High Hopes

black swan

Black swan, Parque del Retiro, Madrid | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/80 sec, f6.3, ISO 400

Every August/September, Berkeley (or any college town, actually) receives a potent injection of fresh, nervous energy from legions of 17- and 18-year-olds who converge on it to start lives on their own for the first time. Usually, I just marvel at how each batch of freshmen looks younger and younger every year and leave it at that, but this year I’m seeing them differently. As I pass giggling girls in high heels and mini-dresses, confident-looking jocks, and gawky boys who can barely keep their backpacks on, I can’t help but picture them in 10, 20 years.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I came to Berkeley for the first time exactly 20 years ago, filled with a similar optimism and enthusiasm for my future, whatever that would be. Damn, 20 years! It’s flown by so quickly but has been a wondrous, steady journey so far, with a smattering of surprises big and small.

But not all surprises are good. In fact, some of those surprises royally suck. For one, I learned yesterday that Matthew Africa, a former KALX colleague and highly respected Bay Area DJ, died in a car accident on Monday.

Matthew and I had weekly radio shows in consecutive time slots for several years about a decade ago, and we discovered little bits about each other in the half hour one DJ wound down and the other geared up. Our shows were pretty differentβ€”he favored hip-hop, rap, funk, and tracks with groovy beats; I kept more to the rock side of the spectrum with a few forays into blues, jazz, and musicals. And yet we’d frequently surprise each other with our selections. It helped that we found common ground in ’60s soul and psych.

Matthew was forever dapper, witty, and charming with an easy smile. He was smooth and unflappable on the air, with a professional but sincere delivery that made the rest of us seem like even bigger amateurs than we already were. He also had impeccable penmanship (think architect), which he used to lay down thoughtful, insightful music reviews.

However, he inspired me most not through his accomplishments in music but through the way he chose to live his life. For several years Matthew worked as a well-paid lawyer with an arduous workload (standard practice for all new lawyers, from what I hear). One day, during our usual DJ transition, he disclosed that he’d quit. When I asked what he planned to do instead, he said he was going to travel, DJ, and basically enjoy life. And that’s what he did up until his untimely death: lived life without regret and shared his love of music with others.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the song I most vividly remember him playing, and the song that automatically sprang to mind when I read of his passing, is a beats-filled version of Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” (you know, “oops, there goes another rubber tree”) by Craig Mack. Rest in peace, Matthew. And thank you.

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