I’ve been thinking a lot about 1999 lately, I’m not sure why. Something about that moment in time resonates with our current one.
In 99 we thought it was end of an era, the first move to a new century any of us under 100 had experienced, and the first into a new millennium in many a generation. But of course there was no big sudden change — the exciting chaos we’d been expecting never materialized, and we woke up on the first day of the “new era” a day older but the same as ever.
The real new era — for Americans at least — arrived a year, nine months, and ten days later. In some ways I feel like this country has never fully processed the trauma of 9/11. We had always felt invulnerable before that — we had lost in Vietnam, but that happened far away. You can trace a direct if somewhat blurry line between the wave of paranoia and finger-pointing that followed to our current hate-filled political condition. In that sense, the terrorists won.
Again, I’m not sure why I feel like we’re on the cusp of something similar. I’m no psychic or pundit. It would be nice to think some kind of positive change is the offing, though there’s little reason to think so. But hope springs eternal.
Anyway… you need to live your life one day at a time, don’t you? Tonight I will not be partying like it’s 1999. Back then I was in Seattle with some friends. We ate special brownies and watched fireworks while waiting for the great blackout to never happen. At one point I remember AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock’n’Roll” came blasting over the hill and I decided that it was the greatest song ever written. Later my friends wanted to go to bed but I was all amped up and wandered the neighborhood looking for parties to crash. I think I found a few but the whole thing is pretty vague. At some point I ambled back to Sky Command, my friend James’s redoubt at the top of Queen Anne Hill, and fell into a deep and I think peaceful slumber.
Tonight my beloved and I will be supping on a five-course tasting menu at the Carter House’s restaurant in Eureka, then ambling slowly to our room at the Inn. May even make it to midnight, who knows.
While we’re on the subject of 1999, here’s a song from that year that popped into my head for some reason. It’s a good one. Happy New Year, everybody!
After some consideration I’ve decided to just write a bit about each of the songs on hours… in order. Nothing too fancy. It’s a rainy and quiet Thursday here, nothing much is going on, so let us begin.
I’m actually a little hesitant to write about “Thursday’s Child” because it is very close to my heart. In the dark days of 1999 — which wasn’t a horrible year, necessarily, just a strange and confusing and sort of lonely one — it was a beacon of hope. And now, as I sit here thinking about where I was then and where I am now… well, just take a good listen to this thing and you’ll probably understand where I’m coming from.
This is the rare case where I disagree with Chris O’Leary, who calls the character in this song “a loser in love.” I can understand that, given the generally dour mood of hours…, it’s hard to take the apparent optimism of “Thursday’s Child” at face value; but I’ve listened to it many times — five times just today — and I can’t hear anything in it but sincerity.
My favorite thing about hours… may be its artwork. In the 3D cover image, an angelic-looking Bowie, clean-shaven and long-tressed, cradles the head of a short-haired, scraggly-bearded version. It’s a cheeky take, as Chris O’Leary points out, on “Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Bowie’s new somber majordomo persona cradling the dying ‘rave uncle’ of Earthling.” Sort of like Doctor Who if the old Doctor died when the new one appeared.1I never thought of the Doctor/Bowie connection before and now I’m rather pleased with it. David was very much like a series of different manifestations inhabiting the same body; and that would make him a Time Lord, which seems about right.
On the back cover there are three Davids, two icily aloof and one distraught:
This is Bowie leaning into what I would call his benign narcissism. There is no question that he liked to look at himself; a picture of him graces the cover of every album up to The Next Day, where he is mostly obscured by the white title box. (On Blackstar, recorded as he slowly faded out of existence, he is noticeable by his absence.)
So here we are again at the shortest day of the year — “The Return of Light,” as the Tao Te Ching calls it, because tomorrow will be slightly longer, and the day after a little longer still, until at last spring arrives in all its glory.
Yesterday there was a 6.4 earthquake that shook Humboldt County around pretty good but left our house mercifully intact, though without power until late in the day. Today is foggy and gray, as good a day as any to note the passing last week of Angelo Badalamenti, composer extraordinaire.
Angelo lived 85 years and did a lot of stuff, but most of us know him from his work with David Lynch. Says the NYT:
His best-known work was the “Twin Peaks” theme, recognizable from its first three ominous, otherworldly notes. He won the 1990 Grammy for best instrumental pop performance for the number, which was, according to the Allmusic website, “dark, cloying and obsessive — and one of the best scores ever written for television.”
In 2015, a Billboard writer described the theme as “gorgeous and gentle one second, eerie and unsettling the next.” It was, according to Rolling Stone, the “most influential soundtrack in TV history.”
But for today, his 1998 collaboration with David Bowie seems like the right thing to listen to.
I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure it was a good idea to turn the Gershwins’ gossamer bauble into a gothic cathedral of sound. But if we posit that it was, certainly Dave and Angelo did a fantastic job. In their version the sun doesn’t come bursting through the clouds; we glimpse it briefly behind a layer of relatively thin fog, and then it’s gone. We know it’s there, and have the idea we’ll see it again, but who knows when?
It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened. —Huckleberry Finn