How will we look at 2016? If we were to write the history books on New Years Day, would we be too close to being objective? Would the pain still burn too painfully? Could we brush past the heartbreak to see the happier moments? I’m sure there were some, somewhere. I’m not an inherently pessimistic person, and regardless of my penchant for sad songs, I’m mostly an affable person. So, I hope that not every memory of this year is one cloaked in darkness. But I imagine much of it will be.
I suppose I should start with a blessing count. As the phrase goes, I’ve got a roof over my head and food on the table. My family is surrounded by love, we’re healthy, able to travel and we have a choice between Netflix and Hulu. I’ve got a great job doing exactly what I love to do, and that connects me with friends near and far on a daily basis, who share in my enthusiasm. All complaints, henceforth, shall be filed under #FirstWorldProblems. Otherwise, I feel like I spent a year saying goodbye to old friends, both mythical and honest. How are we not suppose to look back and say, “Oh yeah, 2016: That was when David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Mose Allison and Sharon Jones all died?” I also lost a friend, James Bickers, and a cousin, Brandy Bernard. Am I forgetting someone? There have honestly been so many that I can’t remember if I mourned someone else or not. That’s crazy. I guess you can throw humanity in there as well, considering the political state of half the world. That part might be hyperbolic. Might be. Check back in six months for a clearer picture.
Anyway, this is the time where a lot of us start looking back to consider our end-of-year lists and wrap-up pieces, which entails a bit of this reflection. I’ve been reflecting on favorite albums, songs and moments, trying to see if there is a breadcrumb trail that possibly leads to a clearer image of me and who I was this year based on those songs and albums, but the further I look, the more it shows itself as multiple pictures. On one side is a musical darkness, wrought with songs about despair and dying, like staring into a void. These are obviously the moments when I needed something to reflect what was happening around me, but more surprising just how many there are.
There is another path with lightness, though cynically I can’t help but wonder if I connected with them through escapism or actual happiness. Maybe, as I’ve said many times in these pages, a good pop song is simply a good pop song. There’s also a lot more from older bands than usual, especially ones from my coming-of-ages years. It may be new music from them, but I’ve been looking for some comfort food, without a doubt.
I shouldn’t place as much importance in this as I do, but I like the idea of these end-of-year lists as a snapshot of who I was. I don’t write journals, or diaries, and if it weren’t for my wife, I probably wouldn’t have many pictures. These albums do all of that for me, in the way a song can take all of us back to a moment. The way the first three notes can put you back into a spot that you thought you had long forgotten. You can feel the night air, smell the scent and ultimately, time travel. So, given the opportunity to shape those memories, even just a bit, how do I want to paint that picture? As the year of loss that it actually seems to be, or, like any human being really is, multi-layered and complicated? There’s nothing wrong with that, right? I guess that’s why the sad songs always seem to cut deeper, because those moments are imprinted deeper in us.
So, I’m going to make my list, and I’ll try to ride the line of picking the ones that best represent me, and the ones that best defined this year. It’s probably going to be darker than the groups in the past. But, if it’s done right, there will also be signs of life, and a path forward.