Go West, Young Woman: The Tree Ring Tradition

Much to my chagrin, we had no plans for New Year’s Eve this year. None in our Circle of Us did either so I guess there’s comfort in doing nothing separately…together. But I like putting on a fancy dress and heels, having cocktails made for me and eating appetizers while wearing silly hats and talking. Talking all night about everything and nothing with the people I love so much–out and about in a city that has loved me as much as I’ve loved her for all these years. This was the first year in years that, worldwide pandemic aside, none of us made the effort, which actually feels like the rightful end to a year headlined by The Great Resignation.

But from the bedroom windows of my 1931 Doelger home, we can see clear to downtown on a good night. Past the treetops of Golden Gate Park, the spires of St. Ignatius, and the abominable tip of that god forsaken Salesforce Tower, we had a perfect view of San Francisco’s fireworks. Sure, we could only see the top half of this impressive display but I was witness to it from the comfort of my own bed, which I’ve snugged up and centered into the bay windows. I only left the warmth of my fella and our animals once that night to pop my head out of the kitchen window that never properly closes to ask the neighbor kid to PLEASE not shoot illegal fireworks directly into the backyard that my bedroom overlooks. Hell hath no fury like a “single woman, not divorced,” who sees fire coming at her home and can’t remember what damage is covered by her insurance policy. Maybe today I’ll resolve to be a real adult.

I was overjoyed to see these fireworks return since they were cancelled last minute last year, another victim of the pandemic we’re all pretending is over. Plus, we’re heading to Miami for a wedding in the Spring, last night I made plans for a Santa Fe road trip with two of my favorite women, and, in the final throes of December I finally ordered a Clipper Card after living in San Francisco for 20+ years. Proving that old resolutions, although delayed, can still find life at some point. Some things can live on despite an unusual end to and start of a new year. Every January 1st, without fail, my main music friend Morgan makes a Top Ten Albums list that defined the previous year for him. I’m just not together enough to chronicle my life like that; ironic for a woman who does history for money. But I do seek out The Tree Ring anthology (2014) every New Year’s Day and usually listen to it, here and there, throughout the first week of whatever year I find myself in.

The Tree Ring and Joel P. West have been featured on this blog before so I won’t go into all that he is and what The Tree Ring means to me. But I will say, as I grow older, it’s interesting to see what music grows with me. West is from San Diego so maybe there’s an unspoken kinship here. Like finding an American while traveling abroad and feeling close to this person you have nothing in common with except the one thing you both have in common. Regardless, they are a refuge in a foreign lands as is The Tree Ring for me. Embarking on every new year is sort of like flying to the UK: you know you’ll speak the same language but you still don’t know what you’re in for.

West spends much of his time writing film scores now, the most recent of which were Chef’s Table and Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings. January feels like the opening credits to a newly released film anyway, so going cinematic with his music soundtracking the first part of the month always feels right. And maybe he’s our generation’s Danny Elfman? He’s sure fitting that bill for me. I’m a notoriously terrible sleeper and I could not go to bed when I was young unless the music of Thomas Newman, James Horner, or Danny Elfman was softly wafting out of the CD player next to my bed. Particularly Elfman’s music in Edward Scissorhands, which was on repeat for much of my teen years.

Now, I cannot start a new year without listening to the expansive, hopeful, soulful, Joel P. West because he brings the available light of the oncoming year into focus for me. And because I am, if nothing else, a traditional woman who is a lover of music.