A Year Most of Us Would Like to Forget

Gebhard Fuge: An den Wassern Babylons

Gebhard Fuge: An den Wassern Babylons

A couple of posts ago, I stated that I wasn’t going to do my annual review because I lacked the courage; however, I’ve changed my mind hoping that the exercise might provide some catharsis, serve as a purgative to wash away pity and terror, as I rent my sackcloth and tear out my few remaining  strands of hair.


Prophetically setting the tone for horror over the horizon, my very first post this year was a New Year’s Day comparison of Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt, two doomed cool rocking daddies who both died on New Year’s Day 44 years apart.  Click Here.

hank and townes

Of course, David Bowie would die later that month while those undelightful Bundry Boys, who later would be acquitted, occupied federal property in Montana.  Instead of going there, I’ve linked the cautionary tale of my first acquaintance with alcohol.  Read it and weep. Click Here.

Folly Beach Tales of Intoxication


In February my Aunt Virginia died, which led to musing on mortality as my siblings and I scattered her remains to the Folly River.  Click Here.

ashes to ashes

Here’s also a review of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which I listened to driving to a funeral home after a stranger in a bar the previous evening showed me photographs of her husband’s severed finger stumps, which he had acquired a couple of hours earlier. Click here.


patPat Conroy, the father of a close friend, died.  She and her sister stayed with us during his hospitalization. Click here.

In addition, March brought us the news of the return of Judy Birdsong’s T-Cell Lymphoma, which, of course, was profoundly disheartening.

This post was created on Good Friday right after finding out the news.  Click here.


Teaching Keats while in despair proved quite difficult but do-able.  Click here.

And, of course, Prince, whom I dubbed “the Lord Byron of Pop, died.  Click here.




Yet another death, this time a student’s.  Click here.

And I review Don DeLillo’s just released not-exactly-upbeat novel, Zero K.


Edward Hopper: "Morning Sun"

Edward Hopper: “Morning Sun”


dylan-ali-2-300x201June brought us a mass shooting in an Orlando Nightclub.  Click here.

Ali, a sort of boyhood hero died, which took me back to the early 60’s when my father tried to teach me how to box.  Click here.

So I decided to cheer myself up by reading the Brothers Karamazov.  Click here.

the author fleeing from an ant attack

the author fleeing from an ant attack


Trump + Putin = Love. Click here.

Also, there was that festival of bad taste known as the Republican convention. Click here.

Adelson's luxury suite

Adelson’s luxury suite


Okay, how about a little sunshine.  I donned my anthropological pith helmet and crashed a bachelor’s party at Chico Feo (click here) and talked a colleague into letting me publish a brilliant letter she wrote to her students (click here).


Snazell, Sarah; Doppelganger; Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/doppelganger-178168

Snazell, Sarah; Doppelganger; Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/doppelganger-178168

In September we travelled to Houston for treatment, and my Judy Birdsong met the other Judy Birdsong, a bright light in a year of darkness (click here).


Before Leonard Cohen died, I published this piece after reading David Remick’s splendid New Yorker article.  Click here.


Blow Hurricane Matthew, break your checks, rage blow. Click here.


Oh my God NO! Click here.


So here we are.  On the edge.  Waiting.  But, hey, thanks to all for reading, especially my regular crew.  Happy New Year!


Leonard Cohen’s Saunter into ‘That Good Night’


I first heard Leonard Cohen in David Williams’s black pick-up truck, and it was the very first time I had seen a cassette deck. As far as I knew, 8-tracks were still the only way to listen to recorded music in a moving vehicle. I think Robin Kellam was with us. I think we were driving north on Highway 61. But one thing I do remember for sure: it was the song “So Long, Marianne” that snatched my attention.



The female back-up singer in the chorus struck me as deliciously retro bordering on clunky, and then there was that gypsy vibe, those exotic Middle Eastern instruments[1] and the lush religious imagery. In the David Remnick profile that appears in this week’s New Yorker, Cohen describes the audience he sought to reach: “inner directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”

In other words, Keatsian/Yeatsian romantics like I-and-I.

I lit a thin green candle

to make you jealous of me,

but the room just filled up with mosquitos.

They heard my body was free.


Yes, I was a romantic back in those days but thankfully not of incurable variety. By the time I was out of college, Cohen had begun to bore me a little (and still does). Even his former lover Joni Mitchell dismisses his as “a boudoir poet.”

Bores me except for the occasional killer composition like “Tower of Song” and “First We Take Manhattan,” which I heard Warren Zevon cover explosively at the old Music Farm on East Bay Street.

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom

For trying to change the system from within

I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

However, what do I know? Here’s Remnick quoting Dylan:

I asked Dylan whether he preferred Cohen’s later work, so colored with intimations of the end. “I like all of Leonard’s songs, early or late,” he said. “” ‘Going Home,’ ‘Show Me the Place,’ ‘The Darkness.’ These are all great songs, deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel. I like some of his later songs even better than his early ones. Yet, there’s a simplicity to his early ones that I like, too.”

Speaking of the end, when Cohen learned his former lover and muse Marianne Ihlen, the Marianne of the song, was dying, he sent her this email:

Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more because you know all that… Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORKER

Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016.

One night you’re barreling up Highway 61, and the next thing you know you’re an old man getting your house in order.

It’s clear from Remnick’s article that Cohen wasn’t joking in his email to Marianne. He’s “not long for this world.”

Again Remnick quoting Cohen:

“I’ve got some work to do.  Take care of business.  I am ready to die.  I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.  That’s about it for me.”

Let’s cue up some Yeats, one of Cohen’s boyhood heroes:

The death of friends, or death
Of every brilliant eye
That made a catch in the breath—
Seem but the clouds of the sky
When the horizon fades,
Or a bird’s sleepy cry
Among the deepening shades.

Whatever else you can say about Cohen, you cannot deny this: he is, in the phrase of my dear friend Jim Klein, “a cat.”

[1] Played, by the way, by David Lindley