I'll admit to being willfully ignorant of IPv6 other than seeing it as enormously more complicated than IPv4
I think seeing it as way more complicated is a mistake. They took IPv4, fixed a few problems, and unfortunately introduced a few others. Sure, they could have done a little less.
Couldn't they just have added a couple of extra bytes to IPv4 to come up with something that worked like IPv4?
That fairly much describes IPv4; the other proposals floating around were far more radical.
node addresses are MAC addresses plus the network address
This is covered by RFC 2462 - IPv6 Stateless Address Autoconfiguration. However, privacy concerns have made this go out of fashion.