Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Mortality of Patti Smith

                                                     (Image used without permission.)

Since I can remember, probably back as far as my late teens, I have worshipped at the altar of Patti Smith.  The perfect storm of intoxicating poetry, fiery punk rock spirit, passionate humanism and so much more, in my world Patti is a musical goddess who has spawned many imitators, but there is not one who can hold a candle to her genius.

As well as her (and, not forgetting, her incendiary band's) music, I also love her books.  As soon as it was published in 2010 I bought and gobbled up the beautiful "Just Kids," a memoir focusing mainly on her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, but also detailing her early days as a performer in New York City.  It truly is a terrific read, by a wonderful writer.

When I heard that the follow up, "M Train," was to be published last year I looked forward to getting my hands on it like no other book before or since.  I just completed reading it (and the earlier "Woolgathering"), and as Patti had indicated prior to publication, it is a very different affair to its predecessor.  "Just Kids" was apparently approached with definite aims in mind, to capture a time in Patti's life, whereas she wanted to be 'freer' to roam with "M Train."  It is therefore a denser, yet looser work, delightfully peppered with commentary on some of her obsessions: coffee, TV detective shows, the books of Haruki Murakami and Japanese culture.

As David Bowie did (albeit in the knowledge he was dying) in the lyrics of his epic "Blackstar" swansong, on the penultimate page Patti briefly turns her attention to mortality and aging, with a few lines that I find relatable and both calming and sobering at once:

I believe in life, which one day each of us shall lose.  When we are young we think we won't, that we are different.  As a child I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so.  And then I realized, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology.  How did we get so damn old? I say to my joints, my iron-coloured hair.

I've been thinking about the single inevitability facing us all a great deal lately.  That the lives of many friends and heroes have ended so suddenly or tragically in the last few months is bound to have had a profound effect on someone with my health history.  Approaching each routine health check I get nervous, wondering what unseen horrors might be lurking within me.  Renal cancer presents no symptoms until it is too late, and having had it I take nothing for granted concerning what might ultimately claim me.  While I'm not in the least scared of death per se, the unknown manner of it really does.  We can all only hope for a peaceful end, or one about which we know nothing.  Here one moment, gone the next.           

Friday, January 1, 2016

I Fucking Despair

So, it's a new year and I greet it numb with shock and a great deal of anger.  After losing our beautiful friend Heidi to a drunk driver on November 10th, we start 2016 minus another friend killed in an equally senseless, reckless manner yesterday.  

Our friend Linda was ON A CROSSWALK, when she was ploughed into by a car and killed instantly.  Even from her devastated partner of seventeen years, from whom we just returned home after spending two hours trying to comfort him, details are scant as I type.  But, as this occurred in broad daylight, at around 2:00pm, it would seem that the driver was either plain stupid, drunk, 'distracted' - perhaps by texting or updating his or her fucking Facebook status (which from today should permanently read 'Killer') - or, well, who knows?  It hardly matters, does it, as Linda is dead.  Shot in the head, natural causes, tragic accident or killed by some bastard who evidently should not be on the road, dead is fucking dead.

I fucking DESPAIR of many of the drivers in this town.  Every single day I walk to work, without fail, I witness irresponsible, moronic or dangerous driving that makes my blood boil.  It is usually no more than two minutes after I've left the house that I'll see my first non-signalling asshole, turning in either direction from 2nd onto Pine, or from Pine onto Wentworth, not a care in the world, like they're the only driver on the road.  I'll see tailgaters, speeding vehicles, cars ripping around blind corners as if they're in Fast & Furious, all totally oblivious as to the danger they are potentially putting themselves and others in.

When Susan and I are out in the car, anywhere at all, it is simply astonishing how many examples of idiotic driving we'll witness on even the briefest of journeys.  Susan is a technically excellent, careful, observant and law-abiding driver, while all around us there are imbeciles.  It worries me to bits when Susan goes out on her own; it doesn't matter how good a driver she is with this many maniacs out there.  As we see all this stupidity we try to analyze it, talking through the various potential reasons bad driving is so rife here.  The fact that there is comparatively speaking so little traffic on the roads of Vancouver Island has made a lot of drivers lazy, we feel, and that seems about as plausible an explanation as any.

Whatever it is, two friends of mine are dead because of it.