Between Here and Gone

Everything's ephemeral

Between Here and Gone

During a typical year, work takes me away from home for about six weeks. I've been on eight flights already in 2024, which is neither a work complaint (a couple of them have been personal trips) nor some sort of weird flex (I'm pretty sure I'm currently heavily jetlagged and way too tired to flex for any reason). Instead, I mention it by way of explaining why I've been thinking a lot about transitions lately — it's the kind of thing that's more likely to creep into your mind when it feels like you're always getting ready to go somewhere else or returning from somewhere else.

More specifically, I've been thinking a lot about how easy it is to avoid being intentional about the present by getting caught up in the future and/or the past. This is the kind of thing that becomes a lot harder to avoid when you're sitting on a six-hour flight, or riding from a dwelling to an airport, etc., because those chunks of time tend to more naturally feel like interstitial passages that can seem to elapse aggravatingly or even painfully slowly. Keeping my head in the present is something I've been struggling with for years, and I know I'm far from alone in this. I have no special tips or tricks; what I do have, however, is a list of stuff I've been listening to/watching/reading lately, most of which has reinforced the idea that the current moment is all we have, and we ought to make an effort to really be here for it.

In his review of the concert film Ryuichi Sakamoto: Opus, Bilge Ebiri makes a passing reference to Sakamoto's 12 LP, which reads as follows: "Throughout his final album, 12, which consists of 12 tracks, most of them a combination of solo piano and ambient soundscapes, we can hear his breathing — straining over the keys, perhaps, but also simply reminding us that he’s there, his presence lending a delicate, human rhythm to the pieces."

I was struck by this — partly because it's a lovely example of Ebiri's passionate and wise writing, and partly because I think it sort of strikes at the heart of the subtle yet impactful creative decision-making that set Sakamoto's work apart from his peers and continues to make it special. For me, the experience of listening to 12 is similar to the experience of listening to a lot of other ambient or ambient-adjacent music; while there are certainly beautiful moments and the overall effect is haunting in a pleasantly lingering sort of way, it's very easy to just let the whole thing wash over you. It feels like something that happened rather than something that was created — but that feeling is undermined by Sakamoto's soft intrusions, which serve to remind you that every note you're hearing is a deliberate act.

The experience of listening to 12 is rendered all the more poignant when you understand that Sakamoto, who'd been diagnosed with cancer nearly a decade prior to its release, went into it knowing it would be his final album. As with the Opus film, what you're ultimately getting is a performance from an artist who's reckoning with his own mortality. He knows he doesn't have many notes left to play, but what's more alive — more present — than the act of creating, especially in the face of death?

Every second counts. I've welcomed the opportunity to have this point driven home during a recent rewatch of The Bear Season 2, which I devoured after it originally dropped and just finished screening for my wife and 16-year-old son. The first time around, I thought a lot about how for me, it felt like this was a collection of episodes about how truly impactful it can be when you show people you recognize the talent and effort they're bringing to a situation — which seems like it ought to be a small thing, but never has been and certainly isn't in today's workplace.

The second time around, I still felt that message coming through, but I was also more in tune with the season's persistent reminders that it can be a hell of a lot harder — or even impossible — to get where you want to go if you refuse to accept or appreciate the requisite steps. One would think that in the year of someone's lord 2024, it'd be perilously difficult to put together a truly effective season of television resting largely on the greeting card sentiment that we only have one chance to experience any given moment, and I suspect one would be right; there's a hell of a lot of craft behind this show, and I'm sure every last detail involved no shortage of creative toil. I'm not going to say anything else because if you haven't watched it yet, I don't want to spoil it for you — just rest assured that if any of this sounds the slightest bit cheesy, it ain't.

(Other recent watches include Dream Scenario starring Nicolas Cage, which is just engagingly weird/weirdly engaging enough to painlessly pass 90-odd minutes on a plane, and Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, which has its own stuff to say about the passage of time and our relationship with it, but I'm not going to get into it here; as I said earlier, I am quite tired.)

Celebrity memoirs can often be quite a bit of fun to read, although they come with a fair number of pitfalls. For starters, the first third or so is often a slog, because who really cares about a famous person's (generally rather ordinary) childhood? There's also the matter of how to finish the thing, which tends to involve threading the needle between "here's how the story ends" and "wait I'm not dead yet." Even the books that stick one of those landings can end up wiping out on the other; for example, there's the latest Kenny Loggins memoir, which I remember concluding with him musing about getting into NFTs.

I'm pleased to report that no such issues plague What a Fool Believes, the upcoming autobiography from five-time Grammy winner, once-and-again Doobie Brother, and perennial Jefitoblog favorite Michael McDonald. Due out May 21 (right before my 50th birthday, thanks, Mike), it tells McD fans just about everything they ever wanted to know about his upbringing, musical journey, and life behind the scenes. If you've ever read or watched an interview with the guy, you know he's consistently self-effacing to a fault, and What a Fool Believes captures that tone completely (which reflects the nice job done by his co-writer, Paul Reiser [yes, that Paul Reiser]). A lot of the book boils down to "I don't know how this happened"; the overall picture is one of a man who, for much of his life, was unable to understand and/or graciously accept any good fortune that came his way. That lack of self-confidence arguably serves as the crux of McDonald's story, which is ultimately so much more than the silky smooth yacht rock chronicle one might be tempted to expect, even if it does fumble with a few surprising details. In the final pages, McD cheerfully admits he has no idea how to end his own story, which strikes me as the perfect ending after all. In the end, as long as we're here, everyone's in the middle of unreliable memories and uncertain futures; we're all between here and gone. Fully living in the now is arguably the best we can hope to accomplish, which is, I suppose, why it's often so damn difficult.