God Bless You, Kurt Vonnegut

Today would have been Kurt Vonnegut’s  89th birthday. This guy meant a hell of a lot to me. I took his death pretty hard and his work has an important place in my mind, heart and life.

I remember the day that Kurt Vonnegut died. I worked two jobs. I worked by day at a Barnes & Noble College Bookstore as a bookkeeper (not keeper of books but keeper of financial information) and I worked evenings as grill master at a local semi-fast food joint. After my shift at B&N, I headed out to my dad’s because he had just fixed my car. I had been driving his and he was ready to swap. I got my car back and headed home to grab my uniform. I stopped by Circle K to grab a pop and a bag of Doritos. As I pulled out of Circle K, a huge pick-up truck practically drove right through me. The whole front end of my car came off and landed 20 feet away. My car was bleeding anti-freeze all over the road. I ended up getting a ticket but that was the least of my worries. I had to call off work, have my car towed to my dad’s house and find a friend to pick me up. My friend came and got me. I got in the car and he said, “I have bad news”. Really? Could it get worse than I-just-got-my-car-back-an-hour-ago-and-already –wrecked-it? Could it? My friend hesitated and said, “Kurt Vonnegut died. Complications due to a fall down the stairs”. Holy fucking Christ almighty, balls, fuck me! No. No. No. The greatest writer of the 20thcentury died and my car got fucked every which way but good.

To be honest, I started reading Vonnegut for an odd reason that you will probably laugh about. I am a child of the Nickelodeon generation. I went to PM Kindergarten so I could watch Mr. Wizard, David the Gnome and the Elephant Show. That’s right. Not even school could prevent me from watching Mr. Wizard. Anyway, I continued watching Nickelodeon as I got older. I loved Welcome Freshman, Hey Dude!, Salute Your Shorts, and most importantly The Adventures of Pete & Pete. You’re probably thinking to yourself “What in God’s name does this have to do with Kurt Vonnegut?” Well, you see, I had a thing for redheads. More specifically, I had a thing for a specific redhead by the name of Danny Tamberelli AKA Little Pete. I followed him throughout his Nickelodeon career, watching All That and Figure It Out whenever they were on. Even when he wasn’t funny, I laughed uncontrollably. I thought Danny Tamberelli and I would really meet one day and get married. You’re probably thinking to yourself now, “Bitch, get to the point!” Well, I would frequent Danny Tamberelli fan sites and I (thought I) became his personal biographer. His favorite band (at the time) was the Moody Blues. I tried to get into them but that was a disaster. His favorite author was Kurt Vonnegut. Hmmmm, let me check out this Vonnegut guy.

I did some research on the web and found out that several of his books had been banned at one point or another and continue to be banned. I love a good controversy. I started with Cat’s Cradle and it blew my mind. I read Slaughterhouse-5, Breakfast of Champions & Galapagos. I read Player Piano, Welcome to the Monkey House and Bluebeard. I went on eBay and bought nearly every book he had ever written and couldn’t stop reading them. This man was a genius! That Christmas, I received Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of short stories. I let a friend borrow it long ago and never got it back. I followed all of Vonnegut’s output, granted he only put out 1 more work during his lifetime after I became a fan.  The plus side is that it wasn’t fiction, but rather political commentary. There have been 3 posthumous collections of short stories and there should be much more to come. Geniuses never stop writing. And I still want this.

The day after my car accident, I got my dad’s car again so I could go to work. The moment I got to the bookstore I went up to my manager and said, “Kurt Vonnegut died. We need a display in the window. Can I do that?” and off I went to my display. I ordered more copies of everything, naturally ordering more of his masterworks Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-5. I couldn’t keep enough books in that display. They sold so well. Anytime a customer had a Vonnegut question or wanted a recommendation, even if I wasn’t on the sales floor, I was the Vonnegut authority. In 2008, I got my first Vonnegut tattoo. Eventually, I would like to turn my right upper arm into a Vonnegut half-sleeve. While the reason I started reading Vonnegut was dumb and petty, the reason I continue to read his work is not. I’m glad I was able to find out about him. He has influenced my life greatly.

November 11, 2007 was a sad day. I didn’t experience a celebrity death so sad again until Michael Jackson died. I won’t experience it again until Prince dies.

If you aren’t into Vonnegut or if you’re a casual fan having read one or two works, check out my recommendations below. I’m not going to recommend Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-5. Duh and duh.

  1. Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (Opinions) – This is one of my favorite works. It is a collection of essays and I love reading essays. The concepts are from Cat’s Cradle and are part of Bokononism. I guess I kinda lied about recommending Cat’s Cradle because you should read it before you read this.
  2. A Man Without A Country – This is also a collection of essays and Vonnegut’s last output before his death. It’s very short and you can read it in one sitting. What I like about this is that Vonnegut debunks the myth that people get more conservative the older they get. Vonnegut got more and more liberal the older he got and for lack of better terms, kept it real. Really real.
  3. Mother Night – Vonnegut is a WWII vet. Many of his stories take place immediately before, during or shortly after the war. This is no exception. The story is about Howard W. Campbell Jr. He is an American who relocates to Germany after WWI and becomes a Nazi propagandist. He is writing his memoirs while waiting to be tried for war crimes.
  4. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian – In this book, Vonnegut hires Dr. Kevorkian to invoke near-death experiences. He goes to heaven and interviews Hitler, Shakespeare, Isaac Asimov (fellow member of the American Humanist Association) and even James Earl Ray (MLK’s assassin).
  5. Welcome to the Monkey House – A collection of short stories. What can I say, I love Vonnegut’s short stories and essays. Read it. Love it.

Vonnegut was once asked the following question:  When someone reads one of your books, what would you like them to take from the experience?

“Well, I’d like the guy—or the girl, of course—to put the book down and think, “This is the greatest man who ever lived.”

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About Christine Pyles

I have an unhealthy obsession with Prince, The Artist, The Purple One. You know who I'm talkin' 'bout. I have a shaved head and I like being dudes with hair for Halloween. My nerd claim to fame is my love of Thor, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that I am the human version of C-3PO. Follow me on Twitter - @XineSoundclash. I'm real funny.

Posted on November 11, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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