But Did You Die? by Gerry Fialka
from December 31, 2023 issue of https://thevenicebeachhead.com/
After reading the following essay, entertainment lawyer and music explorer Al Boelter wrote: “Loving your article on death with many quotes. No, not too long. Lots of quotes, which to me act as citations, are educational, like my old days of wading through academics.”
I recently saw these four words on a bumpersticker in Venice, California. It reminded me of Jean Baudrillard’s “What if we were to forget to die?” He morphed it from an old song that goes “Let not the dead forgotten lie. Lest living men forget to die.”
Venice Boardwalk musician Jay Howard passed last month. His transition revived a special memory. On Christmas morning, a few years ago, I heard the majestic tones of John Coltrane’s song “A Love Supreme” being played live on an electric guitar at the corner of Lincoln Blvd and Venice Blvd. Trane’s magnum opus is a musical declaration of divine devotion and universal connection. It felt that Jay’s version was the penetrating testament celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. I was blessed with the warm benediction of Jay’s stringed instrument soaring with gratitude and joy. Jay brought life to Trane’s own words: “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation.” Both John and Jay forgot to die.
It electrifyingly evoked the proverb, “The Spirit will not descend without song.”
Jay and I, over recent years, eventually had a few conversations. I watched his struggles and victories as a performer in Venice. As a youngster, he was on the children’s TV show Wonderama. The following blurb from “Live In LA” review 2–11–10 summarizes his career before he lived on the streets of Venice: “Jay Howard is a musician’s musician. He plays bass so naturally, so on-the-spot, so damn powerful in any style, that when you hear & see him, you’ll immediately understand that Jay truly IS a natural born musician. Further, he has the gift of an excellent singing voice to accompany your sound. He can also handle both acoustic & electric guitars with finesse. Jay can tear-it-up with a slide on the electric and play with precision on the acoustic depending on which is the best fit for the musical moment. He has had an extensive music career. In the beginning, Jay played with Marc Freed & John DePatie in the original Fugitives from ‘77–97. They along with Jay’s song-writing partner Jon Leslie were all known up&comers during Seattle’s 90’s original grunge discovery where Jay and The Fugitive crew shared the stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Fisher of Fishbone before and during this rough-rock birthing period. Jay was also part of the historic farewell performance with Gene Clark at the Roosevelt Hotel the night backing up the legendary Byrd’s founder. As the new 2K millennium arrived, Jay continued his experience in LA with the early formation of Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers where Jay held down the bass guitar duty for many nights at Cantor’s Kibbitz Room on Farifax in LA and The Central on Sunset before it evolved into the now infamous Viper Room. Jay wrapped out the 90’s with 2 multi-month tours as Natalie Merchant’s bass player playing concerts coast to coast. He has been recording more since 2004 playing bass on countless sessions with A-List producer Robert Seifert whose credits includes Michael Jackson, Porno for Pryos, Anita Baker and many others. Jay worked with Rick Ruben in 2009 in Hollywood CA on two development projects.” -
What is more important the journey or the destination? The reading of Moby Dick on the beach last month is an annual tribute to Herman Melville, who wrote, “Life’s a voyage that is homeward bound.” One can read those words on a storefront on Lincoln Boulevard. Solomon Burke calls a wake service “a home going.” Maybe Jay is returning home . . . in heaven . . . Venice, California all over again. On his deathbed, Bach said, “Don’t cry for me, for I go where music is born.”
The Venice Boardwalk, especially between Navy and Dudley, empowers a fertile stomping ground for vibrant music, I celebrate the heartbeat with a close-knit he community of artists and musicians. Talk with SteveOh and Uncle Bennie for wild Jay stories. Carmen Fanali told me how much he loved one of Jay’s original songs was called “The Other Side.” Carmen wonders: “Is this tune about the people on the other side of the Boardwalk, or is it about life after death?”
At this point in this essay, dear Reader, one may say “enuff already.” These words will not die, they’ll will plow ahead and survive. The song is the map and the territory. Let’s “go trudging across the tundra mile after mile,” sang Frank Zappa, who also declared “Don’t stop and keep going.”
A person gets sent to hell. The devil is standing at the gates of The Inferno. The person peaks in, and see this essay on a flyer. He says “Wow, you have Gerry’s Death quotations flyer in hell?” The devil says, “That’s all we have.”
Several proof readers/advisors/friends told me this essay is too long. I persist to include all the quotes as a vehicle to suss out the bigger picture on death and how it shapes our behavior. One person suggested I act as Virgil to Jay’s (as Dante) voyage through Hell and Purgatory. Since I often call Venice “Heaven,” can I assert “That’s the ticket?” Uncle Bennie told me that once Jay gave him all his music equipment and declared, “It’s all yours. I’m committing suicide.” Then 40 minutes later, Jay wanted it all back.
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation compelled to persist (in editing and/or living). I encourage you readers to realize that this perseveres as an inventory of “death” quotations. You can wallow in them or not. Let’s talk about them. “I should prefer to de-fuse this gigantic human bomb by starting a dialogue on the side-lines to distract the trigger-men, or to needle the somnambulists.” — Marshall McLuhan letter to Ezra Pound, 6–22–51. How can this axiom reservoir awake one into sleep-walking and day-dreaming new insights?
Maybe, we can literally reword this litany of quotations. Really? Reinvent metaphors, and questions? McLuhan reworded Robert Browning’s “Our reach should exceed our grasp or what is heaven for?” INTO “Our reach should exceed our grasp or what is a metaphor? (meta for).” Here’s some other examples: “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” — Andy Warhol INTO “In the future everyone will have privacy for 15 minutes” — Robert Dobbs. “There ain’t no Santa Claus on the evening stage” — Captain Beefheart INTO “There ain’t no sanity clause on the mourning stage” — Gerry Fialka. Do it!!!
In fact, Frank Zappa sings about laying on his back in his lonely teenage room, and dreaming of guitar notes that would irritate record executives. I am dreaming of essays that would irritate proof readers, and maybe cause epiphanies in everydayness.
l want to enrage the literati into expanding what an essay should be and do. My mind is not focused. It is forever wandering and wondering. How do I get that onto the paper? Simultaniety? Spontaneity? Resonant intervalness?
A friend and advisor sent me this excerpt from one of his favorite books, “Intoxicated by My Illness” by Anatole Broyard: The British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott began an autobiography that he never finished. The first paragraph simply says, “I died.” In the fifth paragraph he writes, “Let me see. What was happening when I died? My prayer had been answered. I was alive when I died. That was all I had asked and I had got it.” Though he never finished his book, he gave the best reason for writing one, and that’s why I want to write mine — to make sure I’ll be alive when I die.
Pondering more questions on life and death, I include this excerpt from the 1978 play “The Immoralists” by Heather Williams:
INTERVIEWER: Bernard Shaw said that there would have been no evolution without death?
ANOTHER CHARACTER KNOWN AS “278”: When did he say that? on his death bed? I think what you’ve quoted is pretty insipid. He doesn’t feature in my commonplace book.
INTERVIEWER: Who does?
278 (REELING THEM OFF): “There is no death,” — Longfellow. “Death! thou shalt die,” — John Donne. “We know this much, Death is evil, we have the Gods’ word for it: they too would die if Death was a good thing,” — Sappho. “And what do you expect a dead man to do with his body in the grave?” — Antonin Artaud. “Death is dead” — Shelley. “Death only dies,” -Swinburne. “There is not room for death,” — Emily Bronte. So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men and death, once death, there’s no more dying then,” — Shakespeare. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” — St. Pail “There are persons who have been exalted to God, and have remained in that state of exaltation and they have not died,” — Paracelsus. “King Death hath Asses’ Ears,” — Thomas Lovell Beddoes. “Man will never be contended until he conquers death,” — Dr. Bernard Strehler. “Mobilize the scientists, spend the money, and hunt out death like an outlaw,” — Alan Harrington. “We should live longer than we do. Death does not seem essential to an organism. We are secreting poisons, but if they are taken away and our bodies are kept clean, there is no reason why we should die,” — Sir Oliver Lodge. The fear of death has been the greatest ally of tyranny past and present. “ — Sydney Hook. “Some people want to achieve immortality through their works or descendants. I prefer to achieve immortality by not dying,” — Woody Allen.
INTERVIEWER: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Heathcote’s brilliant wordplay reflects my obsession with quotations. By the way, I thank Venice Mike for giving me the book of Heathcote’s play after he dumpster dove it in Venice. So now I will go full throttle into more:
What is time? There is no place for a question in aphorism . . . and. . . .As its name indicates, aphorism separates, it marks discussion, it terminates, delimits, arrests (horizo). It brings to an end by separating, it separates in order to end and to define. — Jacques Derrida (Editor — Let me suggest the opposite. An aphorism can be a chance to reword said maxim to find a new epiphany in everydayness.)
The aphorism, the apothegm . . . is the form of “eternity”; it is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book — what everyone else does not say in a book. — Friedrich Nietzsche
“The Dead” is the final short story in the 1914 collection “Dubliners” by James Joyce. As the story ends, we are told that “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” T.S. Eliot called it “one of the greatest short stories ever written.”
The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote some one who is. - Mary Pettibone Poole.
Memento Mori (remember that you have to die) should be read: Don’t forget to die. — Slavoj Zizek
“If there were no death, we wouldn’t be. It is how we are defined.” — Anselm Kiefer
Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. — Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Crumpled-Up Note Blowing Away” by Franz Wright
Were no one
here to witness it,
could the sun be
said to shine? Clearly,
you pedantic fool.
But I’ve said all that
I had to say.
I signed my name.
It’s death’s move.
It can have mine, too.
It’s a perfect June morning,
and I just turned eighteen;
I can’t even believe
what I feel like today.
Here am I, Lord,
sitting on a suitcase,
waiting for my train.
The sun is shining.
I’m never coming back.
Trance seems to be what perpetuates the widely occurring cluster image of sex, technology, and death which constitutes the mystery of the mechanical bride — Marshall McLuhan
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. — Kurt Vonnegut
“Objects are unobservable. Only relationships among objects are observable. So if you think that the question, ‘Will we ever learn?’ implies a goal, a particular point and time we will arrive at, a particular object, we will never know that. Because objects like that do not exist, only relationships among objects exist. It is like asking, ‘Will there ever be silence?’ It’s like, ‘Will you ever die?’ Well, you’ll never know because to be dead is a specific experience that seems to imply isolation which could not be known. Because nothing exists in isolation, you will never experience death. You will only experience those things that involve relationships.” -Robert Dobbs.
Neither modern science nor ancient religion believes in complete free thought. Theology rebukes certain thoughts by calling them blasphemous. Science rebukes certain thoughts by calling them morbid. For example, some religious societies discouraged men more or less from thinking about sex. The new scientific society definitely discourages men from thinking about death; it is a fact, but it is considered a morbid fact. — G. K. Chesterton
What is more moving than to think that this soldier [featured in an ad] fought and died for the fantasies he had woven around the image of Betty Grable? It would be hard to know where to begin to peel back the layers of insentience and calculated oblivion implied in such an ad. And what would be found as one stripped away these layers, each marked with the pattern of sex, technology, and death? Exactly nothing. One is left staring into a vacuum… — Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride, 1951.
I asked myself — “Of all melancholy topics what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death, was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” From what I have already explained at some length the answer here also is obvious — “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.” — Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven.”
On celebrating the recent Solstice, I wonder about John Donne’s poem “A nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day, Being the shortest day.” -
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new Alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness
He ruined me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.
There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. — Hunter S. Thompson.
Narrative is born among the “animal necessities of the spirit” because we are “waiting to die.” — Hollis Frampton.
I see myself — an angel! and I die —
Call the pane art, or mysticism — and love
To be reborn, wearing my dream on high,
Where Beauty, as it once did, flowers above!
But, ah! This world is master: haunting me,
Sometimes even here its nausea will pursue,
And the thick vomit of Stupidity
Drives me to hold my nose before the blue. — Stephane Mallarmé, “The Windows”
Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down — ?
Nothing in this life that I’ve been trying, Can equal or surpass the art of dying — George Harrison
But I have but the power to kill, Without the power to die. — Emily Dickinson
I know nothing. I live in the Eternal — George Santayna
Jose Saramagno’s 2005 novel “Death with Interruptions” takes place in a country in which, suddenly, nobody dies, and concerns, in part, the spiritual and political implications of the event.
“Dying is the privilege of the weary. The present day composers refuse to die. They have realized the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of his work”. — Edgard Varese. Frank Zappa printed some of this quote in FREAK OUT (1966).
“Everyone Dies” by Suzy Williams c. 2011
Yes, Everyone Dies
We all oughta that we all gotta go
Ah, but here is what gives:
Not everyone lives.
Some live so small
They give nothing at all
But some give too much and they start to lose touch
And they lose all their pride
and shrivel inside.
But you have lived so large, so deep, so beautiful
You’ve savored all the luck that’s come your way
You made it all so bountiful, not dutiful
and held so many in your charming sway
That’s right, Everyone dies
It’s all of our fate, but before it’s too late
Let it be no surprise
That this is what gives:
And now back to our beach town . . . In the 1976 film Number Our Days, Lynne Littman combined Dr. Barbara Myerhoff’s anthropological fieldwork of elderly Eastern European Jews living in Venice, California into a moving portrait of loneliness, pride, humor, bitterness and dignity. The film features one elder who celebrates his birthday with a party at the Jewish Center on the Boardwalk. Then he dies on the spot. The ambulance carts his dead body off, as the party comes to a close. It is widely acclaimed by critics, anthropologists, and religious leaders for its truth and moving humanity.
Just a block north of the location of Littman’s film, another Venice historical event took place in 1926. Sister Aimee Semple McPherson faked her suicide. She is infamous as the Pentecostal preacher who founded Hollywood’s Angelus Temple. Aimee was known for her wild sermons. She also helped feed homeless. These memorable deaths (AND LIVES!!!) in Venice are just some of our rich history. The Rose parking lot area is a vortex for the bardos. The Venice spirit helps guide the deceased people through the death bardo to gain a better rebirth and also to help their loved ones with the grieving process. We offer the opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality. Sounds like Venice to me.
At Beyond Baroque Dec 10, 2022, we celebrated Linda Albertano, poet supreme. The tales of the tribe triumphed and trumpeted the rebirthing bardos of Linda’s beautiful soul. We raised our voices in unity to the clarion call and response of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s mantra: “Open door, open books, open mind, open heart.”
In closing, let me quote T.S. Elliot: “In my beginning is my end.” Or is it? = “In my end is my beginning.” Do we live on after our body disappears? Good question. I would not like to ruin it with an answer. “But Did You Die?” is the title of this essay. Let’s flip into the Venitian vortex: “But oh, how we live!!!” As former Venetian Paul Krassner quipped, “I only believe in reincarnation in one of my past lives.”
ReJoyce at Finnegans Wake’s “Let past times become pastimes.” “Then he died and had to begin again” — James Joyce. Forget to die!
If there wasn’t death, I think you couldn’t go on. — Stevie Smith
“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Mark your calendar now for the 2023 April 2nd return of The 2nd Annual VENICE BEATS at The Venice West:
“The Venice Beats event at The Venice West was phenomenal! The best show ever. I’m so thrilled to have experienced the evening with the most talented people — performing. . . the sax player Carol Chaikin, Kahlil Sabbagh, Brad Kay, Pegarty Long, and more. Eric Ahlberg knocked it out of the park! Producer/host Gerry Fialka and singer Suzy Williams outdid themselves. Wow wow wow! They MUST do it again. I was blown away.” — Venice Community activist Linda Lucks
Tune in to Gerry’s podcasts & interviews on the youtube channel “I’m Probably Wrong About Everything” for links. Ask me for links to zoom meetings: McFinn Salon, FINNEGANS WAKE READING CLUB every first Tuesday, Carl Jung Reading Group every Monday, McLuhan’s LAWS OF MEDIA Book Reading Group every Wed morn, ULYSSES Reading Group most Thursdays, Venice History events in January 2023, and lots more. Gerry & John FTR at Venice BeachHead New Years party = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV0y9ZiHexs
GF’s FRANK ZAPPA rant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whSsd8MRjxY
Check he short film about Bob Dylan & Frank Zappa, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASGJUwl8dks
Frankie & Zimmy (aka FZBD) by Gerry Fialka https://laughtears.com/
& Tyler Bartram https://www.youtube.com/c/TylerBartram/videos
I highly recommended the art of TRENT HARRIS. Here’s the link to my recent interview. He is The Beaver Trilogy director.
AND . . . talk about not dying . . . Michael Snow, a Canadian painter, jazz pianist, photographer, sculptor and filmmaker best known for “Wavelength” — a humble, relentless, more or less continuous zoom shot that traverses a Lower Manhattan loft into a photograph pasted on its far wall — will not die because that Zoom will last forever.
It was “hailed by the critic Manny Farber in Artforum magazine in 1969 as “a pure, tough 45 minutes that may become the ‘Birth of a Nation’ in Underground film,” provided 20th-century cinema with a visceral metaphor for itself as temporal projection. ( If it also saddled Mr. Snow with the weight of an unrepeatable masterpiece, it was a burden he bore lightly.
Mr. Snow was a prolific and playful artist, as well as a polymath of extraordinary versatility. “I am not a professional,” he declared in a statement written for a group show catalog in 1967. “My paintings are done by a filmmaker, sculpture by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculpture by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor.” And, he added, “Sometimes they all work together.” (- J. Hoberman, NY Times 1–7–23)
Or “How does one make art that is not art?” and the many variations on dat theme?