Something we cannot know

Happy 2013!

I read about the death of Spencer Cox with great interest today. It’s not because I knew him, or was even remotely familiar with what he had done with his time here on this earth. It turns out that he did some amazing things, helping to get some of the first effective medicines to fight against AIDS to the market in the mid-1990s.

I remember the hysteria about AIDS in the early and mid-1990s very well, and if he had anything to do with helping to allay that hysteria, then good for him. He clearly had an impact on the lives of thousands, if not millions. I’m honored to devote a few lines of my blog to recognizing the things he accomplished.

But what really got my attention was his age. Spencer Cox was just a few months older than I am when he recently passed away. With New Year’s eve coming up in a few hours, it reminded me that some of us who will celebrate the arrival of 2013 won’t have another new year’s to celebrate after that. Certainly, if someone were to ask Spencer Cox on the last New Year’s day what 2012 would hold for him, his own death probably wouldn’t have been on the list.

I hope, with all that I have and hold dear, that 2013 is a great and full year for me and everyone that I know (and for you too, gentle reader, whoever you might be). I’d like to have another 12-25 new years to celebrate before my time on this earth is up. But I don’t get to decide when my supply of New Years will run out, either. And the truth is none of us can know this, with any degree of certainty.

I’ve said many times in this space that I celebrate life by commemorating death. Why else would I have written about Larry Hagman and Adam Yauch, about Don Cornelius and Champ Summers, and about Whitney Houston and Ronnie Montrose? They were all with us when 2012 began, but they couldn’t know that 2013 would arrive without them. Nobody wants to think about that, really, but let’s remember what Benjamin Franklin said are the only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

So as the ball drops in Times Square this year, and the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” are played for the only time all year, I plan to remember that the New Year might be a great one, and it might be an awful one, and it might even be a partial one (although, again, I certainly hope that it isn’t).

Here’s wishing everyone who reads this a happy and full new year in 2013, or whenever it is that you find this.

I’m feeling good to play a little music

Earlier this month, MCA from the Beastie Boys passed away after a fight against cancer. He was just a couple of years older than I am now, and it reminded me once again of how short life can be. I fear getting old more than I fear dying young, but that doesn’t mean early deaths aren’t hard.

I was in Cleveland when I learned of MCA’s passing, and the day after it happened I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. I was originally down on the idea, because of some groups that have been left out, but I realize that’s just silly. Rock and roll has always been a big part of my life, from the time that I heard the guitar solo on Styx’ Renegade back when I was ten years old. If this place is where the history of this artform is being preserved, then so be it. As I was looking at some of the artifacts on display, I felt like such a place is needed, in order to remind us of who has made this music and why.

And so it was that I came to the rounded hallway where all of the inductees’ signature are displayed, and then to the display for new inductees. That’s me on the left above, with the Beastie Boys’ exhibit. Pictures weren’t allowed inside the display, but rock and roll is about bending the rules, so I enlisted my daughter and we waited for an opportune moment. I don’t think I could have staged a better shot if they allowed me to.

There were already four pictures commemorating Rock hall inductees who had passed away, in the first few months of this year. Dick Clark was there, along with three others. MCA would have been the fifth picture on the wall, but they hadn’t had time yet to find a suitable picture. And Robin Gibb has passed away since then, bringing to six the number of Rock Hall members that have died in the first five months of this year. You can say that rock is dying right before our eyes. That’s a bit dramatic, but it hasn’t been the best of years so far.

I listened to the Beastie Boys in college, and  haven’t stopped since. I’m glad they moved away from the juvenile stuff on Licensed to Ill, but kept the weird references in their lyrics. Nobody ever did what they could do, and that’s what made them unique. Their absence will be a big void, not the least of which is a 2009 Lollapalooza show that they pulled out of due to MCA’s condition. They had bigger issues to deal with than playing a concert in Chicago, but the release of a new disc last year made me think we might see them on stage somehow. But it was not meant to be.

I wrote this piece tonight because, as my daughter was listening to Radio Disney in the car this evening, I heard the opening bars of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” in the background during some meaningless DJ chatter. There were no lyrics in what I heard, but it was if I was being reminded to get some thoughts about MCA and the Beastie Boys out to the wider world.

After leaving the Beastie Boys display, I came to a jukebox  where you can put on some headphones and pick out any song by any of the Rock Hall artists. I did this for at least a half an hour with Beastie Boys tunes, and I would have liked to do it for even longer,  but impatient children had other ideas. I didn’t know half as many rhymes as I thought I did, but it was fun anyway. And the band that provides that to its fans is rare, indeed.

NOTE: The title of this post comes from an MCA lyric toward the end of Root Down, which can be seen and heard here.