I was terribly saddened by the news today of the death of Aretha Franklin, at age 76. I’ve written before of my thoughts on this titanic talent, who had a voice that comes once in a generation. It’s a terrible loss for American music, and for America generally.
I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record. Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops. Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all. And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan. Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.
Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You, I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin? It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.
And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.
In the mood for some good news — perhaps, good news that hasn’t gotten much attention? How about this: the most recent United States Environmental Protection Agency report on the quality of our air shows that the America has made remarkable progress in reducing air pollution.
The EPA report is called “Our Nation’s Air 2018,” and it’s an eye-opener. It shows large — in some cases, huge — decreases in the concentrations of air pollutants just since 1990. Since then, carbon monoxide is down 77 percent, sulfur dioxide is down 88 percent, lead is down 80 percent, and various types of particulate matter are down between 34 percent and 41 percent. Ozone emissions are down 22 percent, and nitrogen dioxide is down 50 percent. The report notes that since 1970 — when the federal Clean Air Act took effect –“the combined emissions of the six common pollutants (PM2.5 and PM10, SO2, NOx, VOCs, CO and Pb) dropped by 73 percent.” The total number of “unhealthy air quality” days as measured by the EPA also has fallen dramatically.
And what’s really amazing is that these significant overall declines in air pollutants have occurred at the same time that both America’s population, and its economy, have grown substantially. It’s a classic example of how real environmental progress can be made in a way that doesn’t cause total economic disruption.
To be sure, there is still work to be done, and I’ve been to places in America — like southern California — where from time to time you can sometimes still see smog and visible air pollution. But that shouldn’t detract from the success the country has achieved in getting to cleaner air.
Remember that the next time you take a deep breath of sweet, clean air.