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?
Gallagher went to the Big Casino in the Sky this week. That’s Leo Gallagher, originator of the watermelon-smashing schtick, not his brother Ron, who sometimes peddled a version thereof.
I had always thought that the multiple Gallaghers were something the two brothers cooked up together, so Gallagher could be two places, earning two appearance fees, at the same time. (Technically you could call either one “Gallagher” and be telling the truth.) But the NYT says otherwise:
In the early 1990s, when his younger brother Ron lost his job as a bulldozer salesman, Mr. Gallagher helped him out by allowing Ron, who bore some resemblance to him, to perform a facsimile of his act. Ron Gallagher added touches like smashing a lobster with a hammer and was soon performing in small venues.
After a few years, Ron Gallagher began billing himself as Gallagher II (sometimes Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two). Leo Gallagher had not agreed to this billing and was concerned that it was misleading, so in 1999 he sued to stop his brother from performing under that name. The suit, filed in federal court in Michigan, claimed that Ron had “violated Gallagher’s right of publicity and trademark rights.”
An injunction was granted prohibiting Ron Gallagher from performing any act that impersonated his brother. The judge ordered him not to perform with “a sledgehammer or other similar device to pulverize watermelons, fruits, food or other items of any kind.”
I don’t know why this kind of showbiz minutiae fascinates me so much, but it does. As does this further detail from the obit:
When Jerry Lee Lewis finally died last week, after a false alarm that prompted a rare retraction from TMZ, it marked the end of an era. According to my calculations he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars. As a group they lived surprisingly long — Chuck Berry and Fats Domino lasted until 2017, Little Richard made it all the way to 2020 — but if any are left now, I can’t think of who.
The Killer was the object of much censure, not undeserved, for many misdeeds including marrying his 13-year-old cousin. But partly because of that he became, perhaps more than anyone else, the model of what we think of as a rock star: a true wildman whose high-octane stage energy mirrored a tumultuous personal life. I mean, look at this guy; he was a force of fucking nature.
Another notable recent passing in the music world was that of Toshi Ichiyanagi, who I must admit I had never heard of before reading his obituary. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Toshi Ichiyanagi, an avant-garde pianist and composer whose works mixed international influences, made unusual use of musicians and instruments, and combined music with other media, died on Oct. 7 in Tokyo. He was 89.
Last week one Ann Turner Cook passed away at the age of 95. You probably don’t recognize the name, but you might have seen this drawing of her as a baby:
Most likely in a context like this:
Says the NYT:
Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.
In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”
As a baby, Ms. Cook was in very much the right place at the right time. As an adult, however, fearing ridicule for her long-running role as a princess of puréed peas, she did not disclose her identity for decades.
Ms. Cook, who received no royalties for the use of her image, profited from it by precisely $5,000 over some 90 years. That sum — a settlement she accepted from Gerber in 1951 — let her make the down payment on her first home.
After I read the main obituaries in the Sunday Times, my eyes wander over to the smaller ones with the tiny, tiny type. If I were a perfect reading machine I would absorb all of these — the lives there summarized are often as interesting as the ones that get the big writeups, and since they are paid for by the word, every column inch is a testament to the fact that someone was beloved (or at least wealthy).
Usually I pick one or two that catch me eye. This week I was particularly struck by one headlined “DEAN—Joe.” Apparently these little ones aren’t available online, so here’s a picture:
I think this may be the perfect obituary. Warm and genial expression? Check. Age-appropriate but not horrifying picture? Check. Terse, to the point text that makes every word count and praises its subject without getting all flowery? Check. I’d like mine to be similar if possible.
Sometime in the last few years I went through whatever life change it is that makes a person interested in obituaries. A well-written obit is a capsule biography that takes you through a whole life — often one lasting 90 years or more — whilst you drink your coffee of a Sunday morning. In this way I have learned about a bunch of very interesting people that I’d never even heard of before.
Today I thought I’d share three recent examples. For each one I’ve posted a few key paragraphs along with a link to the full obit. Only after the fact did I notice that these are all portraits of, shall we say, non-conforming women; make of that what you will.
I may make this a regular feature of the blog going forward. You have been warned.
(Note: If you run into the New York Times paywall whice trying to click through to any of these, let me know; my subscription lets me gift articles to people directly, which I’m happy to do.)
In her 99 years this woman wrote over 400 books, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Jakucho Setouchi, a Buddhist priest and feminist author who wrote frankly about sex, entertained audiences with her insouciant wit and rendered one of Japan’s greatest classic works into a readable best seller, died on Nov. 9 in Kyoto, Japan. She was 99.