God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

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(wrote this a few years back, shortly after Vonnegut's death)

I did not want Kurt Vonnegut to be my father. I wanted him to be my mother. And the strange and/or funny thing is, I didn’t discover him until I was 25 years old. I was married, on the verge of having a family. The book was Breakfast of Champions. I was completely and utterly blown away. In college, I had actually spent a week considering that I may be the only real person in the world…and everyone else, including my family, robots..one of God’s experiments. Suddenly I was reading the words. Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all. The only experience it I can relate it to is when I first heard the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling; or the Beatles ’ A Day in the Life; or Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky. Vonnegut’s words were music. Songs that had been playing in my head since I could remember…he put the words to them. They told me that no matter how screwed up the world and I really are, everything is going to be okay. We’ll just laugh about it until we die. Oh, and the reason I wanted Kurt Vonnegut to be my mother: I knew he loved me for who I am. Unconditional love. That is what his words, his music, said to me.

Then I read Cat’s Cradle. And I read again. And again. And so on…as Vonnegut would say. First Vonnegut gave me love and then he gave me a religion. I was a Bokononist. Who knew? After Cat’s Cradle, I read everything Vonnegut had ever written. Except I could not get through Player Piano, his first novel. I just didn’t like it at the time. I now plan to read it again. So much has happened over the years. Maybe it is that missing song in my life. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it 30 years ago.

Everything else he wrote and said I loved. His essays. Other novels. Interviews with him. Yesterday, thanks to the internet (which had to amuse Vonnegut no end), I saw a 2005 interview on The Daily Show. Vonnegut was a fragile old man. The gleam in his eye was there, but the words came out with much difficulty. The satirist/satyrist struggling to hang on. All that sad love inside being choked off by this silly painful life. He was still funny. But had I seen the interview when it came out 2 years ago I think I would have known he had thrown in the proverbial towel. I could see it in John Stewart’s eyes too.

Vonnegut’s life was a series of tragedies, not unlike most humans. The difference is he wrote about it. He took all of life’s doodoo and dipped it in chocolate. He fed it back to us and it tasted sweet. He was the “Merlin of Mierda”, the “Sultan of Shit”. I cannot think of another writer that could even come close to accomplishing that. He made me proud to be a humanist…and a human. He made me laugh and cry. At the same time.

His later works, Galapagos, Hocus Pocus, Dead-Eye Dick, weren’t as good as Slaughter House Five, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Sirens of Titan. Nothing ever written is as good as Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions, in my semi-humble opinion. But Vonnegut at his very worst, ran circles around the sun compared to most writers. Including me. Yes, I am a writer now. My first novel was compared to Kurt Vonnegut… ”a cross between Faulkner and Vonnegut” the critic said. “Cool,” I thought. “Real cool.”

I am getting older now too. For me age in a winnowing process. Shaking out the things that are not important. A lot of the music I once loved doesn’t do it for me now. Same with some old movies and books and stuff and people. I have reduced my life to my immediate family, a few good friends, a few good singers, a few good writers. Kurt Vonnegut is right at the top of that list.

Vonnegut tried to kill himself once. I don’t think I knew that until reading one of his obituaries. I was not surprised. I am surprised he lived to be 84. So was he. I am glad he hung around as long as he did. I would especially like to thank his wife, Jill Krementz, for making that possible. I feel quite certain that without her we would have lost him years ago. It allowed us, and by us I mean me, to take him for granted for many years. That is a gift humans give other humans. If we are lucky, we get to take our friends and loved ones for granted for a long, long time. It hurts when we cannot do that anymore. I will miss you, Kurt Vonnegut.

Created: Apr 15, 2012


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