Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 In Review

2021 felt like a sequel to 2020's slow-motion apocalypse: it recapitulated the main events of last year to diminishing effect and a tired familiarity. This was a larger reflection of many of our individual days, which seem to be copies of previous ones.

There were notable exceptions. One day I received a text message from a dear friend who told me they were in the hospital and not likely to survive the night. I called. We talked briefly, and they told me they loved me, and said goodbye. Mercifully, they survived. But that was 2021 for some of us.

Another dear friend had a similar situation with their children. Again, mercifully, they all made it, and we were able to celebrate survival and life in person.

Some of my other friends with serious illnesses continued to thrive, a miracle in itself. Some of my friends got COVID. Being vaccinated, they all survived 2021.  

But not everyone did. Saddest of all was the loss of 3 friends to suicide in the last 6 months (and a 4th in 2020). One from high school, one from my LA and early SF days, and one from recent times. I spent a lot of time thinking about them, and the families and friends they left behind. I fear this is something we may have to get used to.

As for me, my days felt like variations on a theme. I woke around 7, and had some coffee while trying to read as little news as possible. That news was also consistent: Pandemic grinds on. People don't want to wear masks or get vaccinated. Trump's insurrection reverberates with little consequence. The GOP continues its campaign of undermining democracy in favor of oligarchy. The Democrats continue to focus on mostly the wrong issues with the wrong strategies. The climate continues to cause problems. All presented in a way algorithmically designed for maximum emotional agitation. Then you can read or leave comments and further increase agitation and engagement. 

At 8, my workday began, videoconferencing for at least half of most days. Emails and documents and staring out the window, trying to get myself to engage and care, even as it sometimes felt pointless and silly. 

I ran in the park, managing somewhere between 15 and 20 miles per week, with just a few weeks out for overuse injuries. These runs kept me sane. Flying through tree-lined paths, leaving stress and worry behind, listening to music. I would dream about them on my good sleep nights. 

Or I would work out at home, lifting some weights in the garage and doing body exercises indoors. I managed to stay in decent shape this year, and my overall health is good for a man of my age. I do miss the equipment at the gym, and I wonder when or if I will find a new facility.

Evenings were simple -- dinner, some TV, some computer, a book, bed. Then do it all again. All contained within our humble but comfortable home. I found myself wishing for at least one big, open, empty room in which I could exercise or meditate.

That desire for space meant I also continued to contemplate leaving San Francisco, and perhaps the Bay Area. If one can "work from anywhere", why live in the most expensive city in the world, with all of its problems?

Of course, the answer is "work from anywhere" isn't really happening or reliable, and I still have hope life will return to something approximating the pre-pandemic era where we can see friends and eat inside without fear of dying. 

I finished up a new record this year -- a goth rock project -- which should be released in a few weeks. I am excited about this album. It sounds great, and I think the songs are good. It has had a long gestation phase that I think has been worth it. Special thanks to Christy for her patience and creativity. 

On the other hand, it has been nearly 2 years since I played live with The Pants. Our rehearsal room sits dark, with the rent about to significantly increase. For now, we will keep it going. I miss playing music with other people.

Song Club filled that gap a few times over the summer, either over Zoom or with a few in-person sessions during that brief moment when we thought the pandemic might be ending. I am particularly grateful to my songwriting friends, who inspired me with their creativity and helped me learn more about music in general. 

I also spent a lot of time checking in with friends both new and old. Even on days where my videoconference fatigue was high, even a brief talk with these people left me feeling energized and at peace. I do not know if these chats, calls, and emails were helpful for any of you, but they absolutely were for me. I even managed a few in-person lunches in outdoor environments.

I managed to see both my father and brother, who passed through SF with their families briefly. Special and memorable moments, over too soon. 

We managed a few much-needed upgrades for the house. The year began with a new furnace, which has kept us comfortable during the SF cold. We also managed to get a new refrigerator before our previous one failed. Given the supply chain issues, this was a significant accomplishment. We had our kitchen floor refinished, after a chemical spill damaged it. And had some (not all, unfortunately) gutters and drains repaired in time for the end-of-year big rains.

But through all of that, life has also been difficult. The ambient stress of the pandemic, environmental disruption, political chaos, and just getting by has been a lot to handle. 

Physically, I am still dealing with some after-effects of serious illness and some ongoing difficult-to-eradicate health issues. Sometimes even getting a good night's sleep has been difficult. I spent a decent amount of time in doctor offices this year. I managed to find a massage therapist and get a few sessions in before the pandemic clamped down.

I also made a lot of progress with my therapist. If the pandemic has one silver lining for all of us, it is that now, many therapists are set up for videoconferencing and are thus both more easily available and able to reach patients in far-away locations, which allows for some demand balancing. 

It has been extremely beneficial for me, if painful and difficult at times. If you are even considering it, I would encourage you to go ahead and find someone to talk with. 

2020 had some notable highlights -- We got all 3 of our vaccination shots, a medical miracle. My better half managed some travel before things got bad again. We have jobs that we can tolerate. There were a few beautiful hikes. Some sublime cups of coffee. Conversations with friends. 

But it has been difficult on every level. As the days drag on and repeat, there is also a slowly growing sense of pointlessness. I understand it, but it does not make it easy.

I am grateful for all of you. Perhaps 2022 will find me writing a bit more. I intend to invest a bit more time in creativity this coming year. See you then.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Dave Lampton (1969 - 2021)

My friend Dave Lampton died in December of 2021. He was 52 years old. 

I could not bring myself to write about it at the time. Dave was the fourth of my friends to die in the space of two years. Writing these obituaries is difficult. I also had concerns that the sheer frequency made them all feel less significant.

The circumstances of Dave's death and our relationship also complicated things.

I met Dave back in the mid-90s, when I was working at an audio technology company. Dave was hired as an intern, and his intern project was porting the DSP code for one of the company's technologies to a recording studio rack unit. Dave had studied this stuff in school. 

At the time, this kind of "load a plug-in" feature was new and exciting. Dave got it running easily. Since it was part of the pro audio business, it was part of my world.

I got to know Dave as part of my frequent trips to the Bay Area. He was roommates with some of my colleagues in that audio technology company. I slept on their fold-out couches on the nights I didn't make it back home to L.A.

Dave had a charming and easy smile, a slow, measured way of speaking, and a soft laugh. He loved music, and turned me on not just to grungy indie rock but also some great underground electronic stuff. His taste was broad, his passion for art deep, and his analysis of what made something good or bad was insightful.

Dave was one of the co-founders of, the start-up which brought me up to the Bay Area, and which eventually produced Rhapsody/Napster. I was incredibly grateful to Dave and the rest of the team for that opportunity. 

When I moved to San Francisco in 2000, I only knew a handful of people. Dave was one of them, and I ended up finding an apartment just a couple blocks away from Dave. We occasionally carpooled to work. 

Dave was an inventive guitar player. We played music together a few times, and talked about starting some kind of band. At that time, I was still recovering from my pro years in L.A. and was reluctant to do anything with that kind of structure or commitment, but it was fun to think about, and Dave had written some good songs.

Aside from working together, we hung out evenings and weekends. We went to see bands play. We had some memorable nights at legendary San Francisco bar LiPo, with a lovely lady and another friend from L.A. in tow. 

But that was also where it became clear to me that Dave had some problems. Those problems became harder for me and Dave's other friends to ignore as his nightlife bled into the rest of his life. 

I eventually confronted Dave about those issues. He did not want to hear it at the time, and it damaged our friendship, and we stopped hanging out. I couldn't watch him destroy himself, and he didn't want anyone wagging their finger at him. 

It wasn't until many years later that he told me he was grateful for what I said. I only wish I had been more vocal, sooner, and that I had been more helpful. The regret made me vow to speak truth to my friends, even when (or especially when) they "don't want to hear it".

We fell out of touch, but Dave looked to have been doing well the last few years, with new jobs and some new stability in his life. Unfortunately, it appears his newfound balance was somewhat precarious and fragile.

Thinking of Dave makes me think of music. Whenever I hear anything from Death Cab For Cutie's "We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes", I see and hear Dave, who introduced me to the record and band. I wrote a song about our experiences on my album "Decayed, Decayed". I am currently working on a piece with one of our Li Po compatriots. 

I hope Dave hears it, wherever he is.

Misguided by the 405, 'cause it lead me to an alcoholic summer

I missed the exit to your parents' house hours ago

Red wine and the cigarettes

Hide your bad habits underneath the patio