A master has died. Ryuichi Sakamoto was an innovator, transcending styles and mediums.
He was so productive that the New York Times ran a lush and knowing obituary on Monday -- yet never mentioned my favorite work involving Sakamoto-san.
"Casa" did not make the cut, squeezed out by work for movies ("The Last Emperor" for Bertolucci), modern collaborations with David Bowie, a performance at the opening ceremony at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
He was transplanted into my brain, my heart, two decades ago when I was listening to John Schaefer, New York's jewel of a music teacher, with his familiar radio show, "New Sounds."
Late one evening, Schaeffer's new sound was a CD entitled "Casa" -- "Morelenbaum2 Sakamoto" -- a cellist with a beard (Jaques Morelenbaum), a beautiful singer (Paula Morelenbaum), and a pianist (Sakamoto) -- all three interpretating the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
La casa? The interpretetations evolved in the home of the late Tom Jobim, in Rio, and later recorded in studios in Rio. Rarely do you see creative genius intermingling, so respectfully. Jacques Morelenbaum suggests (in thick English) a dramatic piano chord to end one song, as Sakamoto nods his mane, Paula Morelenbaum reclines casually on a sofa, then out of nowhere she tries out a phrase in Portuguese or maybe English.
Over the years I realized that Sakamoto lived in Greenwich Village and later I read that he was fighting cancer. Then on Monday I read a lush and informed obituary by William Robin in The New York Times. Sakamoto was 71.
Favorite new fact? His influences ranged from Claude Debussy to John Cage (who has been one of my wife's favorites for many years.)
Maybe you can access the link to Sakamoto's obituary in Monday's NYT:
And maybe you will enjoy the interplay among these artists, courtesy of YouTube:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.