Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The End of an Era

This week two separate but related eras in my pop-culture 'career' have come to an end. Both ends came about from random and spur of the moment perusals of second hand stores; one for books, one for music. At local used book store Title Wave, which I don't frequent nearly as much as I used to due to outrageous pricing and a shrinking selection of books(to make room for hilarious arty magnets, of course), I came across the one Kurt Vonnegut novel I had yet to read; Slapstick. And then yesterday, on a break from my aforementioned community service I stopped in at a record store I normally can't stand(and won't advertise here), and found a used copy of Good for Your Soul, the long out of print Oingo Boingo album, and the only one I had not been able to track down at a reasonable price. Sure, I could have spent 50 bucks or more on Amazon, or gambled on eBay, but I held out hope that what happened yesterday would eventually occur.

I really got into the Oingo Boingo very late in the game, with their final release Boingo(not to be confused with Boi-ngo). This was, of course, a hair's breadth away from their disbanding in 1995, but keep in mind I was 16 at the time, which I think is a perfectly respectable age to get into Oingo Boingo. Of course, I had heard them previously, but it was before I was consciously aware of music. There was a great summer in the mid-80s, when I was 7 or 8, where I was in love with the song Weird Science and would scan the car radio endlessly hoping to catch it, and would then sing along happily to the chorus. But I wasn't aware of them as a band, I knew the song, but not who did it. It wasn't until my teens that I started cultivating anything that could be described as some semblance of taste. It was bad enough at the time knowing that they were through as a band, but I still had a fairly sizable back catalog to hunt down. As much as I wanted to gather up all of their releases, I always secretly relished having a new Oingo Boingo album to look forward to one day.

That's over now, and soon it will be over for Kurt Vonnegut, as soon as I read Slapstick. Of course I'm not too despondent. I now have a really kick ass album to listen to whenever I want, and another Vonnegut book to read and reread, but as any pop-culture collector or sleazy frat boy can tell you, the thrill of the hunt is a major part of the fun.

On a side note, I have to express some continuing surprise that Danny Elfman hasn't done anything other than film scores and classical pieces for the past 12 years. I know his composing keeps him busy, and I enjoy most of it, but it still strikes me as odd that he hasn't had the itch to sing and rock out again. I'm not asking for an Oingo Boingo reunion, I understand perfectly why he wouldn't want to do that, but I'd still like another Elfman project. Maybe a solo effort along the lines of So-Lo.

Now, Kurt Vonnegut and Oingo Boingo actually have a few things in common. Both had heydays in the 80s, both are known for their sometimes morbid, often manic, always idiosyncratic styles, and both had cameos in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back To School.

Since his death in April, I have been re-reading all of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, some of which have been lost or borrowed over the years. Which is why I found myself scanning the shelves for his name at Title Wave, and how I found Slapstick, a book I had somehow remained unaware of. Don't ask me how this happened, I have no excuse. Kurt Vonnegut was apparently not too thrilled with the result, giving it the grade of 'D', but even sub par Vonnegut is a worthwhile read. It's there in the pile now, but I'm saving it for last in my Vonnegut revival.

I had been wanting to make note of Kurt Vonnegut's passing a few months back, but couldn't come up with anything that I thought would be fitting. Vonnegut is probably my favorite author, and I didn't trust my own writing abilities enough to pay fitting tribute to such a brilliant man. Vonnegut fell into a class of author that, even if not stylistically comparable, puts him alongside Alan Moore and Joss Whedon in my book. Now, by that I mean this: In each of Vonnegut's books, or Moore's comics, or Whedon's shows/films, there comes a moment where everything flips in my mind. I'm going along, enjoying the ride, thinking I'm seeing one thing, and then the rug is pulled out from under me, and the ideas expand to areas I never would have imagined. I think I'm walking down a pleasant valley and it turns out it's the Grand Canyon. Moore & Whedon tend to do this with genre tweaks, adding depth to what starts out as a simple, straightforward affair. Vonnegut did this, for me, with his unceasing love for humanity.

The other day I got into a slight argument with a coworker over this. He referred to Kurt Vonnegut as nihilistic, a charge I disagree with, and I think Mr. Vonnegut would have as well. It's true that most of his books are bleak, and the tend to finish with the end of the world, either figuratively or literally, but his sense of optimism and wry enjoyment are palpable throughout. Before anything else, Kurt Vonnegut was a humane and agreeable person, a man who believed everyone deserved to be loved, even if he couldn't always practice that belief. If anything Kurt Vonnegut showed a surprising lack cynicism considering his life, which included being one of the very few to survive the firebombing of Dresden in WWII as a POW(POWs were kept in an underground meat locker and hence escaped the carnage, inspiring his novel Slaughterhouse 5). There is a sadness prevalent in all of his books, I'll admit that, but I believe in the end that he was hopeful for humanity.

In April Kurt Vonnegut passed away at the age of 84 from brain injuries sustained in a fall. It's probably been pointed out already, but it's extremely ironic that such a witty and intelligent man would eventually be killed by his own brain. Vonnegut would have said this was proof that god had a sense of humor, if he hadn't already said that about gonnorrhea.

I could end this with any number of great Vonnegut quotes, but in the interest of brevity, I'll keep this to one, that I think sums it up:

"And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." "

Or this one... couldn't resist:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

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