I remember exactly where I was on Nov. 11, 2016, when it was announced that Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen had died days earlier. I was driving down the French Midi, en route to Lautrec to perform with my experimental rock group, Georgio ‘the Dove’ Valentino & la Société des Mélancoliques (aye, those were daedal days). That night, on stage, I ad-libbed a few lines of “True Love Leaves No Traces” in the man’s honor, but the tune I was really feeling—the tune that eclipses the entire LC songbook IMHO—was and is his “Lover, Lover, Lover.” I can’t imagine 11 words better disposed to stir the soul of a spent vagabond: “‘Let me start again,’ I cried. ‘Please let me start again.’”
One hears vulgar echoes of this rhapsody in the usual New Year’s noise, the overstated rumblings of pedestrian “resolutions” that will, of course, remain unresolved. (In their defense, even if observed religiously, paltry Hallmark platitudes would make little difference in anyone’s lives, least of all yours.) This time, however, we might be ripe for something really new. To quote Morrissey (!), “The pressure to change, to move on, is strange and very strong.” First, because we’re heralding not just a new year, but a whole new effin’ decade. And second, because if 2019 wasn’t absolute bottom, both individually and collectively, I shudder to think what’s next. The memes have it: “May the tears you cried in 2019 water the seeds you’re planting for 2020.” We’re all feeling shell-shocked from the annus horribilis that was, and we’ll continue to count our curses until we realize that individual fortunes are nourished (or not) by the civic air we breathe. Currently, our communities, our institutions and, indeed, our entire nation are in a sorry way. Insiders game the system while regular folks work more for less. The erosion of solidarity is relentless. Fear and loathing permeate the airwaves and fiber-optic cables; they spill into the streets. If there is to be a true season of renewal, it must begin by reclaiming the common good.
There are promising signs. On the national level, our evangelical brothers and sisters are beginning to reconsider their blind loyalty to a most un-Christian president. Congress is doing its constitutional duty to check executive overreach. (There’s compromise and then there’s compromise; core democratic values—like checks and balances—are non-negotiable.) Donald Trump must be voted out of office in disgrace in 2020.
On the local level, despite allowing Mayor Lenny Curry to be re-elected in the spring and then offering precious little resistance when his goons slowly suffocated the school board’s infrastructure-tax referendum over the summer, Jacksonville’s citizenry eventually got its act together by year’s end and stopped the heist of the century: the JEA privatization scheme. As the dominoes fall one by one, the thing looks more every day like an unequivocally criminal swindle. If the school-board referendum saga ever gets the same scrutiny, I reckon a lot more of the same will be revealed. As Ray Liotta tells Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land, “It’s a deep and dark motherf*ck.” This corruption must be investigated in 2020.
May the new year give us the courage to demand dignity and fairness. May it bring accountability. May it restore faith in our institutions and in each other. May it help us lay a healthy civic foundation on which to build happy and productive lives. May it show us only sunrise. And, for our part, may we have the clarity to pursue the light wherever it may lead. And—like Leonard Cohen pleaded, “I want a spirit that is calm”—may we exorcise the angst of 2019.