2009: A Personal Review
I turned 45 this year, a major milestone for anyone who grew up playing, buying, collecting and obsessing over 7” singles. Maybe it’s significant that it turned out to be a good year; maybe it’s mere coincidence. Either way, a number of things seemed to go right for me in 2009 – finally, I should note after several disappointments and frustrations over the past decade, and despite the terrible economy. I finished one book, All Hopped Up and Ready to Go, and had the satisfaction of seeing it properly distributed while being booked for more readings and talks than all my previous books combined. I signed a contract for a new book, both in the U.K. and the U.S.A. (details to follow in the New Year), and in-between, I did my damndest to finish a first draft of a memoir about my secondary school days, tentatively titled Boy About Town – a story that involves a considerable number of those 7” 45rpm singles and the people who recorded them.
In addition, I ran for office and was elected as a member of my School District’s Board of Education, which in turn engaged me further in the activities of and prospects for our community’s children and youth. I made a fresh commitment to a vegan lifestyle, and consequently had my greatest running season ever, qualifying for the Boston Marathon for the first time, winning my local runners’ club age group for the first time, and running PRs in every distance between the 5k and Half-Marathon. I finished the Escarpment Run only a few seconds behind last year’s time and in good spirits, I enjoyed skiing in the Catskills as ever, I had a blast out at Burning Man with Campbell for the third year in a row, and I enjoyed an acoustic reunion gig with 4/5ths of my old band, Apocalypse. Closer to home, the wife and I threw a trio of great parties, including a joint 45th celebration in June in which I enjoyed my other musical ‘gig’ of ’09, teaming up with some of the more musically gifted mums and dads in the ‘hood and rip-roaring our way through a number of classics from my birth year, 1964.
It was, as much as anything, a great year for family. After some scares last year, my mother celebrated her 75th birthday in fine health and typically modest style, renting out Beverley Minster, and catering for 100 or so guests who came from far and wide (and in my case, across the pond). My wife found herself, by accident rather than design (as often happens to one’s benefit) co-curating the PosieKviat Gallery in Hudson, and it’s remained standing throughout this dismal financial year, so they’re clearly doing something right. My older son, Campbell, finally found himself thriving in middle and then high school, ending the year with high grades and matching confidence; my younger son Noel finally burst through his considerable developmental difficulties thanks, in no small part, to attendance at the Brookside School in Stone Ridge, and ended the year communicating much more like a 5-year should do. The fact that I went about six months without a paycheck in the midst of all this, while not exactly intentional, was nonetheless a mark of maturity, the result of a move away from the week-by-week paychecks of the freelance journalist and DJ into the precarious though, touch wood, potentially more rewarding income of the author. I wish contracts didn’t take so long to resolve; I wish publishers hadn’t found a way to spread their advances out even further than they already do (I’d love to see my plumber agree to wait for his final paycheck until 18 months after he’s installed a new boiler); I wish the publishing industry wasn’t in such dire straits. But you know, despite what Jeff Bezos may believe, paper books will be around for a lot longer than amazon.com will be selling Kindles. I expect at least a couple of my written works to outlive me and, ultimately, that’s a decent feeling.
On that subject, if there was a downer to the year, it was the constant reminder of our mortality. I’m not talking here about celebrity deaths, or even those of musicians I admired but did not know personally (be they Michael Jackson or Ron Asheton). I’m talking about those that hit much close to home, regardless of the fact that many were connected with old age. A number of people I interviewed for All Hopped Up and Ready to Go died before the book was published, for example, and some of those deaths I only discovered when I went to send them a finished book (e.g. Warren Suttles of the Ravens). Others seemed to happen more quickly than made sense. Did I really see Frank McCourt on stage with his brothers at the Bearsville Theater in the spring, looking like he’d be with us for years to come? Was that really my dear old brother-in-law Mickey Iachangelo sitting out on his deck on July 4th, and yet his funeral I attended in October? Didn’t photographer Nat Finkelstein call me earlier this year and invite me to his home a few miles down in the woods, where we pored over Velvet Underground and Nico photos that I ultimately couldn’t afford, and did he really die already just six months later? Didn’t I see John Daido Loori, the founder of the Zen Mountain Monastery, many times in person this past year before his own death from cancer? And why, oh why, did I not live up to my initial intent, after I stopped in to secure her support for my bid for the School Board, when I vowed to revisit (with tape recorder) with Marian Umhey, an elder stateswoman of this area, and a founding member of the Onteora School Board. Her passing in December, even at a decent old age of 84, seemed unusually sudden.
In some ways, I can’t “complain” about these deaths, but then we also lost two high school students this year, one to his own hand, the other to a rare form of cancer. One death was treated with utmost privacy; the other turned into a celebration of the youth’s fortitude and bravery. And yet the moral was the same from each: not everyone gets (or, saddest of all, actually wants) a full life.
There’s a temptation here to draw the moral that we should live each day as if it’s our last. I used to feel that way; my goals are more long-term now. There is a vast amount I still want to do, and most of it can’t be done in the next week. But while the vegan diet and regular exercise should take me a long way into old age, I do have that dangerous habit of strapping my feet onto pieces of fiberglass and embarking down sharply-angled sheets of ice (and, if we’re lucky, snow) at high speed. And though I drive much more carefully than I was 19, I can’t speak for the other people on the road – especially our murderous local mountain roads. So I have a new phrase to go by now, and it’s one I heard at the tribute for Daido Roshi: “The reward is to die without regret.” Taken on a smaller scale, perhaps I should say “The reward on New Year’s Eve is to look back on the last year without regret.” This year, more than many others, I think I can say that much with hand on heart. I’m grateful. Happy New Year.