I will not remember 2016, years from now, as having been a good year. Or if I do, it’s just because everyone else will still be kvetching so much about it that I’ll feel like being contrarian.
And yet, having survived 99.99 percent of it, I find myself thinking of things that are making me happy now, and things that made me happy during the year.
There will be crap coming along to harsh my mood in due time. Right now it’s a three-day weekend, and I’m full of brown rice, and I’d rather look at the high points.
Reasons to be cheerful from the week and the year, then …
511 miles. That’s how far I ran this year. Not all that much by real runners’ standards
(I’ll explain why in a sec), but still, I spent most of the year plodding away steadily, going out every other day, keeping the legs moving.
Not all the miles were fun, but now that they’re behind me, I’m pleased with every one.
In OK shape. I thought I’d had an uninterrupted year of running. But when I looked back at my running log, it reminded me that I’d been on the shelf with back problems all of January and much of February.
The back isn’t perfect, and I could stand to do my stretches more often than I do. But by and large I end the year without physical complaints. I will say thanks for that every day that it’s true. (No major car repairs, either. Double huzzah!)
Tune In. I spent much of my Christmas break with my nose buried deep in Mark Lewisohn’s 900+-page chronicle of the Beatles’ lives through the end of 1962. It’s meticulously researched (blowing several oft-repeated bits of Beatles lore out of the water) and well-written.
It reads like a book half its actual length, and I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t huge Beatles fans — though it leaves off right at the start of the band’s hitmaking career, so we’re all left waiting to see what Lewisohn can unearth about the writing and recording of the band’s catalog.
(2016 being what it is, two of the many figures appearing in the book have died since I received my copy. Former Liverpool promoter Sam Leach, who booked some of the band’s early jive-hall gigs, died Dec. 21; Allan Williams — the former manager who arranged the Beatles’ first, life-changing trip to Hamburg — died a day or two ago.)
Also from the year-in-reading list: Stacks and stacks of poetry, much of it very good to brilliant, from the likes of Ted Hughes, John Berryman, John Betjeman, Randall Jarrell and Robert Frost. In fact …
“New Hampshire.” … I’m going to give the title poem of Frost’s 1923 poetry collection New Hampshire a separate shout-out all to itself, since I read it recently and reveled in it. It’s a touch overlong, but full of phrases and ideas that shine in degrees of absurdity and wonderment. Plus the ending’s a hoot.
(A transcription with a number of what Sally Brown would call “typicalgraphical errors” is here.)
My brother got married. In San Francisco, in May, in a lovely ceremony, to a smart, friendly woman who we’re all glad to have in the family. I got to drink a bottle of Anchor Steam within viewing range of the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus I got to see a couple of old friends on the West Coast I haven’t seen in donkey’s years. Can’t forget that as a high point of 2016.
New-to-me music. I don’t recall hearing anything for the first time this year that completely blew me out of my socks and required me to buy the artist’s entire repertoire.
But I heard a bunch of stuff for the first time that I enjoyed, including Roland Kirk’s Rip Rig & Panic; a bunch of Charles Mingus, most notably The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady; the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel; the Strangelet Disasters’ Morbid Fascination; and bobbito pickles’ old ones.
Also got deeply into this toon on YouTube. I suspect this band’s quirks would wear thin on me over the course of a full album, but this particular song (full of growling bass and rapid-fire, sometimes double-entendre, wordplay) has been a frequent earworm in the past few months.
Young at heart. As for live music, the highlight of the year came from an unexpected place.
I’d bought a ticket to the Outlaw Music Festival in Scranton in September to see the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (they were OK) and Neil Young, who I expected to play a goofily huffy set of anti-Monsanto screeds with his new backing band Promise of the Real.
Instead, Neil drew entirely from his back catalog — nothing more recent than “Harvest Moon,” and most songs much older than that — and he was spirited and loud and ragged and on fire the entire time. I hadn’t seen him perform in 20 years and he was at least as good as he’d been then. It was heartening and rejuvenating.
(Second-best show? The CRB again, this time headlining the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg. They’re better on their own bill.)
My music. I found time to add two recordings to my own Bandcamp repertoire.
Things We Burned, released in April, is a cut-up concert-band jawn that is probably my favorite of my own recordings; it works, sometimes, in weird ways. And October’s We Have Succeeded in Nothing Anywhere, which combines the speeches of Gerald Ford with theremin improvisations, ranks among mankind’s more noble failures. It seems to have stopped visits and listens to my Bandcamp page stone cold dead, but I still like the concept anyway.
Cover your ears: More is on the way in 2017.
Bernie Sanders. The only Presidential candidate to whom I have ever donated, and one who unexpectedly caught my allegiance.
I suspected all along that a 75-year-old Jewish socialist from northern Vermont had zero chance of being elected president. And I knew that, even if he pulled it off, ideas like free college had zero chance of coming to pass.
I didn’t care. For a few months, the guy spit truth about our broken political and social systems that brought a smile to my face.
(It was also a rich pleasure to imagine him irritating Hillary Clinton, like a fishbone stuck in the throat, week after week. I’m not a huge HRC fan, and I’ve never liked people who came across like they were entitled to have stuff — like presidential nominations — handed to them.)
If the result of the 2016 election has any upside, it may be that Bernie got to ride off into the sunset on a high note: He’s still wrapped in his principles and promises, but he’ll never have to actually make good on them. He gets the same place in posterity as the girl you could never manage to ask out in high school — the one who remains bright and smiling in your memory, because you never got close enough to her to find out she had vicious garlic breath.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump will actually have to tackle “draining the swamp,” bringing back manufacturing jobs, and all his other promises — unsuccessfully, no doubt.
Still at it. My blog-buddy Jim Bartlett — who has been beating his head against the barren wall of inspiration for a while, just as I have — is not quitting the blog business, just writing less frequently. I’m glad he’s keeping his hand in. I imagine I will, also.
Berry butter cake. Busy in the kitchen as always this year. Here’s one new recipe that stood out and is well worth a try for the bakers in the crowd. Just call me Barry Buttercake, uh-huh.
See? Having written all that it seems like a good enough year. Let’s see what 2017 brings me.