Kurt Vonnegut has passed away. I can think of no person who has had a greater impact on my writing, my mind, my life. Certainly, there is no one among people I have never met who could claim as much influence. No other author has provided me with as much reading pleasure while haunting me for years afterward with the deeper thoughts he wrapped so carefully into his seemingly breezy novels and essays.
I participated in an online interview with Mr. Vonnegut in 1998, around the time Timequake was released. His message to us, over and over, was for those of us who had enough regard for him to take part in such an exercise to please, please, turn our computers off and go create something.
He was 84, which is the same age that his fictional alter-ego Kilgore Trout lived to (going by the Timequake version of events).
When we were deciding band names in what was to become map of july, I suggested "Kilgore Trout." I suggested a number of other Vonnegut-based names, and I thanked him by name in the liner notes to our first album. I am still thanking him.
Aside from pleading with us to turn off our damn computers, Kurt Vonnegut really wanted, simply ached for people to simply be nice to one another. He loved people, loved dogs, loved writers, loved children of all sorts. He was once called a "bitter-coated sugar pill," which is a lovely thing to be called.
The first time I tried to write a novel was when I was nineteen years old. It was, more or less, the same story I have returned to, which some of you have read extracts from recently. The original draft, more than a decade old, was clearly an attempt on my part to write not only a novel but a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
I still find certain rhythms in my speech and my writing that I know I learned from him. I still find myself aping him shamelessly whenever I think I can get away with it.
I used to reread all of his books each year. I fell out of that habit at some point, and it is time for me to read again. I have never read one of his books without finding something new hidden within. This is a testament to him as a writer, and also says something about how I am slow-witted sometimes.
The title of this post is a small joke, and was the first thought to pop into my head when I read of his death this morning. Caveblogem beat me to the punch for using the joke on a blog, but here's a quote that explains it anyway. He's talking about humanism and the death of Isaac Asimov.
"Being a humanist means that you try to behave as decently, as honorably, as you can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. When we had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, I spoke at it and said at one point, 'Isaac is up in heaven now'. It was the funniest thing I could think of to say to an audience of humanists. Believe me, it worked - I rolled them in the aisles. If I should ever die, god forbid, I hope people will say, 'Kurt is up in heaven now'. That's my favorite joke."I wish that I could eulogize him more properly. This post will have to do for now.
[Edit: Basest has reminded me of a wonderful quote from Sirens of Titan:
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."
And on my fridge I still have a printout of the following disclaimer, which he used in Timequake:
"All persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental."]