Something odd just occurred to me: Sunday is generally referred to as the first day of the week, especially by those of the Christian persuasion. It’s also referred to as the Lord’s Day, i.e. the day on which we are supposed to rest because He rested. If you follow the logic, that means that God actually rested on the first day and spent the rest of the week playing catchup—which explains a lot.
Today I find myself comparing and contrasting the death of Amy Winehouse with that of Kurt Cobain 17 years ago. The similarities are obvious enough: They were both musicians, both drug addicts, and both 27. Kurt’s death was clearly suicide (conspiracy theories notwithstanding), while Amy’s is a little murky; as of this writing the cause of death is still TBD, though in any case she was clearly on a death trip. The way she lived was tantamount to suicide, whether or not she picked this particular day to check out.
As for the differences, Kurt’s demise was somehow more surprising than Amy’s, even though he had tried at least once before and even written a song called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” I remember being deeply chilled by the sheer nihilism of it; here was a guy who had everything people want — fame, talent, fortune, a hot crazy wife and a baby daughter — and yet he chose to pull his own plug. In thinking about it, I’ve decided that one big reason his death was shocking was that he had been musically active nearly till the end; the famous MTV Unplugged session was only six months before his death in April of 94, and Nirvana had been on tour earlier that year. You tend to think that as long as a musician has music, he has a reason to live.
In contrast, Any Winehouse had been largely silent music-wise for the last several years of her life, though apparently some recordings were made during this period (which will no doubt be rushed to market ASAP). She made some live appearances but was invariably too wasted to perform a complete set and/or remember the words to her songs. In this context it was easy to believe she wouldn’t be around for long.
Her death was not surprising, then, but still sad. Maybe not as sad, from a certain point of view, as the many upright citizens who will get hit by a bus today, or struck down by some vulgar little tumor. Still, you wonder about the inner pain that drives a person to self-destruction. In the end what can you say, really, more than: rest in peace.
They call Minnesota the “land of 10,000 lakes,” though I have it from a semi-reliable source that there are actually more like 15,000. I only personally saw about a dozen of them, but I am willing to cede that there are certainly a lot of lakes there — especially when you consider that one of them, Mille Lacs, is roughly the size of Rhode Island. (Note: That last bit was not intended to be a factual statement.)
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It took Werner Herzog about a month to walk from Munich to Paris back in 1971, but it’s taking me much longer than that to read his book about it, Of Walking in Ice. That’s partly because I keep getting sidetracked by other things and partly because it’s hard to absorb much of Werner’s prose in one sitting — it is oddly concentrated, sort of like uncut Bavarian marching powder.
In a village before Stotzheim I sat on the steps of a church, my feet were so tired and a sorrow was gnawing at my chest; then a window opened in the schoolhouse next door, a child was opening it following orders from inside, and then I overheard a young teacher scream so harshly at the children that I hoped no one would notice that a witness to these terrifying screams was sitting below the window. I went away, although I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. I headed towards a fire, a fire that kept burning in front of me like a glimmering wall. It was a fire of frost, one that brings on Coldness, not Heat, one that makes water turn immediately into ice. The fire-thought of ice creates the ice as swiftly as thought. Siberia was created in precisely this manner, and the Northern Lights represent its final flickering. That is the Explanation. Certain radio signals seem to confirm this, especially the intermission signals. Likewise at the end of the daily television programming, when the set buzzes and the screen is filled with snowy dots, implying the same thing. Now the order of the day is: all ashtrays must be put in place and self-control maintained! Men discuss the Hunt. The waitress dries the silverware. A church is painted on the plate, from the left a path is leading up, very sedately a costumed woman is moving there and next to her, with her back to me, a girl. I disappear with the two of them into the church. At a corner table a child is doing his homework, and often the beer is called Mutzig. The innkeeper cut his thumb days ago.
You see what I’m dealing with?
We happened to be in Minneapolis on the day Minnesota’s government (which is centered, technically, in St. Paul) shut down, apparently for good. Just two days before we had camped in one of Minnesota’s state parks, which have now been closed for 16 days and counting.
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Our last stop on the way out of Minnesota was the Spam Museum in Austin, MN. In general I consider myself a recovering ironist, but one’s appreciation of such an institution must of necessity be somewhat ironic, and the museum seemed to encourage this. The famous Monty Python Spam skit was given prominent play, complete with a full-size reproduction of the diner where the sketch was set. On the other hand, the common usage of the word “spam” to refer to unwanted email was nowhere mentioned; apparently Hormel Foods’ sense of humor only goes so far.
On the whole, though, I must doff my cap to the Spam Museum; it is a true triumph of modern marketing, and achieved its goal of getting me to reconsider my whole attitude toward Spam. The samples of a black-pepper-flavored variety they brought around were not bad at all. I am considering investing in a sizable stock for my emergency kit; there could be worse things to eat when the end times arrive.
I’ve been spending some time lately in Real America, including a sojourn with The Old Man through two previously-unvisited-by-me states, Wisconsin and Minnesota. More on that later. But at the same time I’ve been traveling through a hot, wet American summer, I’ve also been traveling through 1970s Germany in the dead of winter, thanks to Werner Herzog’s book Of Walking in Ice.
Why did Werner decide to walk from Munich to Paris in late 1974? As he explains in the foreword:
In November 1974 a friend called from Paris and told me that [esteemed film critic] Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death. I took a jacket, a compass, and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself.
Which reminds me of the immortal words of Geo. Thorogood:
I drink alone
With nobody else
And when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
So where am I going with this? Right now, nowhere. Just clearing my throat, trying to get the machine going again after a long idle spell. It’s a beautiful night in Kansas, the air calm and cool after the rain, insects buzzing and occasionally even lighting up, fireworks going off in the distance now and again. It’s the 4th of July here as of four minutes ago. How to celebrate? Perhaps I will go watch infomercials till dawn.