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I read the news today, oh boy

I’ve lost my way. Twenty-twenty has been a lost year in a few key respects; I’ve felt both fixated and unfocused. My work has become much more introspective, smaller in multiple ways, sometimes heading in random directions. I ascribe:

1. Cancer diagnosis.

2. Chemotherapy.

3. Covid contagion.

4. Election silliness.

5. Covid lockdown.

6. Economic meltdown.

7. Chemotherapy.

8. Unemployment surging.

9. Election hijacking.

10. Cancer surgery.

11. People dying.

12. Radiation.

13. Household entropy.

14. Cancer eliminated!

15. Election madness.

16. Covid spiking.

17. Election idiocy.

18. Lockdown redux.

19. Elections certified.

20. Two traumas down, for now.

Eleven 2020 months in twenty steps.

I’m reminded of the long, mildly dissonant orchestral ascent of Lennon/McCartney’s A Day in the Life. I read the news today, oh boy… it undulates along, a lilting, tilting melody, before the line becomes taut. That wobbling, Hitchcockian bow across the strings, amping up and up… then releasing back into the melody. Sly references to drug use that the BBC decided went a little too far when they refused to play the song in 1967. Ringo Starr said his drums tried to show the disenchanting mood: “ 'Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire'—boom ba bom."

The cord tightens again, the song line giving way to building orchestral tension, an uneasy, drawn-out atonal rising; the musicians were given license to improvise within an escalating scale. Disquiet builds, distractions fall away, my focus narrows; it continues to swell. There were four recorded takes. All four were overdubbed into one mighty crescendo.

Then, silence. After accelerating up a relentless grade, the band sails into empty air, hanging, suspended. I wait, expectant, until gravity is reinstated.

The soaring silence bottoms out with an E-major chord played simultaneously by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and assistant Mal Evans on three pianos and producer George Martin on a harmonium, The chord lengthens out over long seconds—to prolong the moment, they increased the recording sound level as the vibration faded… languid, attenuating into nothing. Beatles biographer Jonathon Gould called it "A forty-second meditation on finality that leaves each member of the audience listening with a new kind of attention and awareness to the sound of nothing at all."

By the inaudible end of the chord, the recording volume was so high to capture the tail end, you hear a distant chair creak, papers whispering from around the studio.

That’s what it feels like now. After this year of dissonant chaos, attempting to harmonize, the tense ramp-up, the cacophony overlapping, screeching, we felt the resolution of low-octave left-hand notes. And now, as the noise, not quickly enough, diminishes into the distance, we can untangle a knot, unclench a few gut muscles.

What do I take away as this year ends, besides needing to elbow some room and take a deep breath? Here’s my top-of-mind:

  1. Covid-19 is real, duh.

  2. Do we finally have our long-overdue climate president?

  3. Donald Trump and his ego are unacceptable, bottom line. But manymany millions like something about what he represents. And they’re not going away.

  4. We have a religious war, not just a partisan divide, as wide swaths of us bring fervent idealism to woke-ish cancel culture and right-wing theology.

  5. Republicans did better than expected. (Trump won the largest share of the nonwhite vote of any Republican in 60 years, according to David Brooks and an NBC exit poll.)

  6. Democrats should have won huge, but they failed. Money can’t buy love.

  7. Kamala Harris.

  8. We still have a racial justice reckoning coming.

  9. We also have a deficit spending backlash coming.

  10. Constitutional democracy is in pain.

  11. Cancer treatment is a pain, but better than the alternative.

  12. The fly had a better strategy than the head it landed on.

My list isn’t helping my stomach let go. Only getting back to work will do that. But my god, we have much to do, and a collective responsibility to do it.

First, can we just please enjoy a lingering moment of the sound of nothing at all?

Listen to the song again, on YouTube

© 2020 Su Cummings. All rights reserved.

Masthead photo credit: The Beatles launch Sgt Pepper on 19 May 1967. I've seen this credited to Linda Eastman, and to John Downing/Getty


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