Musings —12.19.2016 10:38 PM—
Inspiration sometimes comes in the unlikeliest places.
In this case, it came at Lee’s Palace on Tuesday night of last week. The Toronto club was dark, sweaty and noisy – as all such clubs should always be – as Chicago’s Off With Their Heads stepped onto the puny stage before a few hundred tattooed, leather-jacketed punks.
Off With Their Heads have an unfortunate moniker for the times, perhaps. But they play songs that are so anthemic, so epic, you think you are watching the bastard sons of Springsteen, Steve Earle and Social Distortion. They are geniuses. (This writer once offered to quit everything and work as their roadie for a year, gratis, and the band said they were considering it.)
But we digress.
Every pundit, pretty much, types up a year-end column, summing up the good and the bad. It’s a cliché, sure, but they’re (usually) fun to write and (hopefully) fun to read. But inspiration for 2016’s edition was elusive. Where to start? Who to give a brickbat, who a bouquet? Where to end?
And then, there it was. On the front of the T-shirt worn by the bassist to Off With Their Heads. Emblazoned right across the front, that was it. It was perfect.
Not so perfect, of course, was 2016 itself. In the main, 2016 was one of the worst years on record. “Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay,” sayeth the Bard. “The worst is death, and death will have his day.”
And death surely did. Bowie died, and it was a terrible shock, because none of us knew he had been sick. Prince, too, because no one really knew he was an addict. Leonard Cohen and Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe slipped the mortal coil, and were remembered, but those passings were not as shocking, because those men had lived good and long lives. Bobby Vee, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Anthon Yelchin (from the Star Trek movies, but more notably in The Green Room, for this space) – all from the creative world, and many more.
In the political sphere, there was Democratic Senator (and spaceman) John Glenn, just a few days ago. Activist and Chicago Seven alumnus Tom Hayden. Shimon Peres, the giant of the Middle East. British MP Jo Cox, shockingly murdered while campaigning for tolerance and a united Europe. Jesuit priest and activist Daniel Berrigan. Our own Rob Ford, felled by a fast-moving cancer. Nancy Reagan. Boutros-Boutros Ghali, a former secretary-general of the United Nations. And on, and on.
Death always has its day, per Shakespeare, so it is not usually a surprise when it happens – in 2016 or any other year. But 2016? 2016 had more than its fair share of “woe, destruction, ruin and decay.”
Most recently, there was the woe and the destruction that befell Aleppo. And what happened at Aleppo can be described best by one of our best journalists, the National Post’s Terry Glavin, who penned a 1,300-word magnum opus that is as memorable for its stirring prose as it is for the subject-matter.
“Between the drooling bigotries of the isolationist right and the clever platitudes of the ‘anti-imperialist’ left, the only place left to address the solemn obligations we owe one another as human beings is in negotiations over the codicils of international trade agreements, or in the rituals of deliberately unenforceable resolutions entertained by the United Nations General Assembly,” wrote Glavin. “Perhaps Allah will look down in his mercy upon Aleppo, because no help is coming from us. None. This is what we have become. This is the depravity to which we have all sunk. Aleppo has fallen.”
Now that is writing. That is journalism.
And what of the “ruin and decay” that Shakespeare decries? What was that, in 2016?
Brexit, in June, was that. Donald Trump, in November, was that.
Because Donald Trump is a pig (boasting about sexually assaulting women), because he is a fascist (hissing that he will imprison Hillary Clinton once he seized power), because he is the least-qualified person to ever occupy the highest office on Earth (dismissing intelligence briefings, because he says he’s busy and too “smart,” but finding time to meet with an idiot rap artist) – because of all of those things, we tend to think of the president-to-be as a short, sharp shock to the system. And he is, in his way.
He will shock the millions of Americans who were idiotic enough to vote against their own self-interests, and for him. Because they will be the ones who will lose their health care. They are the ones who will see – too late – that they actually lost their job to a microchip, not a brown-skinned immigrant. They are the ones who will send their sons and daughters off to fight in Donald Trump’s Twitter-inspired wars, and who will come back in body bags – losers in a merciless and bleak lottery in which America’s poor never win. He will shock those people, and they richly deserve to be shocked.
But Donald Trump, and the chaos that he will shortly unleash, is no shock. He is, instead, the literal embodiment of the moral and ethical “ruin and decay” that has convulsed democratic politics for too long. The scandals, the cynicism, the lies: Donald Trump did not happen apart from those things. He happened because of those things. He is their logical conclusion.
This year was bad, but rest assured: next year will be far, far worse. It will be Shakespearean, and all of us will have a bit part to play.
Oh, and the words on the front of that punk rocker’s shirt?