Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Icon, Gone

This morning, I recalled a 2006 interview of Kurt Vonnegut by Doug Brinkley of the Rolling Stone. I went through some things, and here is an excerpt from it:

...Vonnegut starts coughing, clearing his throat of phlegm, grasping for a half-smoked pack of Pall Malls lying on a coffee table. He quickly lights up. His wheezing ceases. I ask him whether he worries that cigarettes are killing him.

"Oh, yes," he answers, in what is clearly a set-piece gag.

"I've been smoking Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes since I was twelve or fourteen. So I'm going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, who manufactured them. And do you know why?"

"Lung cancer?" I offer.

"No. No. Because I'm eighty-three years old. The lying bastards! On the package Brown & Williamson promised to kill me. Instead, their cigarettes didn't work. Now I'm forced to suffer leaders with names like Bush and Dick and, up until recently, 'Colon.'"....

Vonnegut's view on politics and politicians was as throwback as his sense of humor, and in this day and age of partisanship-till-you-die, he was truly one of the last of a dying breed.

God bless his ability to have been his own person.

Like many people, I read "Slaughterhouse Five" in high school. In the years that followed, I was fortunate enough to read many of his other works: "Cat's Cradle," "Breakfast of Champions," "Galapagos," and "A Man Without a Country" come to mind. I wrote a paper on him in college, as then he was one of the world's "greatest living authors." The fact that he is no longer a member of that club makes me feel vulnerable and small.

Vonnegut is quoted as writing and saying many things, but what drew me to him as a person was his labyrinthine view on the simplicity of life: that happiness can be obtained just as easy by laughing at the bullsh*t than trying to fix it.

As a throwback kind of guy myself, my favorite quote of his would have to be one featured in, of all things, Playboy, back in 1973:

“Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie - but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.”

One more thing: Vonnegut, when typed into a MS Word document, still shows up as misspelled. I struggle with the notion of labeling this ironic, or not.

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