I'm about done with my annual tradition of paying tribute to some of those who died in the past year--the authors, theatre people, science fiction figures, baby boomer icons. This is more than a journalistic exercise for me. First there's the respect for their work. And tribute to pay to those who've meant something to me.
There are ironies. I didn't know any of these people. On the other hand, the degree of separation seldom goes beyond two. I briefly met Neil Armstrong, George McGovern, Nora Ephron (I was introduced to her in the Esquire magazine office) and Robert Hughes. I had long funny interviews with Mark O'Donnell and all of Firesign Theatre, including Peter Bergman. I heard Doc Watson play live. And most of the others--the ones who mean something to me--I've probably met someone who knew them.
At Books in Heat, I mention books of particular significance in my life, like Robert Hughes' Shock of the New and Paul Fussell's Class (oddly these two men came to look like each other.) Books have often made a stronger impression--a stronger change--than a lot of people. The same can go for performances--music, movies, etc. For instance, I haven't read much Gore Vidal, but hearing him talk on TV--especially in the 60s--was not only informative but heartening. Even when he went far afield he did it with intelligence and articulation. It suggested possibilities, and hope.
There are a few special names I haven't written about here before, with some personal meaning.
I had what I knew would be my last opportunity to hear Ravi Shankar in person when he played one of his last concerts, right here at Humboldt State. But I didn't go. A combination of money and time. It's a big regret, right up there with failing to get myself into Pittsburgh to see a LA Lakers exhibition game, with Magic Johnson and Kareem. But I've been listening to his music since George Harrison revealed him. He stood for principles and disciplines, but had flexibility, kind of like the Dalai Lama.
I was in high school when Dave Brubeck's Time Out caused a sensation. It was the first--and really the only--jazz album I listened to repeatedly, and even studied (I had a musician friend who talked about the time signatures.) I listened to more, particularly an earlier album called Jazz Red Hot and Cool, but also work after that. I related to how Brubeck played the piano. If Bach had played jazz (well, he did, but you know what I mean) he would play it like Brubeck. But partly because he got popular, it became unfashionable to like Brubeck. He wasn't cutting edge enough.
The more I learned about Brubeck, the more admirable he became. Here's a really interesting piece about him. He kept playing almost to the end, and it always sounded new. A great model for getting old. At least I heard him play live once.
I don't know what to say about Whitney Houston. There was something special about her--her voice certainly--but more. She's a haunting figure.
Dorothea Tanning died this year at the age of 101. I first became aware of her name when I saw a photo of surrealists in Paris in the 20s or 30s, which noted that she was the only woman and only American in that group, and that she was born in Galesburg, Illinois. That's where I went to college, and it turns out she went to Knox College, too.
I got a book of her paintings and read her autobiography. She became a poet and novelist in the latter years of her long and eventful life. A woman who went from Galesburg to Paris to the American Southwest and New York City, all that created lines of attention and sympathetic vibration. Her powerful imagination, her bravery, her persistence. And her memories.
But I could write similar things about my responses and recollections concerning Ray Bradbury or Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle, Levon Helm's voice, Victor Spinetti's comic acting, Mary Tamm as a Time Lord, Forbidden Planet and Earth v. the Flying Saucers, Davy Jones and the Monkees--all brought back to mind by the event of a death, to recall their contribution to the texture of my life. Much of it is still alive to me. I suppose memories are that way, but those who leave behind their performances on film or recording, their words in books and on stages, live in the new experiences and possibilities.
So of course in thinking of them I am thinking of myself. They are part of the library of me--a library that will one day burn down. I leave just these traces.
And so I say again as I've said before and on each of those other posts: may they rest in peace, and their work live on.
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