On Sunday I visited my favorite record store, you know, where I go every week to buy soul records from the most adorable old gay shopkeeper in the city. He said that between Trump, the Oakland fire, and the rain, business has been awful for him because nobody can bring themselves to leave their homes, let alone make it all the way to his shop. I thought about you, and how in a way you’ve been making it difficult for me to leave the proverbial (and literal) home over the past 12 months, because every time I try to feel positive you seem to trip me and then kick me when I’m down. What can we say about you, 2016?
First you killed David Bowie. He was in his late 60s, younger than my dad, and as a rule nobody younger than my dad is allowed to die—you know this, 2016. Bowie was one of those artists who could bend my emotions at will—he could bring me to ecstasy or agony, or both, over the course of just a few songs. His variety and creativity excited me, his views on politics and sexuality intrigued me, and his aura of mystique enthralled me. I never saw him in concert, and now I never will.
About a month after his death I went to a tribute concert, and you pulled me on stage and made me sing “Life on Mars” to the crowd, embarrassing me when I forgot the lyrics during the second verse. You did an amazing version of “Lady Stardust” and when I got home I went into a “Lady Stardust” YouTube hole until I came upon this video of Chris Cornell doing his rendition, which elicited a few tears.
You killed George Martin, which led me to listen to Eleanor Rigby on repeat for a full day or two—I still consider that violin at 1:07 to be one of the most beautiful fills in musical history.
You killed Phife Dawg, although I’ll admit that I love the new Tribe album that you gave us. You killed Merle Haggard, and I pretended to be a huge Merle Haggard fan even though I’m actually only familiar with a few of this songs and I don’t care that much for him. You killed Prince.
You fucking killed Prince.
When you killed prince, I wrote on Facebook, “Fuck 2016. Just fuck this whole year.” And that was only in April. At this point, I still was not over mourning for David Bowie, and then you took away one of the most inspirational artists in my life. And you took him way too young, and you took him for a fucking stupid reason. Here is my favorite Prince clip:
In early June, you committed the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, slaying 49 dancers celebrating gay pride in an Orlando nightclub. The politicized media really had a field day coming up with creative ways to spin the incident. The left blamed the proliferation of semiautomatic weaponry and decried the act as a homophobic hate crime. After a few days of what must have been deep inner torment, the right briefly embraced the gay community and used the tragedy to push Islamophobia, framing the discussion to be one in which the only way to keep our beloved LGBT community safe would be to remove Muslims from the country. These are the conversations you’ve inspired, 2016. But you can’t fool me; I am well aware that no matter how you slice it, regardless of whether you choose to focus on G-d, guns, or gays, you brutally murdered 49 people for no reason other than the fact that they lived in a world where boys like to dance with boys.
The summer wasn’t so bad. For my birthday you took me to London and we sipped negronis on the balcony of that fancy restaurant on river by the Tate. That night we went to a Japanese restaurant where our waitress was from Toyama, where I had taught English for 2 years. I was able to purchase pounds on the cheap because just a week before you had caused the UK to leave the European Union. In retrospect, that was sort of a dick thing to do, 2016, but you’re not going to live to see the fallout.
Remember Normandy, 2016? Visiting the farm a few kilometers inland from Utah beach, where my grandfather had established a field hospital? Drinking calvados at the orchard that had once been occupied by Nazis? You took a respite from murdering my heroes for just long enough to bring back a false sense of hope.
Then you took away my grandmother. I acknowledge that she was old, and senile, and probably ready to die, but man, her death fucked me up. My grandmother was a famous, powerful, and influential poet, fairly well-known in the states and highly revered in Israel, where she lived for 35 years until we brought her back 6 years ago. We had a small memorial for her, family only, during which we reminisced and read a few of her poems. My cousin read this one:
She is astonished by the moon
as she crawls out of the sea
on a small island, dragging
the male crab on her tail.
He hangs there by the hooks
he’s just grown out of his legs,
clutching at what she
offers him, and half her size.
She wears him as she wears
her great shell like a mask
stretched over her body
and the steaming eggs.
Air enters her gills
and she breathes it out on this
one night out of the water
with her sisters, and their
hanging on. Already
the tide slips back,
and on the beach the crabs
are giddy, meaning to go.
They always mean to.
Four hundred million years
of habit, still they are caught
like shards left over
when the roof falls in.
They lie at sunrise
in the bright sand, holding
the dark inside them,
dreaming of floors of oceans
where they move alone.
One of the last things my grandmother said to me when she was still compos mentis was, “Your greatest accomplishment is being related to me.” She was dead serious, too. It made me feel like shit then, and it felt even shittier now, at the age of 35, burying her and worrying that she may be correct.
Do you wanna talk about the election, 2016? Honestly, I already wrote a piece about the president-elect and his supporters, so I’m not sure we need to have that conversation again, so I’ll make this short. We were watching at a food truck party where there was a fire pit with ingredients to make s’mores—I know, I know, so fucking San Francisco. You’ve never seen a more deflated group of yuppie liberals than we had that night. I got drunk, and you gave me a ride home in your Lyft. When I got home, I posted the following message on Facebook:
“I just got home, and then literally broke down in tears (and you know that I don’t fuck around when I use the word ‘literally’). There are a million reasons to be sad tonight, but for me, one stands out above all others: tonight, a generation of children were taught that bullies win.”
Two days after the election, you killed Leonard Cohen. This was a great set-up for another crying session two days after that, when I came home late at night from a concert and watched this:
And now, 2016, I need to give you a trigger warning, because the next bit of this letter is going to be painful.
Two weeks ago we went to the Leonard Cohen tribute show at the Chapel, in which a number of Bay Area-based musicians performed hauntingly beautiful renditions of Cohen’s greatest songs. We were moved emotionally, and afterwards we talked about how between that show and the Undercover Presents Bjork tribute the week before, we were witnessing the strength, perseverance, and resilience of the Bay Area art scene.
Five days later, you killed 36 young members of the Bay Area artistic community in the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history. It might be more than that, actually—there are still people missing and the death toll is expected to rise. When I first heard about the fire, I was in shock, but separated from the incident. A quick check revealed that I didn’t personally know any of the victims, and I was sad, but my thoughts were elsewhere. In the few days that followed, I read many articles about how gentrification was a cause of the fire, as marginalized artists are forced to live in precarious conditions in this impossible housing market. The fire in Oakland was at a live/work/create warehouse known as “Oakland Ghost Ship” where the members regularly threw parties to raise money for their artwork. The stairs were stacks of pallets, exposed wires stuck out of the walls, there was no sprinkler system, and the building sure as hell wasn’t up to any sort of building codes, but rectifying any of the foregoing would have cost a great deal of money–something that artists do not have.
The articles made it seem like the recent tech boom has relegated the creative class to warehouses on the outskirts of town, but the truth is that artists have been living in warehouses and semi-abandoned buildings in the Bay Area since the 70s—they just moved from San Francisco to Oakland. Heck, there was a time when punk rock bands crashed in the empty beer vats of an abandoned brewery—check it out. This doesn’t make the situation any better—artists form fundamental threads in the tapestry of San Francisco, California, the country and the world, but I’m not sure I believe that more artists had been living in safer conditions prior to the past few years (of course, if you have any good articles that provide solid (or semi-solid) evidence about this, please do share). Nonetheless, the fact that artists who create and inspire and make the world beautiful have to live in squalid conditions while people who work in “biz dev” for “apps” that create “dynamic targeted advertising experiences” get to live in luxury high-rises pisses the fuck out of me.
Starting five days after the fire, different news sources started posting lists and bios of the victims of the fire, and that’s when the incident became a tragedy for me. Seeing these young, hopeful faces and knowing the devastation caused to their families, friends, and communities, my chest ached and I became short of breath.
I didn’t personally know anybody who died that night, but I have a few friends who did. One of these friends posted the following memorial video about a week after the fire:
Watching this video, it occurs to me that real, actual human beings—who laughed and made others laugh, who danced and made others dance, who dreamed and made others dream—had their lives suddenly, painfully and unfairly cut short. I think about the victim and 35 other grown-up kids like her, so full of spirit and expression, panicking, screaming in a sudden inferno, unable to breath from the smoke, feeling their flesh burn. I began to cry.
Do you remember when we sat on the stairs in front of the Imperial War Museum back in July, and we discussed living in New York during 9/11? We had gone to the roof of my dorm building, the tallest building at Columbia, and we could see the smoke rising from the towers five miles away. We were in shock, and we were a bit scared, and in the following days we were sad, but we were 20 years old back then and we had no idea how to process the largest act of terror ever to take place on American soil. Sure, we had some idea of the political ramifications, but we couldn’t grasp what it meant for 3000 people to perish from the blind faith and hatred of others. And you and I contemplated what it would be like if 9/11 happened today, how our now adultish 35-year old minds would be unable to overcome it or to handle it, whereas at the time it just felt like we were on some bizarre drug, and we didn’t cry.
And I know that 36 is a lot less than 3000, but 2016 you made me cry in a way that 2001 never could. I can’t listen to “On Melancholy Hill” or “Hallelujah” or “Lady Stardust” without tearing up right now—yeah, that’s right, the worst part is that it’s December and I’m still not over David Bowie’s death. And now I’m watching the news about Aleppo and it ain’t helping.
I don’t want you to finish this letter thinking that I absolutely hate you, 2016. We had some good times, too.
Remember when we went to the Cure concert and you kissed me when they played “Just Like Heaven”? We were so worried that they wouldn’t do “Boys Don’t Cry,” but then the band came back on for that third encore.
Remember when we got drunk in the back of that fancy wine bar and took off our shirts to show each other our tattoos?
Remember when you made me that sign for the Black Lives Matter rally and we were interviewed by Al Jazeera?
Remember when we hiked to the top of Bald Hill to watch the meteor shower, and you jumped every time you heard something in the bushes?
Remember when you sent a text saying you missed me so I caught the next flight to LA and we got coffee together in Echo Park?
Remember when you came over and we baked muffins together? And after I put the muffins into the oven I set the timer on my phone I said, “well, it looks like we have 23 minutes to kill, what should we do?” and then I kissed you.
I won’t forget you, 2016.
The good thing about a bad year is that you’re only around for 365 days (or in your case, 366…goddammit, you just HAD to have one extra day to be a dick). I’m sure you’re not done with the gut punches yet, 2016. In fact, I predict that just a few minutes before the ball drops in the closing moments of December 31st, you’ll smite Bob Dylan with a massive heart attack or stroke (yes folks, you heard it here first). And then comes 2017. Even with “El Pendejo Naranjo” becoming presidente, I have hope that 2017 will be better to all of us than you were.
I should be wrapping this up. Back at the record store, I bought an old Percy Sledge record to give my friend a much-needed sale. But you know what? It’s a fucking great record and I’m quite pleased with my purchase.
Now have fun these last three weeks, 2016, and then go fucking die.