2016 had a lot of levels of crazy to go around.
The year kicked off with an amazing album by David Bowie. The single Backstar was released in late 2015 and was one of my favorite songs when the album dropped. Things seemed promising. Then one morning as I was singing Blackstar before work, I heard the news that Bowie had died.
I don't remember if Bowie was a topic with each of the guys when I asked them to join this band, but I do remember asking Mike to join the band over some beers at Charlie's Kitchen. As we settled our tab, we agreed that late 70's Bowie would be our ideal sound.
In late January 2016 Pale Monsters hit the studio to record our debut. We'd been practicing together for a big chunk of 2015, but this made it official. We named the band just before hitting the studio. This was a thing.
Starting something new is exciting and 2016 gave us, and especially me, the taste of bringing something new to life.
As Spring progressed, we began being a band. We booked shows, made progress on the album and did all that promotional stuff, like launch a website and shoot a video and some photos.
Then Prince died. I've done two cover shows in my life. One was the Rolling Stones, and the other was Prince. Mike played both shows with me. It seemed fitting that we'd lose Prince and Bowie in the same year. They both came from another planet.
When Pale Monsters released Take What You Can Take, I didn't write much about about the cover, but the album cover was chosen because of its relevance: It's a wall.
When we were prepping for the release, I didn't think walls would be topical for much longer. Our political discourse had been consumed by talk of building a wall to keep people out. I figured come November all that talk would be over, but the thought resonated with me on a dystopian level. A lot the lyrics on Take What You Can Take try to hit on that general malaise of anxiety in modern life.
The blue sky above the wall is supposed to symbolize hope. I always try to choose hope or love over fear. I hope I would have chosen the same message in November. I try to stick nuggets of hope in my songs, like in I Don't Really Wanna Care No More:
I begin to see the light
I may never get it right
I try tonight
I try tonight
There's the obvious (if you know it) lyrical Velvet Underground reference and the obvious (if you listen to it) Pulp reference in delivery.
A lot of lyrical themes in Take What You Can Take made me sad as the year came to a close, because I found them to be more relevant now than when I wrote them.
The song Everybody (Take What You Can Take) has a line I borrowed from Leonard Cohen:
This thing that I know
That the war is over
And that the good guys lost
The line kicked ass when Leonard Cohen wrote a better version of it in 1987, so I figured it was
an easy win. In its merciless artistic purge, 2016 saw Leonard Cohen put out a great album just before he too was shuffled off this mortal coil. I don't know how he'd feel to see the good guys lose so profoundly, and the game get rigged so badly.
After we released the EP, we had some pretty big life events in the band. Travis got married (sorry ladies), and my wife and I celebrated the birth of our first son, Dylan.
The birth of Dylan was an amazing change in my life. Pale Monsters dropped off a bit as I learned what it truly meant to put someone else above myself all the time. It's all sorts of crazy that everyone ever said it was.
It also made the election a few months later that much more horrifying for my wife and I. We feel like we can deal with the fall out, but we want a better world for Dylan.
I remember watching the polls come in on November 8. My wife had not followed politics as closely as I have throughout her life. It's always been a staple of mine. Shortly after 10 PM, I knew what was happening. I'd seen this movie before. I remember my wife saying, "There's no way he's going to win." She was barely nervous. I was already scared.
That weekend as I was reeling from the new reality, I watched Saturday Night Live. Fittingly the show opened with a cold open, Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton performing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. The most over-covered song ever performed in the most perfect light. It hit.
Then there was the main attraction - the show featured David Chapelle making his return to sketch comedy. It was great. Everything I hoped it would be in all the right ways. But there was
something else that really moved me on November 12.
2016 saw Tribe Called Quest release their first album in 20 years. Like so many albums in 2016, it was marked by death. Phife Dawg died during the recording. It turns out their last album is one of the year's best. Not surprising given their catalog, but it is amazingly pertinent to now. And in very 2016-fashion, it has death stitched to it eternally.
I don't know if Tribe expected their lyrics to be as poignant as they now are in the new reality, but watching them perform on SNL a mere days after the election inspired me. I knew that night that I had to stop licking my wounds and do something. They gave me strength.
I can't find it on YouTube or Vimeo, but here is a bootleg of their performance of The Space Program that night (link).
2016 came to a close. I don't know what happens next, but I know that we need to stand up, fight for what's right, and make something happen.
Dawn broke on November 9, my son is growing stronger every day, and Pale Monsters has new music just around the corner.
Let's do this.