Now that I've seen so many, I begin the new year with trepidation-- with reluctance. It's not that I hate to leave the old behind, but the acceleration of loss in my life is tipping the balance sheet to the dark side. Even Wall Street is following the pattern. But the deaths-- the illnesses, the shocks-- the accidents… January is already a bit of a black hole and the downhill track seems to have taken root in only 12 days.
A couple of my friends have already ended relationships... Damage control? Some kind of prescient avoidance of rockier paths ahead? Who knows? Maybe the unseasonably warm December cooled their winter passion prematurely. There was something disconcerting and ominous about a balmy New York Christmas Eve-- a sense that we would be punished for the weather oasis. I did my New Year's Eve gig--- put on my proverbial red shoes and danced the blues-- had a couple of friends over for second-shift pre-dawn champagne toasts, and was so concerned with other people's drama that I forgot to make a resolution. I mean, my own expectations are fairly realistic at this point; besides promising I'll do a solo gig or release an album, I don't overcommit. 2015 was a rough year for goodbyes and memorials; I have a little more respect for fate at this age, and a sense of fragility I didn't have years ago.
The post-New Year's sidewalks of Manhattan are lined with deceased Christmas trees, some in some state of greenery, some quite dead. The irony of having seen these same trees vertical, healthy-- freshly cut and ready to shine for a family just a few weeks ago makes this seem a bit sadder--- they are now horizontal-- end-to-end, like a funeral procession of firs, sadly waiting to be turned to mulch and maybe returned to the ground from whence they came. The sheer number is a little staggering-- an imported urban forest graveyard.
Dismantling my tree is a solitary and ceremonious task for me. I always put on some mood music to make the tedium of putting away ornaments and lights just a little easier. It brings back so many deja-vu Christmas denouements-- my son's first Christmas when I could scarcely afford a small scrawny tree and sat up for 3 nights with my feverish infant while he suffered through his first life crisis. I was terrified and alone; my gift was his recovery. Sometimes it's Beethoven or Bach; sometimes it's the Stones or Game Theory. The Christmas just after Jeff Buckley had died, I played his Grace and really 'heard' the Hallelujah for the first time. It seems there's often a late-December death among my friends-- as though someone just can't quite cross over into the next year and succumbs. I've always thought it's not quite as bad to die in the cold--- in the snow. The white blessing seems to soften the blackness of death. We all dread the New Year if we're smart. From what I've seen, the future has yet to hold a candle to the past.
Saturday night I was already sad. I put on the remastered Led Zeppelin which has so many associations it is relatively non-sentimental. I got up on my ladder and managed to get the job done
before the second cd had finished. I took a walk up to Harlem at around 11 to shake my blues and buy a few groceries and on 110th Street, I ran into a prophetic figure. She was tall, with heavy dreadlocks and a sort of black cape-- softly weeping until I passed her, when she began to wail. What, I asked her… but it seemed the love of her life had just passed away; she'd left the hospital, was blindly walking toward some non-future, and she grabbed onto me. She was desperate and I was madly searching my brain-bank for anything I could offer someone in urgent grief. He was loved, I told her--- he was surrounded by the sense of love as he crossed over… how many of us have this joy? Most of us shuffle from day to day alone and under-appreciated… but in a moment like this everything is a drop of water to a parched country--- it is nothing. She wept and howled, blew her nose in my pocket-napkins, and tugged at my now-wet coat (the rain had begun-- even the sky was crying) as she sank to her knees and screamed for help. I won't leave you, I promised. And I kneeled with her, while the reality of what had happened replaced shock with some kind of violent emotional retching. Finally we began to walk. I was beginning to feel exhausted and trapped, in a way, in a well of sadness which had no bottom. I tried to distract myself with thoughts… of course I'd had the very same loss-- the one human I knew as my great love-- who had suffered and died-- the one who told me he'd never leave-- he'd left me to grapple with lesser versions of love, failed attempts at marriage and family-- a story I could never relive and a dark shadow which followed me in and out of every single year.
At least you won't witness the first night your husband turns his back to you-- the first infidelity or indiscretion-- the wounds and injuries that punctuate a lifetime of love, I wanted to tell her… but I didn't. Finally I walked her to a friend's home and handed her off. We exchanged first names only; we'd shared a moment of unbearable intimacy; I was covered in her tears and secretions, and I would most likely never see her again. But I knew this was a sign. I was about to get some terrible phone call; the next loss of the year had been foreshadowed. I returned home and listened again to the new Bowie release which I'd heard the night before. It was even darker now that I began to absorb its meaning. Sorrow, I kept thinking-- ironically went to my computer to watch the great video version of Bowie and Amanda Lear… it distracted and took me into a world I'd once lived in. The devil's daughter, I thought, as I processed my bizarre encounter on 110th Street…. I'd lived, though. Twenty-four hours later I received the news that shook our musical foundations-- the loss of losses, for some of us. Our Genie, our Hero, our Enchantor…
The phenomenon of public grief is a little easier than private. The fact that the music of someone like Bowie has rooted in our hearts at various moments of our life-- has taken us from teenage into near-golden years…. is something that may not happen in this new world. I can't imagine my son and his friends grieving over a fallen rapper the way this death feels so universally catastrophic and sad. What I do know, especially after the last week--- is that loss and grief are here to stay, in my life… whether I befriend or fear them, the only escape now is my own death, which is inevitable and closer with each tree that I lay quietly on the curb with its memories and sense of past finery. Whether we are good or bad, kind and loving or cruel and cold, we can create-- we can produce, we can try to make something of this life, but nothing, as our sadly departed Muse understood long ago-- no, nothing will keep us together.