Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince Is Gone, But I'm Looking For A Purple Lining To That Cloud Today

Off on a tangent, the deaths recently of Prince, Merle Haggard, David Bowie, Phife, and a few others, have me in the mind of appreciating all the more that the world still has two of my favorite performers in it, and still working into their 80s: Willie Nelson & Tom Baker.

Prince's death impacted more than Bowie's, but if I'm honest, I respected more than actively enjoyed his music the last several years. Like everyone else, I loved the 2007 Super Bowl half time show (hence the #shadowboner tag I've used occasionally since that night), and the George Harrison hall of fame tribute. I don't doubt Prince's last albums are great, but seeking them out wasn't important to me like his earlier ones were. That's partly true of Willie as well, though he put on a great concert last summer; and Tom's Big Finish audios are a shadow of his time in the role back in the 70s. But, I'm still listening to both, and hope to listen to lots more.

So the purple lining I'm finding in the cloud that hangs over 2016 is that the two guys who oriented my tastes around music (on Willie's part), and sci-fi (Tom's part) as much or more than any other performers during my formative years are still making the world better by being in it.

Willie's willingness to engage with music of all types, his outlaw/hustler/dare-I-say-proto-punk persona, his distinctive voice and guitar playing style, the poignancy of the songs he wrote, and the life he breathed into songs he covered ... these things all made it possible for me to hear music with more openness, more willingness to be challenged, and more patience for quirkiness. I firmly believe listening to his music has made me a better man. He has been a giant of American music and should be remembered not only for the songs he wrote and performed, but for how he served as an ambassador to the world for a distinctive strain of American fierce independence tightly coupled with the spirit of brotherhood.

Tom Baker's irreverence is a cousin to Willie's outlaw, but is another facet of that Coyote/Trickster-Verging-On-Fool archetype, a distinctly British one, perhaps. But of all the great Brits, he's the one that embodied a universal for me. There's a bit of John Lennon in him, a bit of John Cleese, something that -- because I saw him first -- made it certain I would be ready for Douglas Adams and Monty Python when I did encounter them. His Doctor is to me what "Imagine" is Lennon's fans, what the best Python sketches are to their fans, what HHGTG is to Adams fans. I'm fans of all those works and artists, but none give me the joy of watching Tom offer a baddie a Jelly Baby, or drop a line like, "You're a beautiful woman, probably."

Prince died far too young, and that sucks. But all the good ones don't die young. There are some who keep going, stay brilliant, and whose talent seems to be an inexhaustible well. They go up and down, wax and wane, make mistakes, can be assholes, but they are legendary talents and unmistakably brilliant performers ... when they are on, they peel back the veil and show us exactly how our imaginations can bend the cruelty of an indifferent universe towards joy in the face of suffering, and towards laughter in the face of evil.

Enjoy every day with the great ones, because nothing lasts forever.

Oh, and when the day comes, the black day that always comes, don't look for me to be coherent and to be able to compose a tribute. Those are the two that will break me down. I'll be hearing "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" and unable to speak. I'll be watching "The Ark in Space," and "The City of Death" through a wash of tears. They are "only celebrities," not family, not friends, but they are woven into the fabric of my life. The music that played in my grandparents' house, the escape of a kid who couldn't figure out he fit into the world, and the way back in.

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