Tuesday, June 24, 2008

People we couldn't do without

Strangely enough, the vast majority of search engine traffic arriving at this blog comes from people searching on Google for the origin of the phrase "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt." For the benefit of anyone who arrives at this entry looking for the same information, those words are written on the tombstone of Billy Pilgrim in the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and they appear again on Stony Stevenson's tombstone in a television program called Between Time and Timbuktu which adapted scenarios taken from an assortment of Vonnegut's novels and short stories. As I describe it at the above-mentioned link, seeing that program at an impressionable age was a major formative influence on me.

I usually claim that my top search referral is "Kim Possible erotic fan fiction", but the truth is those hits take second place to the Vonnegut post. Given the choice, I'd much rather have a blog where people went looking for erotica about cartoon characters than one best known for eulogizing my childhood heroes and role models. Sadly, fate hasn't helped me much in that department.

When I was writing about Steve Gerber, I wish it had occurred to me to call him "the George Carlin of comics" because in some respects that's exactly what he was. (Fortunately the same comparison occurred to Jim McLauchlin of the HERO Initiative, so at least the world was not denied this insight due to my mental slowness.) Of course Gerber and Carlin and Vonnegut were radically different in a lot of ways -- perhaps more ways than they were similar -- but they occupied the same continuum of thought and embodied the same outlook. Devastatingly intelligent, viciously funny, outspokenly skeptical, fiercely enraged by stupidity and hypocrisy, able to see the humor in our vanity even as they watched the human race needlessly destroying itself. These are qualities I've always wanted to possess...especially that last one, because finding the humor in disaster is a necessary survival skill and it's getting harder and harder all the time. I listened to what all three of them said and read what they wrote and always hoped they'd give us still more clues on how to get by. And now these three of my lifelong icons are gone in the span of a little more than a year.

Oh, and one other: although I never met him, I had a tenuous family connection of a sort with Algis Budrys and was a huge fan of his work, especially the novels Who? (made into a very good movie with Elliot Gould and Joe Bova) and the astonishingly prescient yet criminally out-of-print Michaelmas. Carlin, Gerber, and Vonnegut all saw America from the inside; Budrys arrived in this country in 1936 as the five year old son of the ousted consul-general of Lithuania and he never forgot those inexplicable childhood glimpses of Nazi insanity that caused his family to flee their home.

In some ways the immigrant learns a new culture more thoroughly from the outside than the native ever knows it from inside. If you learn a second language, you may be more conscious of its formal rules of grammar and its odd linguistic quirks than you are of your first tongue; you might speak the language more correctly than a native because of all the things they can take for granted that you had to acquire through hard study. In most ways Budrys lived as the perfect assimilated American immigrant, but inside (he would later say) he never lost sight of the fact that friends and neighbors and community were essentially werewolves -- capable of transforming from kind, reasonable people to bloodthirsty monsters given the wrong impetus.

Now that makes two more people who were huge personal icons of mine gone away this year. If you'll excuse me being so self-centered about this, it does feel meaningful: as if something is being stripped away, as if the world is being diminished around us. More so than usual, I mean. And I had a brush with serious illness at the start of this year, and then my mother did, and then I nearly lost one of my best friends, and I did lose another who meant a lot to me. So I really don't want to write any more memorial posts. From now on, nobody I like die, okay?


  1. >>>"Kim Possible erotic fan fiction"<<<

    oh dear god...

  2. George Carlin's death made me think of Steve Gerber as well. At the time of Gerber's death, I likened him to Lester Bangs but Mr. Seven Dirty Words is an even more apt comparison.

    With the loss of Gerber and now Carlin, it seems certain sensibility (questioning authority? standing up for the little guy??) I was exposed to as a child is becoming more and more a thing of the past.

    Oh, and if you really want to venture into interesting fanfic territory try Buffy someday. Of course, my number one hit usually involves the keywords "death" and "Supergirl" so there's also that ...


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