This is my current column, included here just because I felt like it. Also, I get to use my own paragraphs; it feels more important than you might think. Could just be me.
It’s been a longstanding practice of mine to stop listening when someone near me starts talking about the past in a particular way. This would be a nostalgic way, tinged with bitterness and resentment aimed at people who had nothing to do with the future. This would mostly be young people.
I stop listening because I’ve heard it all before, and because I think it’s nonsense. I’m as nostalgic as anyone, and there are things from yesterday that I might prefer to their 2016 versions, but I suspect most of us, if dropped back into the past, let’s say 30 years ago, would be mad.
You can’t pay for gas at the pump. You certainly can’t use a debit or credit card at the grocery store; cash or check, please. You have to rewind video tapes. I could go on.
Or let’s just be mean and put you back two centuries, to 1816, and tell you to head out from here to New York. Have a good trip. I hope you know how to make shoes and not get eaten. It should take you most of your life, too.
Today, it’s a little easier. You have to take your laptop out of the suitcase and maybe get x-rayed, thus clearly giving 2016 the win.
And if you’re one of those people who complain about the rest of the world going through life looking down at the screens in their hands, I have no idea what world you grew up in. What did people do in public before smart phones that was so wholesome and healthy in your eyes? If I mention that when I was a teenager, Americans watched an average of nearly 8 hours of television a day, would that change your mind about the good old days?
Never mind. I’ve just never understood why certain people find the activities of other people so alarming, or worth commenting on. And why they seem to lack the perspective one would hope comes naturally after a few decades of life, showing us that things always change, and that we’ve never had it so good.
We haven’t, either. We are safer, healthier, wealthier, smarter, taller, and in some cases fatter than in any time in human history.
We also have a million other problems, some threatening our very existence, but that’s nothing new. We’ve figured out solutions before; maybe we’ll do it again. But it won’t have anything to do with how much time we spend playing Minecraft or texting.
I will say this about time and change, though: Enough is enough.
I’ll say what we’re all thinking anyway, which is that too many people have died this year. Famous people, whose lives overlapped with ours in mysterious and also expected ways. People who made a difference in our culture, which makes a difference in everything else.
This happens all the time, of course. That’s why we have those “In Memoriam” films every year. People die.
And 2016 started out the usual way, with the death of Pat Harrington, Jr., a comic actor who entertained several generations. He was in his 80s and suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Doris Roberts, Abe Vigoda, Nancy Reagan, George Kennedy, Joseph Medicine Crow: These were people who amused and enlightened us, who were part of our lives and had their own ones, rich and long and full.
But the first quarter of 2016 will be remembered, I think, for the unexpected losses. The ones that froze us in place, numbed by sudden knowledge and in some cases struck with sudden grief.
Patty Duke? Garry Shandling? Alan Rickman? They were in their 60s, young by today’s standards, accomplished by any standards, and we lost them to mortality and bad luck.
But it’s been the musicians. We all know this. We were rocked, and rocked early.
David Bowie died, at the age of 69, on January 10, our shock intensified by the passing of the beloved Mr. Rickman five days later, but it didn’t stop there. Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey: This was the music of my life, and probably yours.
Frank Sinatra, Jr. held not only a strong tie to the most famous singer of the 20th century, but was an excellent musician himself, even with understanding the shadow he would stand in for a lifetime.
Sir George Martin, on the other hand, might have influenced the music of our era more than any other single person. His artistry was all over the Beatles, and the Beatles were all over us.
Merle Haggard was a road warrior from the old days, when country music had little glamour and quite a bit of steel guitar. I’d suggest that his influence and output surpassed even Johnny Cash, but no one wants to compare. We just know that he’s gone now, and something with him.
But Prince is enough. Thank you, Universe, for all you do, but Prince was enough.
Part of the triumvirate of pop all born in 1958, the same year I was, along with Madonna and Michael Jackson, Prince Rogers Nelson was our Mozart with no Salieri even close. Nobody was close.
So that’s enough, I think. Let us listen to the sounds of lost musicians, and grieve no more for a while. Let us remember the night last week when the whole world, it seemed, was momentarily bathed in purple, reminding us that for 57 too-short years, it had been.