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Thoughts on This Weekend's Magic and Loss

Well, that was something.

Last week I begged every American reading this column to go vote. I can’t definitively say it was down to my influence, but man, you did. Turnout in this election was hearteningly high, with more than 146 million people casting ballots at the current count. As Frank Zappa once said, democracy only works if you participate, so I would very much like to thank everyone who participated.

The good news is that 75 million (and counting) people voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, roughly four million more than voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. You can quibble over whether that is good news, I guess. For me, this feels like America stepping back from the brink. We’ve been on the verge of sinking into corrupt authoritarianism under this administration, and I know some think that is hyperbole, but I watched in horror over the past four years as our checks and balances on presidential power were eroded one by one. Waking up to this result has felt like being given a second chance.

Now all we have to do is earn it. As noted above, 71 million people (and counting) voted for more authoritarianism, swayed by fear-mongering about a Biden administration’s erosion of our basic rights and freedoms. I hope that the reactions of the two men to the result of the election points out to everyone watching the vast difference in character between them. Trump’s response is petty, small and selfish, spreading baseless accusations of a fraudulent election simply because he did not like the results. Biden’s has been generous and statesmanlike, extending the hand of healing to his opponents and vowing to set America on a path we can all be proud of.

We’re going to have to live with that 71 million (and counting) for a long time, and there’s no fixing the information silos that keep one half of the country divided from the other. Biden has his work cut out for him. But for the first time in years, I am breathing more easily, and I am less frightened for my more vulnerable friends and acquaintances, knowing they will not be targets in Joe Biden’s America. It’s a step on a longer path, but a step I am so glad we’ve taken.

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It wasn’t all good news this weekend. We lost Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy!, and yes, the exclamation point is officially part of the proper name. I was ten years old when Trebek began his stint hosting Jeopardy!, and he’s been a constant presence in my life, as he has been for a lot of others. His wry yet stately demeanor was the stuff of legend, and to say that he was an icon of American culture is to understate the case. Others have eulogized Trebek far more eloquently than I could. Suffice it to say that he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on Sunday morning at age 80, and the landscape of pop culture will never be the same.

We also lost Bones Hillman, the electrifying bass player for Midnight Oil. Hillman is less well-known, but his impact on my musical life is immense. Hillman, born Wayne Stevens, was legendary in Australia and his native New Zealand. He joined Midnight Oil in 1987, at the height of their popularity, and made his debut with the band on 1990’s awesome Blue Sky Mining. His voice added so much to the backing vocals, and his playing was always energetic and inventive.

Hillman stayed with the band until their breakup in 2002, as frontman Peter Garrett left to pursue politics. Hillman settled into the life of a session musician until the Oils reunited in 2017, and his work can be heard on their new album The Makarrata Project, which I reviewed last week. He co-wrote “Terror Australia,” one of the record’s most striking songs. The Oils have a new album in the can as well, which will be released next year, and these will be Hillman’s final songs with them.

Bones Hillman also died of cancer. He was only 62.

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I don’t want to dwell on death and loss, though. There will be plenty of time for that. I want to leave you this week with a piece of music that has been an unending source of calm for me for the last few months. Brad Mehldau, one of my piano-playing heroes, composed a suite in April that encapsulated his feelings about this never-ending year. It’s called Suite: April 2020, and as usual for Mehldau, it’s beautiful. It’s also an uneasy, boxed-in thing, befitting a year with a global pandemic and so much unrest.

The final movement, though, is called “Lullaby,” and I cannot at the moment point to another piece of music that says “everything is going to be all right” as well as this one does. The next few months will be hard. The next few years will be hard. But there is always hope.

There is always hope.

OK, I’m going to enjoy the rest of this unseasonably warm weekend. Be good to each other, and be back here in seven days for some actual music reviews.

See you in line Tuesday morning.