Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016 Year In Review

It's nearing the end of the year, and it's that time of year when individuals, families, nonprofit organizations and the media often tend to reflect on and summarize what has happened in the past 12 months or so.  

It seems like a good thing to me that this tradition exists, since if it didn't, it would probably rarely happen, given how much of a rush society generally seems to be in all of the time.  And of course in the age of Too Much Information, a review of the past year is just one more pile of infodung to slog through.  Plus, lots of people I know would rather just move on and not think much about 2016.

But I sort of cover several of those roles -- as an individual, a member of a family, and in some sense as an organization and media outlet, too.  And 2016 has been an eventful year for me in many ways

I'm loosely dividing my review of the year into three categories -- Songs, Essays and Everything Else.


The first song I wrote in 2016 was at the beginning of January, a song about the racist history of Oregon called "Sunset Laws."

Mid-January, as news was spreading about the ongoing disaster in Flint, Michigan, I wrote the poem, "Arrest Governor Snyder."

That month I also heard from a woman in England who is a friend of a guy named Mohamed Abu Sakha.  Mohamed had been arrested the previous month, on no stated charges -- as usual for Palestinians being arrested by Israelis.  "Free Abu Sakha."

With the constant pressure of endlessly rising rents in the city of Portland, Oregon, I have written many songs about the situation -- partly for therapeutic purposes.  In late January I wrote "Letter to My Landlord."

Throughout the year I wrote more songs on the subject of gentrification, and the gentrifiers -- "Good-bye, Portland," "Yuppie Scum," "So You Wanna Flip A House," and "Just A Renter."  I also wrote "Someday (On Burnside)," about the burgeoning homeless population in my adopted, divided city.

In February, while on tour in Europe with a mighty flu and listening to presidential campaign news around Hillary Clinton claiming to be more progressive than her opponent at the time, Bernie Sanders, I wrote "If Clinton's A Progressive."

A couple weeks after the March terrorist attack at the Brussels airport I wrote "If You Bomb Somebody" (they just might bomb you back).

In the spring and summer the peace boat, the Golden Rule, was sailing around the west coast of the US.  I sang at a couple events along the way and wrote "The Golden Rule" -- a little history of this infamous boat.

In preparation for my participation in the World Social Forum in Montreal last summer, I wrote a poem about the history of the WSF -- "Come to Montreal (World Social Forum 2016)."

Of the many massacres that took place throughout the USA in 2016, I wrote songs about two of them.  "Orlando" is about the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub.   "If This Were A War" is about the killing of the five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

At the point when the presidential campaign was reaching its most ridiculous, and it was clear that the main two candidates would be an incorrigible couple of elitists, I musically threw my lot in with the Green Party with a campaign song -- "Jill Stein."  (Which the Jill Stein campaign even tweeted about once.)

In September I wrote my first song for cello accompaniment, "Song for a Refugee."  (One of many songs on the subject of refugees I've written over the past few years, but the only one for 2016, it seems.)

On the plane home from my second tour of Europe in 2016, I wrote "Gather Round," in an effort to write a modern labor song.

I had been hearing about the developments in North Dakota for some time, but it was after I got back home to Oregon in November that I wrote "Standing Rock."

In early November, the rhetoric in the presidential campaigns was heating up exponentially.  I was being regularly attacked by HRC supporters for my position that we have to stop with the lesser evilism already -- not next election, but yesterday already.  "Lesser Evil" was my musical response to this debate.

When Trump won, "The Biggest Landlord" was my musical effort to understand the motivations behind many of the people who voted for him.

When Fidel died, I wrote a song about the man and his revolution -- "Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz."

Reflecting on how my Community-Supported Art scheme has done such a good job of allowing me and my family to survive over the course of these past three years, I wrote a poem -- "In Praise of the CSA."

In a bout of loneliness, home alone in mid-December, I wrote "Five Thousand Friends on Facebook, But."

After hearing an interview with one of her sons, I wrote "The Ghost of Ethel Rosenberg" for the campaign to #ExonerateEthel.


I wrote a lot of essays, all of which appeared in my blog, many of them also in Counterpunch.

In January I wrote Rejected By America, about how I had (and still have) given up on doing major tours of the United States because it is not financially viable.

I spent much of March working on setting up the Song News Network, which I announced in a blog post in April -- Where Are All the Protest Songs?

In June I wrote Senseless Acts of Killing, a brief, musically-annotated exploration of why these things happen so much.

Feeling exasperated by all the people and organizations out there spreading false hope by encouraging us to write letters to politicians, I wrote Don't Write Your Congressperson.

When Bernie Sanders told everybody to support Hillary Clinton and many people I know were feeling lost and betrayed, I tried to help out with my WTF 2016 Q&A.

Reflecting on last summer's Democratic National Convention, I wrote Thoughts on the Conventions: The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places.

I put out a mobile app for the first time last summer.  I wrote Why An App? in explanation for doing this.

A friend of mine contacted me during the summer, telling me about how he knew Mohammed Atta, the most well-known of the 19 men who hijacked the planes used in the 9/11 attacks.  My friend doesn't want to be publicly identified, so I published his account on my blog -- Mohammed Atta, Israeli moving companies, Psychic Friends and a dead handyman.

In the midst of my second tour of Europe in 2016 I wrote A Portlander in Europe, mostly reflecting on the still-vast differences between life in places like Germany and Scandinavia compared with life in the United States.

In defense of my rejection of lesser-evilism, just before the November election I wrote what would be by far my most-read blog entry of the year (over 7k views) -- For All the Women, Men and Children She's Killed -- the Rantings of a Privileged White Male.

Having thought a Trump win quite likely, I already had a lot of ideas about why lots of people would vote for him.  After the election, I wrote my second-most-read blog entry of the year -- What Just Happened -- National Socialism Wins When Socialism is Abandoned.

In defense of the relevance of culture in light of the election and the way forward, I next wrote What's Next?

My most recent essay for Counterpunch was "Good Cop, Bad Cop" -- Democratic Mayors, Republican Governors, and Us, about how the Democrats and Republicans play ping pong with the people of this country.

Reflecting on the way Facebook essentially caught fire during the first half of November, I wrote Netiquette in the Age of Facebook.

Everything Else

On January 28th, my daughter, Leila, turned 10.  On April 14th, four days after my 49th birthday, my son, Yutaka, was born.  If you weren't aware of these developments, you probably don't follow me on Instagram.  (And maybe you don't want to!)

In between tours, during the first four months or so of Yutaka's life in the spring and summer, in my spare time I wrote a novel -- A Busker's Adventures.  Not my first novel, but the first that I've written under my own name...  Hardly anybody has read it, which is a bit discouraging.  The few who have read it tell me it's really good.  (Mostly my relatives.)

In the midst of changing a lot of diapers and writing a novel, I also got into a car accident, crowdfunded the car repairs, and crowdfunded my new electric cello.  And got physical therapy for whiplash.  (Which never seems to quite go away entirely.)

I did two two-month tours of Europe in 2016.  In spite of the currency markets (strong dollar, weak pound) I made a living in 2016 mostly from touring in Europe.  (And from the ongoing support of my CSA members, and all those who contributed to the crowdfunding campaigns for the car repair, albums, cello, etc.)  I did around 90 gigs, including having the privilege of singing for thousands of folks at the opening ceremony of the World Social Forum in Montreal in August, and getting to sing quite extensively for 65,000 people at a TTIP protest in Hamburg, Germany in September.

I put out three professional-quality recordings in 2016:

In January I did a sort of house concert at Big Red Studio, featuring my latest songs (mostly written in the latter half of 2015) which became the Bandcamp album, 1939.

In March I had a show in Boston which was recorded professionally, in spite of my best efforts to sabotage the process.  This became another Bandcamp album, Letter to My Landlord.

In October I concluded a tour with Scottish singer, Lorna McKinnon accompanying me, by having one of our shows in Ireland professionally recorded.  This became the online full-length concert video, Live in Rostrevor.

In Conclusion

If I impress anyone with any of this, that's great, but my intent here is mainly to summarize 2016 from my vantage point, for whatever that's worth.

And also to give thanks.  For the fact that I have the time and the resources to do all of these things is due mostly to the support of all of you who contributed towards these various aforementioned crowdfunding efforts.  And all of you who have organized gigs for me throughout the year.  And all of you who continue to be members of my CSA.  To all of these folks especially -- and to anyone else who likes what I'm doing enough to have gotten this far in this blog post -- from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I hope to see you on the road in 2017!

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