The Passing of Giants

I’m listening to a “world music” radio program on KPFA just now, Thursday morning 10:45 in San Francisco. It’s dedicated to Ali Farka Toure, and it’s making me feel that impossible combination of deep soulful connected humanity and profound sadness. He’s been the soundtrack to my last six years, more than any other musician, along with the other awesome musicians from Mali that he helped get noticed, and finally on to my playlist (esp. Amadou and Mariam, and the amazing Boubacar Troare who I saw not long ago at Yoshi’s in one of the best live shows I can remember). Tuning in to the historic synergy between west African music and American soul music is like opening a multidimensional, multilayered Chinese box full of prisms and rainbows and gyrating pelvises and a steady massage of one’s deepest backbone… that unmatchable complex sonic food has nourished my 21st century, and shaped my lost relationship in mysterious and beautiful ways… sigh… Ali Farka Toure has died, and I feel the loss.

Octavia Butler has died too. She is probably one of the top three best science fiction writers, maybe the best (depending on your preferences). No writer has used the form so unpredictably. The best science fiction is always a commentary on our own lives here and now, but it’s very easy to forget that in the house of technological mirrors erected by so many sci-fi writers. Butler never lets you stop long enough to get lost in the mirrors because she pulls you right through the first impressions and twists us into many more layers of insight and compassion and profound confusion about what it is to be human, to live on a planet of chemicals and biological webs, an unmeasurable universe of microcosmic and macrocosmic life that we have barely begun to apprehend. I highly recommend the always brilliant Annalee Newitz’s column on Butler for a great overview of her work.

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