2017: What a Year

Hello there! As I look back at my feed, it appears I haven’t been very bloggy this year. I could point the blame of not writing to a certain leader of the free world, but that would be hitting it on the nose too hard. To counter that, let’s get one post in before 2018 comes bursting through the door.

Getcher Books Right Here!

Last Christmas brought me a couple of new tomes: biographies on two extraordinary gentlemen: Phil Collins and Jim Henson. Phil’s book, cleverly titled Not Dead Yet, was written in his voice with the help of a journalist. It showed me a more rounded portrait of one of my favorite drummers. He doesn’t pull any punches, talking about the good times and the bad times in his life. The musician in me wished he had talked more about his drumming, but it’s a very minor gripe. Henson’s biography, written by Brian Jay Jones, brought a whole new light to the creator of the Muppets. Be forewarned: get some tissues ready toward the end. Henson’s death crushed me, as if I had lost a family member. His imaginative works were so ingrained in my life, he earned an honorary status.

On the fiction side, I enjoyed Binti, the first of three novellas from Nnedi Okorafor. The main character was a delight, and the world she inhabits is fascinating. The second book in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt, was another winner. I can’t wait to get my hands on Empire’s End to see how this all pans out.

It took me a few years, but I finally completed Douglas Adams’ five-part trilogy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Mostly Harmless. It sorta became a tradition around Towel Day, May 25, to start reading the next H2G2 novel in honor of Adams.

Thanks to Christmas 2017, a few more books landed in my lap, including Thrawn, Timothy Zahn’s return to that diabolical character from Ye Olde Star Wars Expanded Universe; The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart and Todd Klein; and a couple of trades featuring a mixture of articles from Star Wars Insider.

As always, I want to read sooooo much, as my Amazon.com wish list can attest, but I have to find the time. Plus I need to find time to write my own tales…

So Long, Tom

We lost quite a few legends this year (Adam West comes to mind, as does Fats Domino), but Tom Petty’s death hit me differently. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tom, per se, but I did enjoy his music throughout my life. The fact he grew up in Gainesville (my mom’s hometown and where I went to college) was probably a source of pride. I’m sure the music video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” gave me nightmares, but as I got older, I came to appreciate more of his music. It helped that I recently discovered more of his music through his dedicated station on SiriusXM.

via Pitchfork

Then came the news that he was taken to the hospital. My heart sunk. No. This can’t be. I kept hoping against hope that sources were crossed and it was all one big misunderstanding.

Eventually, the official channels confirmed the news. Another artist gone before we figured it would be their time. Although listening to his songs immediately after his death didn’t phase me, hearing other people’s recollections of what Tom meant to them sent the tears free fallin’. When the University of Florida added “I Won’t Back Down” at the end of the third quarter for its football home games, I choked up.

I never saw Tom in concert, and while we’ll always have video footage, it’s not quite the same as being there. In the past few years, I’ve caught quite a few of my musical heroes in concert (Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Rush, Al Jarreau, off the top of my head), and I hope to continue that into the new year (Mike and the Mechanics in March).

Hold On! I’m Comin’!

Did you ever walk into a building and feel like you were in the presence of greatness? That happened to me back in July, when I went to Memphis for a family reunion on my wife’s side. Our family visited to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which is built on the original site of the famed record studio that produced classics from Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staple Singers, and so many more.

stax museum 072117 50
Outside the Stax Museum. Photo by Michael Fortuna

I gotta tell you, stepping into the re-created studio, I could hear angels sing. This was where the magic happened. I wanted to take the plexiglas off the drum set and pretend I was Al Jackson Jr. keeping the groove going. I could’ve stood in front of the sound board all day and watch Steve Cropper talk about recording there.

Needless to say, the soulful sounds of Stax have wormed their way into my brain. I took home from the gift shop Booker T. and the MGs’ “McLemore Avenue,” the album paying tribute to the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” I also have received a DVD showing a concert from Stax’s 1967 European tour, as well as 3-CD best-of collection. If you haven’t been exposed to this music, I suggest you correct that oversight immediately.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to schedule another trip to the museum.

A Force To Be Reckoned With

I saw The Last Jedi on Dec. 15. For about a week after that, my brain wouldn’t let go of this movie.

via StarWars.com

In most cases, when I see a movie and I enjoy it, a few scenes may pop in my head. I’ll chat about it with friends and family, then wait for it to appear on Blu-ray. Not with The Last Jedi. I have had thoughts about countless scenes.

As I was watching, the writer portion of my noggin kept trying to solve the story puzzles the movie presented. I tried to heed what Luke said, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” Which is what I want, anyway. Thankfully, this movie zagged when I thought it would zig. It zigged when I least expected. I cheered, I cried, I gasped.

On the creative writing side of my life, it’s felt like pulling the wings off a gundark with only a set of tweezers. I’ve been working on one short story that I had started about this time last year, which came to life as a roundabout way of paying tribute to Carrie Fisher. I added a few ideas to my notes app. I opened and closed files. As you do.

Seeing The Last Jedi sparked those creative synapses in my brain once more, but at times it felt overloaded, as if I was trying too hard to think about story structure or character arcs.

The creative brain also got a jolt earlier this year when my sister and I went to Star Wars Celebration in Orlando for a day. It ended up being a writer-focused track, going to a panel featuring a bunch of writers including the aforementioned Wendig and Zahn. I ended up getting autographs from Wendig and Delilah Dawson, and I stumbled over my words to tell them I enjoyed their writing and their writing advice.

Being in the presence of these authors filled me with hope that maybe one day I can hold a novel that I wrote in my hands.

In some respects, apart from my awesome family, Star Wars did its best to keep my sanity in check throughout this year, whether it was The Last Jedi or Rebels (although it sorta broke my heart when they announced season four would be its last). Music also played a role in keeping the madness at bay, whether it was listening to it or playing it (albeit limited) on the drums.

Looking back, a lot of good things happened this year, despite you-know-who. Here’s hoping 2018 is a little less of a dumpster fire than 2017.

It has to be. There’s a Han Solo movie coming out next year.