That sentence, more than any I can think of, sums up my feelings regarding reflecting on the year that was 2015. And this is why I am writing my memoirs in the waning days of January, when I generally bust one of these out if not on January 1st, pretty close to.
The abridged version of my year is as follows: in December Madeline turned five, in July Amélie turned three and somewhere else during that time True decided that five years was quite enough for her of being my life partner.
It’s not something I particularly want to elaborate on in a public venue. What happens next? I don’t know. We’re both with new people. Life goes on, right? Right.
Unless you are no longer alive.
Conventional wisdom states that I should be reflecting on Marin Luther King Jr. today. The problem is that, on a personal level, any reflection of King is a reflection of someone taught to me from history – a history where someone fought for an end to discrimination and for fiscal fairness and who seems to have lost. Barack Obama, for all of the legitimate criticisms one could lodge against him, is still the most vilified president to ever hold office for little more than the above average amount of melanin colouring his dermal layers. I hesitate to say “good riddance” to Obama and his tepid ultra-centrism for fear of inviting the full-fledged fascism of Donald Trump.
A week ago when the news broke that David Bowie had died, I texted my girlfriend, “Lemmy’s passing was sad, but this one really hurts.” My copy of ChangesBowie is lonely upon my CD rack and needs company. Last Monday I fired up Spotify and listened to nothing but David Bowie all day long, culminating in what is now his swan song, Blackstar.
I’d heard the title cut and found it a song which demanded to be heard through a proper set of speakers. To listen to the song through a pair of earbuds is to listen to a song neutered. The whole album is beautiful and it makes me sad. While the circumstances surrounding it are different (cancer, as opposed to suicide), I felt that I was hearing a goodbye note much in the same way as Joy Division’s Closer.
The thing about David Bowie is that he influenced and was influenced by pretty much all of the music I love. My first encounter with the Starman occurred when I had to have been six or seven years old. Not the Starman, mind you, I met the Goblin King of Labyrinth. To this day “Magic Dance,” despite all of it’s 1980s cheesiness is one of my favourite David Bowie songs to this day. It just makes me happy…and sometimes that is all that matters.
The radio stations out of Canada which I listened to growing up kept Bowie on regular rotation. All of the classics which were collected on ChangesBowie came to me via those airwaves. By 1998, I remember my friends and I driving around the countryside of Northern New York blasting the Nine Inch Nails remix of “I’m Afraid of Americans” and generally being weird, terrifying kids. When I joined my college radio station, there was not a time that David Bowie did not get airplay – a new album was guaranteed an add to the playlist rotation (my tenure as music director contained the release of Heathen). I can thank college radio for the fact that I have heard “The Laughing Gnome.”
For his birthday one year, I bought a friend a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. He was heavily into glam at the time which was influencing his music and it seemed an appropriate gift. On the card, I wrote, “something to bring you closer to your roots.” In hindsight, I should have bought two copies and kept one for myself.
The first Illusion of Joy long-player I ever recorded, 2002’s Bitter was done as a class assignment. Actually, the assignment was to record a song and I went way beyond and recorded an album. It is somewhat of a miracle that I was allowed to do this. However, the professor must have liked, if not what I was doing, my drive to do it. At one point he commented that my vocal style reminded him of David Bowie. It was an amazing compliment.
For the second year in a row, Illusion of Joy made only one live appearance. I have been slowly working on a new album. I gave the songs from it a listen in chronological order recently…and made my girlfriend listen as well. She referred to one track as “devastating.” That’s a keeper.
With any degree of luck this album will be fully complete and released for public consumption this year! For most intents and purposes, it is done, but there are some other players I want to bring on to add their talents and finish it off. The closing song, in particular, I want to have a big finish. To that end, I’ve been asking every vocalist I know to contribute to the coda. Thus far, I’ve gotten Don Anderson, Jim Semonik and Maresa Whitehead to contribute – and just the three of them brought the song to a much higher level. I get shivers thinking of what a dozen vocalists may sound like all tracked together.
I feel that, musically, I have been operating in a bubble for way too long. This has not been healthy for me. But I also have trouble reaching out and socialising with other people. I am trying to not be so anxious, but it is a difficult wall to scale. It especially frustrates me because there is no logic to my emotional state and I pride myself on being someone who can power through things and tackle problems with logic. Emotions just don’t follow the rules…what makes me a decent songwriter otherwise cripples me.
And 2015 showed me, if nothing else, how emotionally crippled I am.