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In defence of 2016

  • Published at 06:57 pm January 4th, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:02 pm January 5th, 2017
In defence of 2016

It’s not 2016, you know. It’s our own mortality.

Those of us who were born in the late 60s or early 70s, we have these people -- musicians, sports-people, actors, politicians et al -- whom we have made into icons in our own minds, like every other generation before or since, and many of them are inevitably at a point in their lives when the grim reaper starts to edge closer.

And yes, some of those icons who passed away this year went far too young -- Prince was just 57, George Michael 53 -- but they would be the first ones to admit that the lives they led did not lend themselves to durability.

No one plans to die young. Pete Townshend, he of “hope I die before I get old” fame, is 71, and is presumably not too unhappy with having made it this far. Bob Dylan, once quoted as saying “old people, when their hair grows out, they should go out,” is 75, still on his never-ending tour, and still sporting a full head of hair.

But many of these people who burn so brightly also pay the price for that heat and that glare. Look at what they manage to compress within those years, though. Look at the joy they give, the lives they touch and transform.

Given a choice, would a Prince have settled for 57 years on this planet in exchange for his astounding talents as a singer, a band-leader, a multi-instrumentalist, a guitar virtuoso, a dancer, and a songwriter whose tunes made the careers of several global musical acts? I don’t know. He might have.

Many years ago, Neil Young said: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

And some years after that, Kurt Cobain took him at his word. Was he wrong? Who knows.

And the fact is, many of these icons we lost this year lived a full life, and probably left with few regrets.

Leonard Cohen was 82. He said in an interview a few weeks before his passing that he was ready to die (and for good measure, kept repeating “I’m ready, my Lord” in the refrain of the title track of his final album, You Want it Darker, released around the time of the interview).

David Bowie was 69; while he’s quoted as saying he walked around in his library late at night filled with regret at the thought of possibly not having enough time to read all his books, it’s probably safe to say he achieved most of what he set out to in this world.

We lost Mr Charles in 2004, and Mr Cohen last November. And when I get up in the morning these days, I silently hope another name has not been added to that list overnight

And while it surprised me that Muhammad Ali was just 73 when he died -- he seems to have been around forever -- Parkinson’s disease had long since reduced him to a husk of the man he once was.

George Michael’s death at 53 may bring tears to your eyes, and I may think it monstrously unfair that Guy Clark was taken from us at 74 or Natalie Cole at 65 when they still had so much to give.

And to be honest, Carrie Fisher’s passing at 60 did hit me harder than I would’ve expected, at least in part because I was so looking forward to what high jinks JJ Abrams and the Disney people would get up to with the Star Wars cast and the new crew. I’ve dug out Fisher’s novel Surrender the Pink from my shelves again, and fully intend to finish reading it this time.

The fact is, though, that all of these ladies and gentlemen have carved out a small fraction of infinity for themselves.

People will think of them with love and gratitude long after their moment has passed. We should all be so lucky.

All of which is to say, we should not be so hard on 2016. There’s a part of us that expects our idols to be immortal, and it’s always startling when the universe casually demonstrates to us that they are not.

We don’t like it when it feels like a part of our youth, of some of our most treasured memories, has been ripped away with callous indifference. No one wants to be reminded of their own mortality.

We are losing the illusion of immortality of our icons, and that is not an easy thing. I have these talismans in western popular music: Ladies and gentlemen by the names of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Emmylou Harris.

We lost Mr Charles in 2004, and Mr Cohen last November. And when I get up in the morning these days, I silently hope another name has not been added to that list overnight.

2016 is not to blame for that, though. It’s just the circle of life. Just time doing what time does.

And 2017 is not likely to be any different.

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury has spent most of his career as a banker and is now running a food and beverage company.