I can’t say I feel terribly inspired to do a year-end wrap-up here. It was kind of a boring year; not a bad one, on a personal level, but one lacking in what we generally think of as Events.
We did get to see Courtney Barnett at the Fox in Oakland earlier this month, on a trip that included my first visit to the Chase Center for a Warriors game. (A loss to the Spurs, unfortunately, but a fairly exciting game.) There were also several nice dinners with friends, and on the whole I can say that a good time was had.
But for the nonce I’ve decided to take Courtney’s advice and, rather than looking back, make a list of things to look forward to in 2022.
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.
I wrote one of these for another blog recently, and with the holidays upon us and the new year just around the corner, this seems like a good time to check in and share updates on some of the ongoing obsessions.1When writing that just now I accidentally typed in “upsessions,” which I rather like. It sounds like one of those Rasta inversions, e.g. “overstanding” vs. “understanding.” I may make use of it in the future.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Van Morrison lately, for reasons having to do more with the alphabet than anything else. (I’ve also been listening to Monty Python, Morcheeba, and the Monkees.) The early stuff is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe he’s turned into this cranky geezer who writes songs about Facebook and “who owns the media.” My official policy is that I am not going to let Old Van ruin Young Van for me. I’m not sure about Middle-Aged Van; it seems like there’s some good stuff there, but there’s a mountain of material to sift through and at the moment a lack of will to tackle it.
The pile of unread books has shrunk a bit, thanks partly to a newfound willingness to abandon disappointing ones. David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue wasn’t doing it for me, so into the neighborhood free library it went. Likewise Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet, a gigantic tome that came highly recommended but turned out to be clichéd Seventies nonsense. (I rarely trade things in at the bookstore anymore; at this age I feel like haggling over two or three dollars is beneath me. Sometimes a book will go into a cafe with me but not leave, and I always feel like I’m getting away with something.) The major obstacles still remaining are three large biographies — one each of William S. Burroughs, Albert Einstein, and Werner Herzog — and gigantic books of stories by J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and H.P. Lovecraft.
I haven’t written much in the last couple years about my beloved Golden State Warriors, for whom this has been a period of adjustment. From the lofty heights of going to the NBA Finals five straight years and winning three titles, they tumbled to a dismal 15-50 record in the 2019-20 season, devastated by a series of defections and injuries. Last season was better, with My Personal Savior Stephen Curry again playing at an all-world level, but they became the first victims of the NBA’s new “play-in” format and barely missed the playoffs. This year things gave been going almost alarmingly well. Bolstered by the development of young players, some canny free-agent acquisitions, and Steph somehow finding a new level to his otherworldly game (including vastly improved defense), the W’s are tied for the best record in the NBA. And one of these days, probably sometime around Christmas, Klay Thompson will return from a two-year injury exile. If he’s in good form — and he’s been looking strong in practices and scrimmages — the league is in trouble.
And finally, as long as we’re here, do you want to hear the same song being covered by David Bowie and Rowlf the Dog? Of course you do.
Somehow or other I mostly missed Blur when they were happening. My first Blur album was their fifth, the self-titled one that came out in 1997. It was only later that I went back and explored their earlier stuff, and some of it fell through the cracks… like this one from 1995’s The Great Escape.
What a smashing number. I particularly like the unconventional structure, the way what appears to be the chorus — “there must be more to life/than stereotypes” — shifts into a chorus-within-the-chorus, the “all your life you’re dreaming” part, and then back. I listened to this song at least once every day this week, and I’m not tired of it yet.
As fate would have it, we were walking down St. Charles Street in New Orleans on Thursday when I happened to glance in a shop window and saw on the TV screen that Dr. John had died.
I actually met the Night Tripper back in the early ’00s, when I was working at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland. Yoshi’s Jazz Club often put their guests up at the Lake Merritt , which was a funky old art-deco place well-suited to musicians and other degenerates. The Dr. spent about a week there. He was very nice and frail-looking even then.
The day after his passing a second line was organized — if that’s the word — starting at Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge in the Treme. It was there that I saw this sign:
That’s a reference to a song from Dr. John’s 2012 album Locked Down, which coincidentally I had listened to earlier in the day. It’s a good one.
And it’s true, of course. There will never be another like him.
We are all caterpillars and it is our misfortune that, in defiance of nature, we cling with all our strength to our condition, to our caterpillar appetites, caterpillar passions, caterpillar metaphysics, and caterpillar societies. Only in our outward physical appearance do we bear to the observer who suffers from psychic shortsightedness any resemblance whatsoever to adults; the rest of us remain stubbornly larval. Well, I have very good reasons for believing (indeed if I didn’t there’d be nothing for it but to go off and dangle from the end of a rope) that man can reach the adult stage, that a few of us already have, and that those few have not kept the knack to themselves.