Precious casualties of a cruel year

First, the bad news: the nation went markedly madder this year. The good news is that we’ve always recovered — even from draconian surges of madness and sadness. We seem to delight in recklessly pushing the limits of risk, then averting the cataclysm just shy of oblivion. Teenagers play chicken. Politicians play brinksmanship. Whatever the game, the crucial questions remain: Where is the point of no return? How far is too far?

Houston, we’ve got a problem. Is that the edge of a cliff in our rearview mirror? We seem to be losing altitude apace. If so, can we save face by externalizing blame?

While you scavenge for plausible scapegoats, let’s retreat 41 years to review pop music for a potential remedy. In ‘74, Carly Simon’s fourth studio album, “Hotcakes,” vaulted to #3 on Billboard’s Top 200 LPs chart. It featured the hit singles “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” and “Mockingbird,” a duet she recorded with James Taylor while pregnant with their daughter. The album — about “love, marriage and the pursuit of happiness,” according to Rolling Stone — gave comfort amid tumultuous times. “It emerged as American baby boomers, exhausted by the upheavals of Vietnam and Watergate era, settled down and hoped for quieter times,” wrote reviewer Jon Landau. “Yet the idea that this album somehow blended in, or simply reflected a wider zeitgeist, underestimates its originality. Rock music was largely driven by testosterone in the mid-1970s: by phallic guitars, crashing drums, and strutting popinjays … Carly Simon’s music always served to expand the horizons of rock.”

The chorus of its first track, “Safe and Sound,” was never more timely than now: “If, through all the madness, we can stick together we’re safe and sound. The world is inside-out and upside-down.”

The Third Estate Sunday Review notes, “When Carly Simon sings that on Hotcakes, it gives the love songs more meaning because there’s a context for them beyond lust and money. Artists of today should take note.”

The witty imagery of the song captured my imagination and reassured listeners that fantasy and ideals can mitigate the woes of the world – that dystopia can be digested with a light heart and that music and laughter should unite us to surmount even the most divisive and tragic forces.

Disturbing political divisions over such issues as health care and immigration reform linger with no end in sight. In one of the more eerie ironies of Kentucky’s U. S. senatorial campaign, Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes reached for rifles in political ads shortly before Jefferson County Public Schools endured its first shooting, at Fern Creek High School.

A Metro government minimum wage debate remains unresolved as workers struggle to make ends meet. Racial tensions persist in the aftermath of police killing civilians and fatal retaliations.

We also mourn the deaths of pioneering celebrities including Sid Cesar and Joan Rivers, titanic talents of comedy. The tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman reminds us that the heroin epidemic is killing some of our best and brightest. And the creative community is still reeling from the loss of Diane Sawyer’s husband, Mike Nichols, a brilliant director of stage and screen, who, as a child, immigrated to the United States with his Jewish parents to escape Nazi Germany.

Locally, Jim Segrest, a preservationist who personified Louisville’s exuberant, eccentric character perished. We are also grieved by the loss of Sam Swope. His legacy of unbridled philanthropy made him a dynamo of compassion and will continue to enrich such organizations as Kosair Charities and The Humane Society for generations.

Privacy and security suffered two major blows as Jennifer Lawrence, Louisville’s beloved Oscar-winning actress, was victimized by the cyber-theft of revealing photos. And Sony Pictures was rocked by the most devastating cyber-crime ever, allegedly perpetrated by North Korea, in retaliation for a movie satire featuring a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-il, its bizarre, imperious leader.

But hope springs eternal as America remains the entertainment leader of the world. Tony Bennett’s televised duets with Lady Gage proved that the elderly crooner still has that swing. Documentarian Ken Burns is at the top of his game with his recent seven-part series, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” broadcast on PBS and now available on DVD.

Fortunately, “All in the Family” creator Normar Lear is still alive and kicking ass with a new book. Seth McFarlane, creator of “The Family Guy,” offered this tribute in November’s Vanity Fair: He is “angry about injustice in the world, racism, sexism, homophobia, abuse of political power, economic disparity … in other words, all the right things.”