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Kurt Vonnegut at 82
October 11, 2005 8:22 AM   Subscribe

"Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do, can't I go home now?" Kurt Vonnegut at 82.
posted by tranquileye (52 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
KV had a fun interview on the Daily Show recently.
posted by gwint at 8:34 AM on October 11, 2005


I love Kurt Vonnegut, and I hope he stays with us for many more years. I think that he, among a very select few, has actually earned the privilege of witnessing the end of the world.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:37 AM on October 11, 2005


But life is a series of cosmic disappointments and absurdities, which Vonnegut knows from first-hand experience. He saw his father's dreams of becoming a great architect foiled by fate and the Depression. His mother, who suffered from her own depression, killed herself on Mother's Day in 1944, when he was only 21. Nine months later, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden, which he later immortalized in Slaughterhouse-Five. His older sister Alice died of cancer at age 41, within 24 hours of her husband being killed in a train crash, leaving Vonnegut and his wife to adopt three of their children. After his son went off to British Columbia during the Vietnam War to start a commune, Mark went crazy and Vonnegut had to retrieve him and place him in an institution (which thankfully cured him). One of his daughters was briefly married to Geraldo Rivera.

Great piece. Though it's hard not to laugh a little at the inclusion of Geraldo-as-an-inlaw amongst the litany of low points in KV's life!
posted by hall of robots at 8:37 AM on October 11, 2005


It was the quote in the second-to-last paragraph that got me.
posted by tranquileye at 8:39 AM on October 11, 2005


"Vonnegut is also more cynical than he has ever been"

No mean feat...
posted by Leon at 8:39 AM on October 11, 2005


Good catch. I always enjoy reading interviews with people who are worth being interviewed. Thanks.
posted by cribcage at 8:41 AM on October 11, 2005


Thanks, tranquileye! Much appreciated.
posted by shoepal at 8:42 AM on October 11, 2005


This week's NYTimes Book Review also has an essay on KV with quotes from the new book. This in particular resonated with me:

"The biggest truth to face now-- what is probably making me unfunny now for the remainder of my life-- is that I don't think people give a damn whether the planet goes on or not."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2005


His short story "D.P." in Welcome to the Monkey House was the first written work ever to make me cry. I think I was 14 or 15 when I read it.

It will be a sad day for the world when we have to go on without Mr. Vonnegut.
posted by S.C. at 8:53 AM on October 11, 2005


I think that he, among a very select few, has actually earned the privilege of witnessing the end of the world.

That's one "privilege" I can quite happily do without.

And hall of robots, I laughed at the Geraldo mention too.
posted by orange swan at 8:54 AM on October 11, 2005


S.C.--no kidding. I love "D.P."; it still has the potential to make me cry (and crying over books has always been harder for me than crying over movies, which are just a more manipulative medium).

I, too, will miss Vonnegut when he goes, although I wish him the peace of being able to "go home now."
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:55 AM on October 11, 2005


Nice link..thanks...

His interview on the daily show was fascinating...

The quote from the article "I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again.", brought tears to my eyes.

Mr. Vonnegut gave us a lot... one of the very best.
posted by HuronBob at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2005


Mark Twain, indeed. Thanks, tranquileye.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:59 AM on October 11, 2005


He did an interview on Ocotber 7 on PBS not sure when they're replaying it

Also here's a long excerpt from A Man without a Country
posted by matimer at 9:01 AM on October 11, 2005


OH and here is his personal site... I don't know much about the guy haven't read his books yet just seen his interviews...

What's "Goodbye Blue Monday" mean?
posted by matimer at 9:03 AM on October 11, 2005


That's one "privilege" I can quite happily do without.

C'mon, don't you want to see how it all ends? I, for one, will be very disappointed if I'm not around for the Rapture/Singularity/Ragnarok/environmental meltdown. It would be like having to leave a movie before the third reel. But out of the countless beings to have inhabited this little planet, only a few billion will be the ones lucky enough to see it all go down, and I think Mr. Vonnegut deserves that opportunity.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:06 AM on October 11, 2005


I love Vonnegut and I'll always read anything he has to say. Even crap like "Timequake". Vonnegut being Vonnegut, he was quite happy to admit that was crap, too. But I'll never forget the effect those earlier works had on my young mind.

One of the gems. I guess he'll be gone soon.
posted by Decani at 9:08 AM on October 11, 2005


Goodbye Blue Monday is from the book Breakfast of Champions, which all people really should read at some point.

Here's a tattoo, for some reason.
posted by zerolives at 9:10 AM on October 11, 2005


That "I've wondered where home is..." quote. I'm glad no one walked in my cube at the moment I read that.
posted by Carbolic at 9:10 AM on October 11, 2005


*
posted by kcm at 9:10 AM on October 11, 2005


Talk about giving it to you raw. Thanks for confirming my deepest fears about growing old, Kurt!
posted by johngoren at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2005


kcm, thank you for inserting an anus in the thread.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:14 AM on October 11, 2005


monday was wash day for housewives way back when ... lye based soap was common ... and one had to churn the washer by hand, wring the clothes out, hang them out on a line ... (which gets pretty iffy in january) ... and it was a huge pain in the ass

washing machines and dryers changed all that ... he explains that in breakfast of champions ... i think it was more specifically related to a slogan for a brand of soap

i think he went downhill since breakfast of champions, but that's not saying he was bad, just not as good
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 AM on October 11, 2005


Can someone remind me what "DP was about? I still remember forcing everyone who would tolerate me to look at some of the pieces in Welcome To The Monkey House when I was younger.
posted by docpops at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2005


I saw the interview on PBS. He was extremely funny, but not in the way he meant to be. After listening to a litany of political things he disliked, he says "I wrote a poem about it," almost as a out of nowhere and I almost died laughing. Oh to be a forgetful curmudgeon. In fact, I think it should have said that under his name on screen, "Kurt Vonnegut, Curmudgeon."
posted by Captaintripps at 9:22 AM on October 11, 2005


LOL at kcm's *
posted by iconjack at 9:27 AM on October 11, 2005


As Jon Stewart says, "as an adolescent, [KV] made my life bearable". Sad to see him growing fainter.
posted by gurple at 9:32 AM on October 11, 2005


I still have swaths of Sirens of Titan, Slaughterhouse Five, and Cat's Cradle memorized from reading them when the summer I was 12. Those books are still part of who I am today.

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. And here's hoping that there is a heaven, and you do find your way back to Indianapolis.
posted by jokeefe at 9:35 AM on October 11, 2005


I saw him on NOW on Friday night and again on the repeat of it Sunday at Midnight (WNET/13).

What a treat. Had me howling with laughter. It's people like him that give me hope for the world. Ironic that his belief in humanity's self defeating incompetence on this earth is hope giving.

We desperately need more like him. It is such a shame they're dying breed. It's up to you to make sure that level of humor irrevence, compassion, humanistic wisedom lives on.

Are you up to the challenge? If not you, then who??
posted by Skygazer at 9:37 AM on October 11, 2005


"Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again."

QFT
posted by mygoditsbob at 9:43 AM on October 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


Woah. KV likes Phish?! I'm trying to assimilate that information with little success.
posted by ktoad at 9:52 AM on October 11, 2005


I had to laugh like hell.
posted by dr_dank at 9:52 AM on October 11, 2005


thank you, dr_dank.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:57 AM on October 11, 2005


What will we do without a Vonnegut in the world? Hell, I guess it's like he says: He never really had the power to change anything, in the end. That responsibility fell to the usual gaggle of competitive, self-obsessed assholes, who were too busy "playing to win" to notice the stadium was burning down around them.

What a shame to think we're so close to losing one of the few true humanists left in the world. Man, I wish I could dismiss his predictions about the hopelessness of the current human lot up to crankiness, but unfortunately, from where things stand now, I think he's right. And somehow I doubt anyone else is capable of stepping up to fill his shoes when he goes. We don't appreciate our geniuses anymore--we're too petty and competitive. When we catch a fleeting glimpse of genius these days, our first instinct is to destroy it, or to figure out some way to subjugate it. Despite all the lipservice paid to their accomplishments, even brilliant men like Einstein and Godel spent their last years feeling alienated and misunderstood.

Phbbbttt on all of ya, you unappreciative bastards you...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:58 AM on October 11, 2005


No doubt, Vonnegut is one of the great ones.

I used to go to the school library when I was in boarding school and they had a copy of Breakfast of Champions on LP read by Vonnegut. It was the best. Nothing like reading a book like that with the author's voice streaming through your mind.

Interestingly sad side-note (and one that makes me mad):
The library also owned an original hard cover first press edition of Breakfast of Champions in their collection. I was flipping through it one day and discovered a bit of scrawl on the inside title page. It immediately stood out to me as Vonnegut's signature. I thought it was so cool that I decided to ask the librarian if he thought it was authentic (the librarian was also an autograph collector) and he examined it and determined that it was.
What a mistake! I should have taken the book and said I lost it. Instead, I stupidly show it to the librarian who decided to CUT THE PAGE OUT OF THE BOOK!

I couldn't believe it. I still can't.
posted by Gankmore at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2005


you made my heart drop with the RSS feed. I thought this post was about Vonnegut's death. I've grown quite attached to the old curmudgeon and I think he's the last real high profile conscience left in this country who can gracefully articulate the dream of America which is rapidly turning into a nightmare.
posted by any major dude at 10:49 AM on October 11, 2005


gankmore: couldn't have asked for a better illustration of my point.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:50 AM on October 11, 2005


There is "no damn cat, no damn cradle". Reading that one line as a very young man changed my life. It really opened my eyes to all the deceptions we encounter everyday.

KV is my hero. His books have spoken to me like very few other writers, and I am grateful. Since that first exposure to Cat's Cradle I have tried to "live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy".

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:09 AM on October 11, 2005


I love Vonnegut. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of his work. It's a shame to see a man developing an ego about death in his later years though.
You can't be Kurt Vonnegut and just simply die.

It's like asking Socrates to run off and not drink the hemlock. Or asking James Dean to slow down on the curves. We're all going to die, but we have to die like the person we've created ourselves to be. I'm not saying it has to jibe. Even Patton's death makes you go "Hmm."

I mean what makes him think he shouldn't be here anymore? If anyone should know things are just so, it should be Vonnegut.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:16 AM on October 11, 2005


I mean what makes him think he shouldn't be here anymore? If anyone should know things are just so, it should be Vonnegut

I agree with the sentiment, smedleyman, but looking around lately, I've got agree I've thought a time or two about how nice going home right about now would be myself...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:21 AM on October 11, 2005


Speaking of Vonnegut, I thought I'd this story about meeting Vonnegut, which a friend of mine once wrote:
(from http://www.vagablogging.net/03-04/the-bungled-tale-of-kurt-vonneguts-asshole-book-tour-stop-2-portland-january-28.html)

"Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon holds a place in my heart -- and not just because it's one of the coolest and most extensive bookstores in the world. Powell's is where I went to my first ever book signing back in the summer of 1992, when satirist Kurt Vonnegut came to promote a book called Fates Worse than Death.

I'd first discovered Kurt Vonnegut as a high school student, and his funny, unconventional narrative style had inspired me. Cat's Cradle and the classic Slaughterhouse Five were the first Vonnegut books I read, but the book that really captured my imagination as a teenager was Breakfast of Champions. This extremely random road-novel includes irreverent drawings by the author, including, at one point, Vonnegut's rendition of an asshole (which looks like an asterisk: *). To my seventeen year-old sensibilities, this was hands-down the funniest thing I'd ever seen in the pages of a book. So, a few years later at Powell's Books in Portland, while waiting in an incredibly long line to see Vonnegut in person, I decided that I would endear myself to the author by asking him to draw me a picture of an asshole, just like in Breakfast of Champions. I suppose I thought this request would be like an inside joke -- proof to Vonnegut that I really knew his work. After signing hundreds of other people's books, I reasoned, Vonnegut would be pleased to meet such a clever and well-versed fan.

What I didn't know at the time was that Vonnegut has been signing his name with that distinctive asshole-asterisk for years. On top of this, he had been autographing books for over two hours by the time I got to him. When, in a flourish, I got to the front of the line and asked him to draw me the asshole picture, he just gave me a weary look and drew a really big asterisk over his name. While standing in line, I'd imagined that he'd be so tickled by my request that he might even share a little inside advice to me as an aspiring author. In reality, he just sighed and looked up at the next person in line: end of story. Obviously, he no longer took pleasure in drawing pictures of assholes. To this day, I'm a bit embarrassed by my rather insipid request."
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:48 AM on October 11, 2005


Thanks Tranquileye. Great post.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:56 AM on October 11, 2005


Wow, with the exception of the sister (and 50 years) we have the exact same idea of home.
posted by sohcahtoa at 12:12 PM on October 11, 2005


Agreed, all-seeing eye dog. Been there myself. And I can empathize with the "But doctor, I AM Pagliacci" thing. But I think the only thing that really stopped me was Bucky Fuller. In essence - your are not wishing for death (because death changes nothing - only your state of being, you are still you) but for change.

Bucky was going to jump into Lake Michigan and kill himself. He thought that if he merely acted as though he was dead - that is removed barriers to change, such as fear, he could go on. So he put his shoes back on and did whatever he liked, lived however he wanted.

I suspect Vonnegut is in the former state of mind. Feeling the pain of the world and not realizing the illusion behind it.
Hell, he's the one who taught me that in the first place. Poo-de-tweet.

Yeah, the world could end and no one could care less - so? Enjoy the ride. Why Vonnegut? Why anyone?
Politics, ultimately, doesn't mean shit (again - the example of Socrates). In focusing on that, Vonnegut forgets how incredibly important saying "You're not alone" is.

Hopefully he knows he isn't either.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


Instead, I stupidly show [Vonnegut's autograph] to the librarian who decided to CUT THE PAGE OUT OF THE BOOK!

There's a special circle of hell for librarians like that. A special circle.
posted by skoosh at 3:32 PM on October 11, 2005


Make me young.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2005


C'mon, don't you want to see how it all ends? I, for one, will be very disappointed if I'm not around for the Rapture/Singularity/Ragnarok/environmental meltdown. It would be like having to leave a movie before the third reel. But out of the countless beings to have inhabited this little planet, only a few billion will be the ones lucky enough to see it all go down, and I think Mr. Vonnegut deserves that opportunity.

I'm actually assuming we won't go out with a sudden bang, but with a whimper. It'll probably be a slow slide into extinction. There will be a lot of terror, a lot of grief, a lot of privation, a lot of suffering. And no, I have no desire at all to see that.
posted by orange swan at 6:28 PM on October 11, 2005


From the excerpt:

The Saab back then was a far cry from the sleek, powerful, four-stroke yuppie uniform it is today. It was the wet dream, if you like, of engineers in an airplane factory who’d never made a car before

Heh.

Never read any of his books, perhaps I should.
posted by delmoi at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2005


"Go take a flying fuck at the Moon!"
posted by loquacious at 7:52 PM on October 11, 2005


The first time I ever laughed out loud reading a book I was reading Vonnegut.

"A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on earth to explain how wars could be prevented, and how cancer could be cured. Zog brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farting and tap-dancing. Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap-dancing, warning people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained him with a golf-club."
posted by mortisimo at 10:31 PM on October 11, 2005


The Washington Post has a recent Vonnegut profile/interview.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:16 AM on October 12, 2005


Kurt Vonnegut’s In These Times Opus
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on October 16, 2005


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