We’ll start WC’s annual year in review by remembering those who were important to WC that we lost in 2016. And WC cautions you that 2016 was a brutal year, especially for musicians.
|Leonard Cohen||No one better blended the sacred and profane in song lyrics than Leonard Cohen. No one’s song lyrics were closer to poetry. There was nothing wrong with his tunes, but for WC, it was always the lyrics. It’s that mix of the sacred and profane that make “Hallelujah” so great.|
|Glenn Frey and Don Henley took the nascent country rock of The Byrds, Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers, turned down the cowboy, and honed in on lyrics and harmonies. And created an impressive songbook. “Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Witchy Woman,” “New Kid in Town,” and maybe the best of all, “Hotel California,” to name just a few. You can make the case that “Take It Easy,” written with Jackson Browne, should be the state song of California.|
|Prince||For better or worse, he pushed rock and roll lyrics to – or beyond – all social norms of the times. Sometimes to a kind of rock pornography. He was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center and the whole ratings sticker foolishness.
He was driven, obsessed even, with being the best. Especially when on stage. He upstaged Beyonce, and blew away the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stars on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
|In February 2006, when the Weavers were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, Fred Hellerman said, “If you can exist, and stay the course – not a course of blind obstinacy and faulty conception – but one of decency and good sense, you can outlast your enemies with your honor and integrity intact.” That’s what Hellerman did, and did very well.|
|He is one of the very few persons in recent U.S. history to serve in senior positions in all three branches of the U.S. government: eight years as a member of Congress, fifteen years as a federal appellate judge and two years as White House Counsel. Judge Mikva was a passionate gun control advocate (the NRA spent more than $1 million lobbying against his nomination toe he bench), and was an early defender of gay rights. He hired future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as a law clerk and mentored President Obama. He is everything you could want in civil servant and the very antithesis of the president-elect.|
|It was John Glenn who got WC interested in science, in science fiction and in current events. It was Glenn’s offhand comment that Mercury space capsules were “a lot more complicated than a pinball machine” that inspired WC’s 6th grade teacher, Jerry Norum, to talk to the Fairbanks Police Department to give Norum a forfeited pinball machine for his students – including WC – to dismantle.
A hero of World War II and the Korean War. An astronaut, a member of the Mercury 7 and the first American to orbit the earth. A distinguished U.S. Senator who served his country and not a political party or noisy constituency. A member of countless commissions, task forces and investigations. A member of an endangered species: a genuine American hero.
|Hayden authored some 20 books, chronicling his life and times from the perspective of a leftist intellectual. They are still a good read. The most important thing to remember about Tom Hayden is that, most of the time, he had things exactly right, although he was derided at the time. Hoover, Vietnam, civil rights, wealth inequality, red scares; and, of course, the cops’ murder of Fred Hampton. He had them all right.|
|WC doesn’t often write obituaries for movies stars because, well, movie stars. But Wilder is an exception. His partnerships with the likes of Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor gave us some of the best comedies of the 1980s and 1990s. He was also a successful stage actor, author, movie director and philanthropist. His 1995 interview on NPR was astonishing.|
|Zelda was WC’s mother-in-law. The mother of Mrs. WC and four other children, she was a legendary quilter, a golfer into her 80s, a serious reader and a wonderful conversationist. She had dozens of friends who valued her as much as her family did. She died this year at age 91.
We miss her very, very much.
This is only a partial list, of course. It has been a hard year, a miserable year, with a few, pitiful bright spots. WC understands that as he grows older, the folks her grew up with an admired are going to leave us. No one gets to live forever. But when you lose folks like George Michael at only 53 years old, well, it’s hard.