Saturday, August 21, 2021

They Are All Dead

David Bowie, from the LP "Hunky Dory." 

(Please note: Angie remains alive.) 

It is unseemly for anyone to complain about getting old. Unless, that is, you have been stricken with some terrible disease that is painful, embarrassing, and unrelenting. In that case, go ahead, complain to your heart's content, shake your fist at heaven and curse God. That is your privilege and no one will hold it against you.

It is a very different story for those of us who are not so afflicted. If you wake up at home every day, in your own bed, and nothing in particular hurts, and you can get around okay, and all of your internal systems are functioning at a reasonable level, you must only be very grateful. You are one of the lucky ones! Do not complain that you hate oatmeal. Put on a little sugar and cinnamon and shut the fuck up. Aw, how terrible, you bruise more easily now, and picking things up off of the floor is becoming a challenge, and running is out of the question, and you were once so handsome/ beautiful. Too bad, buckaroo. Shut the fuck up. You are one of the chosen few.

Considering the situation, one main point should become immediately apparent:

Almost everybody else is dead.

All of my grand-parents, all of my aunts and uncles, half of my cousins, and both of my parents, are dead. I actually miss a couple of them. Only a couple. Uncle Bob, thank you for teaching me that a husband and wife could be loving friends that help one another without an emphasis on finding fault. You carried the mail after an incomplete education, and along the way you and your wife built a wonderful life. You are a hero to me.

Aunt Mary, you have my everlasting love and gratitude for accepting me as the slightly off-center nephew that I was, and for always broadcasting unqualified love for me. Also for teaching me that a far less than optimal childhood need not condemn a person to a lifetime of suffering. You manufactured happiness like a Ford assembly line, and set an example that all the world should follow. You are a saint.

My paternal grand-parents were okay. They could see that I was a bit odd, but it never seemed to bother them. They were both a bit odd too, and maybe they knew it. Thank you for your kindness. You gave my father a happy childhood and a lot of emotional support, and it was not your fault if he failed to take the lesson in parenting and failed when it was his turn.

I never knew my maternal grand-father. He died about a year before penicillin came into use, bad timing, that. He got pneumonia while reading electric meters in the rain. He was a kindhearted man, from all accounts. Regarding his wife, my maternal grand-mother, all accounts agree: she was a terror. She forever warped the emotional lives of all of her three daughters. I knew her well, and she never hit me, I'll say that. Also, she made very good grilled cheese sandwiches, with real cheese. All we ever had in our own house was that awful Velveeta. She always had that look, however, that look of barely contained explosive violence. Like Sean Connery playing 007. She could frighten Dracula, that one, and with a half of a bottle of whiskey in her, she'd probably give him a good beating as well.

It's not just our families that have disappeared, returning to the darkness from which we all sprang, and to which we all return. If you live long enough, it starts to look like almost everybody is dead.

School friends, neighborhood friends, work friends, and quite a few best friends. Hilliary, we were certainly among the most cynical boys at our accursed high school. There are times when I wish it were me in the Austin-Healy with you that night you threw your life away for a thrill ride. Ray also died young. Died going back into a burning building to retrieve his Gibson Flying V. Drinking and bad luck caught up with Jimmy, and bad genetics caught up with Bob. Smoking was Norman's downfall. It comes at you from all directions. I have no idea how Tommy died, but I cried when I read the news. He'd been dead for a while before I got the memo. Freddie, the same. He did not die young, but he has predeceased me by a few years. Freddie was six-hundred milliliters of fun in a five-hundred milliliter bottle. Now, with Facebook, we're all up to date on the new deaths. Acquaintances, casual friends, tough boys that we were afraid of, guys that we rather liked, women that we recall fondly as cute girls, names without faces, we don't miss anything now. It's almost too much to bear.

There is a dark and degrading game that I play on the Internet: Is (insert name here) still alive?

Because they must be discoverable on Google, this game only works on sports figures, musicians, movie stars, and the like. Many times, the news is good. Willie Mays, Justine (“Baby”) Washington, and Sonny Rollins, all remain alive. The lists of the dead are long and growing. It often seems as though our entire culture has died. Jazz fans know exactly what I mean.

We may try to pay attention, but it's impossible to keep up with the pace of it. Not long ago, I discovered Richie “Alto Madness” Cole, a fabulous, old-school bop player. I looked him up after listening to a few YouTube videos, and . . . he had just died. He was only a few months older than me.

So many whose long careers filed us with delight are dead. David Bowie's death hit me especially hard. My then wife and I were young, like David and Angie, and we had a very young son about the same age as Zowie, and “Kooks,” from the LP Hunky Dory, really spoke to us.

Won't you stay in our lovers' story?

If you stay, you won't be sorry,

Cause we believe in you,

Soon you'll grow, so take a chance,

On a couple of kooks, hung up on romancing.”

That made a connection for me. Neither we nor the Bowies had any idea of how to be a parent. We all thought that it might be better to be friends with the children. That was followed by decades of great music from David, all in a voice and attitude that I was in tune with. Then suddenly, dead.

Whole singing groups and rock bands are dead. The Ramones, aren't they all dead? Sometimes it's poetic, like Gerry Marsden. Gerry has “crossed the river.” Get it? No ferry required, and no two coins either. It's the easiest thing you'll ever do. My generation is doing it at a frightening rate. ("My Generation" was a great song by the Who. Half of them are dead. Keith Moon was granted the wish expressed in the song. He died before he got old.) 

Entire cultures, gone. And all of us, soon enough. And maybe the entire Goddamned world, since no one seems to be motivated enough to take the necessary actions to avoid the destruction. 

Except that little Greta Thunberg! She's pissed off, and she has every right to be. I'll miss the show, myself, but she has another fifty or sixty years of life left in her. She's got a fighting heart beating furiously in her chest, and her “war face” is truly impressive. She's fighting for a future for my granddaughters, and I thank her for it. I dearly hope that she has better luck than that other young heroine of our shared culture, Anne Frank, who famously said, “isn't it a shame that in the end, all that you have done in your life comes to nothing.”

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