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Monday, June 27, 2011

Inheriting the clock

Growing up, I remember my mother waxing sentimental every time a famous person died. Usually, the deceased enjoyed a prolonged period of celebrity that marked my mother's era through music or film, her most beloved art forms. When the news came (most often via the kitchen radio), she'd dreamily say to no one in particular, "Oh...so and so passed away...". Her tone didn't betray sadness as much as it did disappointment; I suspect each death marked the passing of her own days in a way no calendar or watch could. In retrospect, I see now that she was speaking to herself. She was mourning, if even for a brief moment. I never understood the big deal. After all, these people acted in hokey films, played hokey music, wrote hokey dramas, sang hokey songs. Besides, the ending of a long and influential life was an abstract concept for this 10 year old. Back then.

Now, of course, I'm at an age where I read the obits in the weekend paper (I can't help it - blame my mother). Like her, I, too, experience a wistful twinge when I hear about the passing of someone I revered and respected, or at the very least recall from my history. The recent deaths of Ari Up, Poly Styrene, Gil Scott Heron, Elizabeth Taylor, and, most recently, Peter Falk, each caused me to stop and think about time - my clock, if you will - and the seconds or minutes I dedicated to to these artists and how their art influenced me. Ari Up, who in 1976 formed arguably the greatest all-girl punk rock band, The Slits, was only 48 (48? I'm 48!); Poly Styrene, lead singer of seminal English punks, X-Ray Spex, was 53; and Gil Scott Heron was 62. They were more my generation. Still the old stars shone for me, too: while Columbo was my mother's favourite TV show, Falk was for me at his most magnificent in 1987 playing himself in Wim Winders' Wings of Desire. Dame Taylor, whose Taming of the Shrew was standard fare during my high school years, was far and away my mother's favourite.

So, while I may not think about them lately, whenever I hear that so and so passed away I cannot help but recall my mother and that tone of resigned acceptance. I now get it, which means - gasp! - I'm old! More than anything, though, I am grateful for those little gifts left to me by the artists of my era, forever locked in amber. 

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