Thursday, April 12, 2007

Long Live Vonnegut

Vonnegut is dead. Long live Vonnegut!

The guy felt like a family friend, somebody that knew me too well. Concepts I read about in his books have floated to and fro in my mind's sky ever since I saw Slaughter-House Five at the ripe age of five, and then more so once Cat's Cradle tore and rip van wrinkled it's way into my brain five years later. Another five years passed before Breakfast of Champions brought me closer to Elliott's family, slapping the tar out the last of the generation gap. His step-dad Rotten Barton had read it, his brother Morgan had read it, Frances the mom too, and I got to read it too, all the same frayed copy, sitting in his living room, hung over, in a single sitting, immensely. Once that little initiation had washed us, we all shared in the jokes for years by acting out the little pictures, hilarious, asshole eyes. It also served as the off-center hub of many a drunken diatribe, providing a magic set of words, names, and quotations that became passwords to absurdity, with a touch of elitism thrown in, the type of post-modern conversation that satisfies better than cigarette butts out of the gutter when you're fucked up (good enough for Huckleberry Finn, good enough for me).

Ten years after that I ended up train commuting a bunch during graduate school, a school that happened to have a library chock full of Kurt's books, which allowed me (psychologically) to read several more. The two most noteworthy in my opinion were Slapstick and Fates Worse Than Death (non-fiction). He got deep into the phenomenon of suicidal tendencies in Fates Worse Than Death, pointing out that, during his visits with people experiencing famine and starvation in Somalia, he found no suicidal people. Back there in cozy New England or whatever idyllic American burgs however, just about all his friends and him were trying it, for some reason or another, bored with privilege perhaps, strung out on opiates & alcohol more likely. Much props for his attempt at that happy topic. Kind of a crazy asshole I guess, which makes him a special kind of loveable to me. Vivid imaginations of Slapstick's tidal gravity and thumb-sized people (well, maybe he stole that from Tom Thumb) lurk eternal in my psyche. Big inspiration. Thanks Kurt.

"Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind." from Breakfast of Champions

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