WhatFunLifeWas


Band: Bedhead
Album: WhatFunLifeWas
Best song: “Liferaft” is amazing and among the band’s best work.
Worst song: “Foaming Love” is not great.

Why do we need personal memorials?

I get why we need big, fancy ones. I don’t have a problem with the notion that Americans should know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, so we put statues of him up and we put him on stamps and we make movies about him and such. The Chicago Bears have a patch on their uniforms honoring the first owner of the team. Young people ask older people what GSH means and they get to learn about George Halas. I get it. That makes sense. It’s history in a regular world sense. Tales passed down. Important people remembered.

But, what about the personal memorials? The ones for people who’re gone but matter to fewer people than historical figures. Your grandfather probably wasn’t president, but he probably affected you more on a personal level than George Washington.

A few wees ago, a cousin of mine who was really closer than that (my mother doesn’t have a ton of family) passed away. He was in his eighties, so such a death isn’t the shock that it would be had he been younger. But, nevertheless, it happened and I was surprised.

Dealing with mortality is difficult in anyone and it makes it harder for those of us in the developed world, with tons of medical procedures and people living longer and longer. I’m 31 and am at an age when my friends’ parents will start to go soon. When a friend told me about his father’s cancer coming back in his late 60s, I didn’t think “he’ll get through it.” I thought “I wonder how much time he’s got?”

Said friend’s father died within a year.

This isn’t a sob story, rather it’s reality.

I was writing a piece that’s been lost to the wiles of the Internet about the Fat Acceptance movement and my disinterest in it, but the larger theme of the piece was that the human body isn’t a piece of equipment meant to last forever.

I won’t bore you with my personal cognitive dissonance regarding Dan Harmon (Cliffs Notes version: I quote him a lot and think he’s brilliant. I also think he can be small-minded, petty and ridiculous), but on his show, the Nurse Jackie character (played by the incomparable Patton Oswalt) gives the main character a mini speech about death that I happen to believe, wholeheartedly. In response to the statement “but, I treat my body like a temple,” Nurse Jackie says:

I can’t be the first person to tell you that the temple doesn’t last forever. i mean, it’s made of hamburger. This is a temple of doom. And you know what? Like the real Temple of Doom, it represents the inconvenient fact that all good things — be they people or movie franchises eventually collapse into saggy, sloppy, rotten piles of hard-to-follow nonsense.

This is the intellectual way to look at things, of course, and it’s a theory to which I subscribe. This was the point in my obesity/health piece I was going to write; we live in a world that fetishizes immortality and eternal youth when neither is attainable (and, I’d say, all that attractive). The quicker we understand that human life is short, the better we’ll be for it.

But, of course, the very nature of self-preservation goes against this. Humans are creative entities; we want to spawn and replicate. We want immortality. We don’t go into a corner to die like a cat does. A lot of that, I suspect, is Western culture, though the notion of a Viking funeral sounds awfully unlikely to me.

But, it’s that immortality that we all crave. It’s been suggested — by someone writing for a consverative think thank. I’ll put that out here now. — that the mere act of reproduction is the action of striving for immortality. In short, you die, but your genes live on through your kid. This is best seen by those of us who look exactly like one parent or another (hi, Pop!). My dad’s going to die, but, presumably, I’ll still be alive. Looking very much like him.

Outside of reproduction, it’s the work we do. Again, as the piece contends, it’s not just genes that make us immortal, but also our work.

Leonardo da Vinci was childless, but his influence is still felt today through his many cultural contributions; few people, at least in the Western World, would fail to recognize the Mona Lisa. William Shakespeare’s blood-line ended centuries ago, but his words “to be or not to be” echo still. Aristotle, Andy Warhol, Benjamin Franklin, and Marie Curie are all long in the grave, and yet they have left behind ideas, art, and scientific breakthroughs that have spread and maintained importance as classic examples of human achievement. Whatever system of values, culture, and beliefs you live by, these are memes that are preserved and reproduced through you, the host.

And this is where our memorials come into play. The greatest contirbutors to society get a obelisks (this one, too), statues, museums, schools, bridges and the like. But, for the rest of us, what of it?

I’ve never completely understood naming one’s child after a relative (living or dead). I guess it can be seen as a bit of a memorial, but I guess the notion of “living up” to that name remains.

I know this doesn’t translate perfectly, but this site is — after all — my place for this sort of mental exercise. But, my beloved bulldog, Nino, is going to die soon. He’s old. He’s fat. I could not imagine getting another bulldog and naming it Nino. Shit, I don’t even know if I could get another bulldog. It’s just too hard.

Bedhead is a favored band of mine not because they define an era of slowcore — and probably the genre itself — to me, but because there’s a air of regret and contemplation often not seen in other works. Transaction de Novo is one of my favorite albums because it speaks to a life lived with regrets, not some bullshit poster about “hanging in there” or some  empty optimism.  I won’t repeat my love for Matt Kadane’s soft whisper-drawl, but needless to say, it’s a highlight.

The band’s debut, while not the work that Transaction de Novo is, is a striking exploration of this musical concept. WhatFunLifeWas  opens with a song of restraint in “Liferaft,” crescendos with “Powder” (with “Unfinished” setting the stage) and ends on “Wind Down,” one of the band’s best jangly guitar/building rhythm songs. Like any great album, it works as a whole piece.

My closest friend died in a car accident four years ago and I think about it a lot. I’ve no tattoos, but the closest I’ve come to getting one was as a memorial to him. I’ve already written about this here.

What I haven’t written about is this: I do have things in my life that remind me of him. I keep a photo of the two of us in my apartment and I keep the home run ball I hit the weekend after his death on my fridge. They’re reminders, I guess, for something on which I don’t need reminders. They’re not as permanent as a tattoo, they are just decor. Tomorrow, I could take them away, throw them in the trash and be done with it, if the proper symbolism is attached.

My cousin’s wife (who I call my aunt [again, it’s more complicated than it needs to be]) e-mailed me after I had called and sent over a Peace Lily to their house. I’ve had a lot of work stuff going on lately, so I wasn’t able to make out to the funeral. I’m terrifically terrible on the phone, but she seemed to appreciate the sentiment and my mom — who went out there — said everyone was impressed by my thoughtfulness.

I don’t say this to humblebrag; I don’t deal well with death. I should’ve made my way out there, I should’ve called earlier, I should’ve been better about communicating with them. They’re family, after all, and family I like quite a bit. But, nevertheless, I did call and sent over flowers. And it was appreciated.

That e-mail matters to me; I immediately marked it “starred” and “important” in my inbox. I know it’s a silly thing, but some stuff isn’t always in the front of your brain. My cousin lived on the other side of the country and we only saw one another every few years. But that personal memorial will remind me of what he meant to me.

And I guess that’s the purpose.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 12, 2013 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Billy Jack has returned from the horrors of Viet Nam, and just wants to be left alone.
    The timing of the boycott was unfortunate from an American perspective.

    There seems to be a sense of identifying with the main character
    in boxing movies.

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