Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt is up in heaven now

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."]


basest said...

thanks for turning me on to Vonnegut. I may have happened upon him on my own...but it was very convenient to have your volumes there to read before I got my own copies.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I think that's a fine eulogy. I suspect it's one that he would be delighted to read.

Reading the Signs said...

There are so many books of his I still haven't read, but want to. I remember the impact of Slaughterhouse 5 on me, and a certain expression found there became part of my vocabulary: so it goes.

Anonymous said...

MT, another favorite joke of his (though I can't recall where he told it):
Q: What is the white stuff in bird poop?
A: That, too, is bird poop.
Always makes me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, Mr. T. I am sure he is smiling that wry, warm smile down upon your words.

Unknown said...

He was a cynic but in the least cynical way.

The Moon Topples said...

Basest: You're welcome. I'm sure it was tough to get me to ramble excitedly about him.

Zinnia: Thank you.

RTS: Yes, S5 is a great one. I think you might like his essays as well, if you've never read them.

Cavey: Yes, I recall that one. I think I came across it as a wee youngster, and laughed my ass off. It's true, though.

GT: Your jokes are funny today.

Minx: I'm not sure I think of him as cynical. After all, even when he destroyed most of humanity, he always found a way to make the few survivors much happier than they had been before.

Nikki Neurotic said...

So far, this is probably the best memorial post about Vonnegut's death that I've read.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I loved him, too. His work and philosophy influenced me greatly, and I also tried to write a Vonnegutesque novel. Unsuccessfully, of course.

All similarities were purely coincidental.

I think that to be called a bitter-coated sugar pill is about as good as it gets.

I bought his last book recently, but haven't read it yet. Doing so will be especially poignant now.

Your eulogy is perfect, Moon.

The Moon Topples said...

SilverN: Given the sheer volume of Vonnegut tributes I've seen lately, that's very high praise. Thank you.

HinSF: I've tried to get people to call me a bitter-coated sugar pill, but so far most people seem to notice either the bitter or the sugar, not both.

Unknown said...

Hey I read about this on another blog when I got back today. I'm currently reading The Sirens of Titan, although he's on hold at the moment cos I'm having a creative period and can't do brilliant writers during those, they put me off, make me think I should leave it to them etc. Anyway, I guess he's gone and left it to us now.

The Moon Topples said...

Ver: Enjoy Sirens. Not his best, but still a good one.