2021: A Personal Year In Review
Was 2021 the year I got stuck in a rut? Looking back on this list of things I enjoyed last year, I see a lot of familiar choices. But who can blame me, or any of us, for just reserving most of our energy toward surviving yet another year of the coronavirus pandemic and political tumult? (Let’s face it, January 6 was not a good harbinger of things to come.)
So, what got me through it all? Here are some of the highlights.
Going Back To The Island
2021 began with a continuation of a project that started in December, 2020—rewatching "Lost," just a little over ten years since the close of the hit television show. We spent a little time each week with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, and a couple dozen other denizens of the mysterious interconnected universe of the show, “Lost,” which remains one of my favorite programs, ever. Yes, the show doesn’t answer many, many of the questions it raises, but it dared to tackle weighty topics like fate, destiny, morals and ethics, all within the guise of a great sci-fi program. What holds the show together are the characters, who are all looking for some kind of rebirth and redemption in their lives by learning to let go of the past and move forward. Most of all, during this re-watch I appreciated the small acts of kindness between characters that punctuate the action. We finished all six seasons by the early fall. Verdict? It was worth it to go back to the island.
I hated that it was so cold. I hated it that I and so many of my fellow Texans spent days without power, and that there was such loss of life as a result. I also recognize that I may not see again the likes of something like the winter storms that hit the state in February. Then again such a freak occurrence might become more common due to our changing climate. So maybe this isn't something I loved about 2021, but the February storms were something I will never forget.
"Shooting Midnight Cowboy" by Glenn Frankel
In 1969, an X-rated movie filmed in Texas and New York shocked the world when it became a sensation, capturing the number three spot at the year’s box office, and eventually winning an Oscar as Best Picture. In 2018, just as “Midnight Cowboy” was released on a deluxe Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection, author Glenn Frankel was awarded a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to chronicle the film’s history. Frankel’s book, “Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic” is as much about the film as the context of the times in which it was made, specifically the acceptance (or not) of homosexuality, even in a liberal city like New York, where the bulk of the movie takes place. Released in March, Frankel took a little time to talk to me by phone about his book. Up next for him? A documentary film based on his research.
Penn & Teller: Fool Us
This show has been on the air for ten years now, and yet I finally discovered “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” this year by stumbling on a broadcast one Friday night. I’ve always enjoyed watching Penn & Teller’s act, and admired their intellect, too. “Fool Us” is a “reality” show where amateur and professional magicians alike bring their best trick to try and fool Penn & Teller. What I like about “Fool Us” is that the show is nothing but positive. Magicians may never give away their secrets, but they do love watching other acts for inspiration—and Penn Jillette's praise for everyone who comes on the show is effusive. I can’t recall a single episode where he had anything bad to say about one of the guests, and when a younger magician comes on, it’s downright inspiring to watch. (Inspired by the show, I even learned a couple of card tricks myself, which I tried out on family and friends!)
I got the Dolly vaccine! I am thankful for the rapid development of life-saving vaccines that lessen the serious illness caused by COVID-19.
Seeing mom and dad
After 15 months of phone calls and occasional Zoom piano recitals by my daughter, we were finally able to visit with my parents in person last June after all members of the immediate family had received both of their vaccination doses. The visit couldn’t have come at a better time; it was perfect for Father’s Day weekend.
Carlsbad Caverns / Cloudcroft, NM
I’ve visited New Mexico a few times before, but had never gotten around to visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park. As a family we took a road trip to our neighbor to the northwest and thrilled at the magnificent “Big Room” while spending several hours at Carlsbad Caverns. A day later, we drove high into Lincoln National Forest and Cloudcroft, where the temperature dipped into the upper 50s… in July!! From there, a short 30-minute drive downhill to Alamogordo brought the temperature back up to what felt like summer, and we sledded at White Sands as the sunset and full moon rise lent a lavender hue to the shifting landscape.
A return to live music
This year, I was happy to see live music performances return to venues large and small, and some of my favorite concerts included seeing King Crimson in Austin on what may be their last tour ever, recording the Doc Watkins Trio playing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Jazz TX, broadcasting live performances by the Olmos Ensemble and Camerata San Antonio on KPAC 88.3 FM, and a beautiful, emotional Christmas week recital by mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis for the Tuesday Musical Club that left me with tears in my eyes after more than one of the songs, especially “We Wear the Mask,” by B.E. Boykin. My daughter got in on the return to live music, too—enjoying Harry Styles in concert at the AT&T Center. It was a show that I watched from the outside of the venue on the monitor at the Whataburger.
Bob Dylan: "Springtime in New York"
Although I’ve become a more voracious devotee of Bob Dylan’s music over the past decade, I still hadn’t really listened to much of his 1980s work when I blind-purchased the latest Bootleg Series release, “Springtime in New York.” The two-disc set (there’s also a deluxe 5-disc version) covers 1980-1985, and the albums “Shot of Love,” “Infidels,” and “Empire Burlesque.” I didn’t know what to expect… and I certainly didn’t expect to be completely bowled over by “New Danville Girl,” a stripped-down early version of the officially released “Brownsville Girl” that name-checks San Antonio, the Corpus Christi newspaper, running across the Midwest until the wheels fall off and the water moccasin dies. As Gregory Peck once said, Dylan's music embraces "the echo of old American voices. Whitman & Mark Twain... blues singers, fiddlers and balladeers.” On this release, I also dug Dylan’s low-key rehearsal of “Let’s Keep It Between Us,” a song covered later by Bonnie Raitt, and “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” an early version of a song that wound up on “Empire Burlesque.” This “official bootleg” is now one of my favorite Dylan albums.
West Side Story
When it was announced a few years ago that Steven Spielberg was developing a remake of “West Side Story,” I was skeptical. I didn’t see the need for it. Still, I’m a Spielberg fan, and so I was curious to see how the story had been interpreted onscreen for 2021. Wow! Right away I was floored by the punchy sound of the overture, brilliantly conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Unlike other recent musical adaptations on film, Spielberg’s direction lets the viewer enjoy the performances without choppy editing. The movie is beautifully lit by cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. The script by Tony Kushner brings the racial politics closer to the surface, and gives minor characters like Chino and Anybodysnew depth. It’s a triumph, and if you’re comfortable going to the theater, I recommend seeing this one on the big screen.
Other things I enjoyed this year: “Hawkeye” on Disney Plus, which was better than any of the Marvel feature movies released in 2021, the podcast series “Sammy & Dino” from Karina Longworth’s “You Must Remember This,” watching Peter Jackson's mammoth-length "Get Back" Beatles documentary, busting the 1,000 song mark on my giant Spotify playlist, and hosting TPR’s annual talent showcase live on the radio from our Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater.
Here’s to a great 2022!