoe, reflecting on the past year as the kids are at ski school. Another crazy, unpredictable year filled with darkness, silver linings, hardships, hope, loss, and new beginnings as we settle into the new reality of the ever-changing unknown. We are on the brink of democracy crumbling, yet the future is unwritten; the present is full of opportunities, and we can still have beautiful moments, with friends and family…or just looking at the stars on a clear night.
I am so thankful to the artists and thinkers and writers and change makers that make life full. Their collective impact is all around us.
Here is an incomplete list of my favorite things from this year. I wish you all a wonderful 2022…
1. Horror Movies: There is nothing like escaping a dark world then plugging into the horror film genre. This year I caught up with some I had missed, reconnected with old favorites, as well as dug into some new beauties:
· Night House: Best horror flick of the year. Rebecca Hall should be nominated for an Academy Award for her Tour De Force performance in this unpredictable and genuinely scary film.
· Color Out of Space: Nicholas Cages’ madness is matched by director Richard Stanley’s vision in this compellingly bizarre sci-fi horror color and reality explosion (with a killer Tommy Chong cameo).
· Midsommar: A masterpiece of modern folk horror. Excellent story telling with some scenes that are permanently damaging. Wonderful.
· Blood on Satan’s Claw: A classic “folk horror” flick of the past, celebrating its 50th year anniversary.
· The Ring: Rewatched it with my daughter, who loves a good scare too
· The Others AND The Innocents: Yes, my daughter Kaya is turning into a horror film enthusiast like her dad. The Others flowed into the Innocents for us, with its plot reminding me of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.
2. Les Misérables & Don Quixote: These two epic novels defined my 2021 reading agenda. I am finding the rhythm of the long long story to be quite comforting in our face-paced tik tok world, especially when woven by such masters. The Christine Donougher Les Mis translation is the one to read, unless you decide to go for it in the original French. Her 100+ pages of footnotes are essential (best read on kindle where you can access them without leaving the text). For Don Quixote, Edith Grossman’s translation makes the text seem so very modern, supporting Cervantes’ genius portrayal of madness in his main character.
3. The Alta Quarterly: Jerry Harrison turned me on to the Alta a few years ago, and it just continues to please with every issue. Will Hurst (grandson of the infamous newspaperman) has constructed a journal full of engaging long-form journalism, with an on-line component for subscribers that includes frequent talks with the contributors. Yes, it is focused on all things California, but the articles are universal in scope and so very well written.
4. New Music Releases (in no particular order)
· After Dark (Alan Vega)
· Kissing Rosy in the Rain (Mason Lindahl)
· Feelings (Ekin Fil)
· A Great Miracle (Jeremiah Lockwood)
· I Wish I Knew The Man I Thought You Were (A Single by Karen Black & Cass McCombs)
· The Dharma Wheel (Howlin’ Rain)
· CHANGÜÍ – The Sound Of Guantánamo (Various Artists)
· Vulture Prince (Arooj Aftab)
· Afrique Victime (Mdou Moctar)
5. Old Music: The most listened to album on Spotify for me this year? The Who’s Tommy. 2021 was the year the kids figured out that the song Pinball Wizard was part of a bigger story…and for a while we listened to the whole rock opera daily. Others:
· Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes (John Kay)
· The Bill Bronzy Story (Big Bill Broonzy)
· Nikhil Banerjee in California,1967 (Nikhil Banerjee)
· Excavated Shellac (V/A)
· Orphée (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
· Various Singles (Sister Wynona Carr)
6. Asakichi: Tucked away in San Francisco’s Japan Town is a hole-in-the-wall that sells the highest quality of Japanese incense. Staples from the shop include Hinoki Cypress Incense (Kunjuto brand) and Fu-In Aloeswood Incense (Minorien brand).
7. The New York Public Library’s Polonsky Exhibition: My wife’s childhood friend Beth Hayes works at the NYPL and got us over during the family’s brief visit to NYC to see the treasures of their collection, which is a miraculous sampling of truly incredible things from human civilization: a handwritten score from Beethoven, Charles Dickens’ letter opener with a real cat’s paw, the Winnie The Pooh stuffed animals, Virginia Wolf’s walking stick, Charlotte Brönte’s writing desk and on and on.
8. Studs Terkel Archives: When going deep with the Big Bill Broonzy recordings (mentioned above) I came across a treasure of interviews digitized and on-line from the long career of Studs Terkel (who co-produced the Broonzy date). Over decades, Terkel spoke to an incredible assortment of amazing people, including Zero Mostel, Shel Silverstein, Laurie Anderson, Sonny Rollins and Maya Angelou. His interview style opened his subjects up, creating space for stories and ponderings that are enlightening and extraordinary.
9. Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Works in Paper, 1948-1992 (Berggruen Gallery): As soon as it felt safe to venture out into the world, during those few months when it seemed Covid was on the decline, my Mom and I experienced one of the greatest of gallery shows: 3 stories of Diebenkorn paintings and sketches, many having not been viewed by the public in years.
10. San Francisco Giants, Postseason, Game 1: My friend Barry Simons invited me to the first Giants post-season game vs the Dodgers. The series ended up being more exciting than the world series was, even though the Giants eventually lost. But they owned that game, led by killer pitching from Alex Wood and with all the stars hitting homers, including what became Buster Posey’s final big-league water-shot.
11. Poetry: Another year with a lot of poetry consumed…life enhancing stuff (I am thankful to this newsletter for driving me to keep discovering). Just a few of the poets that inspired me this year:
· Gary Snyder
· W. S. Merwin (thank you, Mimi)
· Jane Hirshfield
· Jack Hirshman (RIP)
· Rainer Maria Rilke
12. Live Music: While I am still being pretty watchful of crowds because of Covid, I did catch a few great shows this year:
· Los Lobos live at Rancho Nicassio, Nicassio
· Mdou Moctar live at Lagunitas Brewing Co, Petaluma
· St. Paul & The Broken Bones at The Stern Grove Festival
· Flying Color at The Make-Out Room
13. Dandy: An herbal beverage created from a water extract of dandelion root, chicory root, sugar beetroot, barley, and rye. It is a body cleanser, a delicious alternative to that second cup of coffee, and something that has worked its way into my daily ritual (Thank you, Laurie Hall!).
14. Hollywood Eden (by Joel Selvin) AND Motor City Underground (by Leni Sinclair): Two very different types of books, one being a greatly researched, beautifully told journey and the other being an intimate photo journalistic love letter…both wonderful, expansive looks at incredible American music scenes
15. Mount Tam Trails: Like last year, hiking on Mount Tam has been one of the greatest sources of exercise and meditation. This year I completed a top-peak trip. Next year, who knows…
Thank you all for you continued reading of this newsletter. Happy New Year!
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