Gore Vidal died at the end of July aged 86. Although he would have wanted to be remembered as a writer and thinker, he was perhaps better known as a raconteur and wit with a vicious line in put downs. He had a long feud with writer Norman Mailer and once goaded the belligerent Mailer so much that he knocked Vidal down. As he fell to the floor Vidal managed to say ‘Ah, Norman, lost for words again’.
But then, with an insouciant air the GFG itself likes to sport, he believed that ‘Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.’
Dick Cavett, who used to host a TV chat show, has said that ‘You can be sure of one thing. Gore Vidal hates being dead. Unless of course we die and go somewhere you write, drink, have sex, appear on TV and, above all else, talk.’
It’s less well known that he had chosen and laid out his final resting place many years ago. His headstone of polished granite, marked with his date of birth, was in place and waiting only for his own death and interment for its inscription to be completed. The headstone includes Gore’s lifelong companion, Howard Austen, who died in 2003.
It’s in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC which dates back to the early 1700s. Christopher Hitchens called it a ‘WASP rockery’. You’d expect the patrician Vidal to want to keep distinguished company. Perhaps more unexpected is the suggestion that he chose his plot for another reason altogether. Nearby is the grave of Jimmie Trimble, a school friend and lover of Vidal’s who died on Iwo Jima. Jimmie was, the New York Times has suggested, ‘the only person with whom [Vidal] ever felt wholeness.’
Richard Brautigan was a writer and a poet. He died not long ago, which makes this poem very timely. Ed Dorn wrote it ‘for the post mortem amusement of Richard Brautigan’. Let’s hope he is:
A B H O R RE N C E S November 10, 1984 Death by over-seasoning: Herbicide Death by annoyance: Pesticide Death by suffocation: Carbon monoxide Death by burning: Firecide Death by falling: Cliffcide Death by hiking: Trailcide Death by camping: Campcide Death by drowning: Rivercide Lakecide Oceancide Death from puking: Curbcide Death from boredom: Hearthcide Death at the hands of the medical profession: Dockcide Death from an overnight stay: Inncide Death by suprise: Backcide Death by blow to the head: Upcide Death from delirious voting: Rightcide Death from hounding: Leftcide Death through war: Theircide & Ourcide Death by penalty: Offcide Death following a decision: Decide
Once in a while, looking around, it dawns on you that getting to the kitchen has become an obstacle course; setting off for the bedroom an orienteering event. It’s the moment you realise that your books have stopped furnishing your rooms and begun – like a literary occupy movement – to take them over. Bitter as it is, it’s the moment you realise that a clear out is needed.
We were tackling a pile or two recently (on the scree slopes in the dining room) when our son came in and cried out ‘but those are my heirlooms!’ It’s a comfort to know that my collection of Mazo de La Roche and Marks and Spencer Cookbooks will be in good hands after I am gone but, I thought, what will he do with the electronic books?
It’s a good question. Libraries (and record collections) can be read and loaned, treasured, split up and shared out – unless they are electronic. The problem is that you never wholly own a Kindle book – you simply purchase a right to read that is at present non-transferable. Equally a music collection bought from Apple cannot be passed on as digital content (legally at least). Nowadays the day you die is the day the music dies too. It’s a queer reversal. In the past it was you that exited while your possessions lived on in other hands. In the digital world you will live on in a thousand guises, while it is your digital assets that fade away.
It looks as though you might as well be buried with your Nook or your Kindle, iPods or iPad – new grave goods for the virtual afterlife. After all your books and music will already be safe, stowed away again in their own clouds.
Photos by Tajette O’Halloran, film-maker and photographer in Australia. In her own words:
Leaving This Life is a new series I have created and will be exhibiting later in the year. It is a voyeuristic and sensual portrait series exploring the fragility of life in relation to murder, violence and dying before our time. The images reflect the moment where youth, beauty and raw sexuality transition into death. I explore the futile fight against the elements, the spirited struggle to maintain a foot in this realm and the calm surrender of returning to the earth.
Celebrant Kim Farley went to Abram Wilson’s memorial service a week or so ago. He was a young American Jazz Musician who died unexpectedly aged just 38. She writes: ‘There was a procession from the South Bank to St John’s in Waterloo and once inside the relative cool of the packed church, there was more music and singing and readings and a brilliant eulogy by his young widow. I didn’t know him, but she helped everyone get a strong sense of his vibrancy, humour and spirit.
They were together for 3 years. He died at 38. She spoke of how he’d usually be talking to her so happily in the morning that he’d join her on the walk to the tube station when she left for work. And then like as not, stay with her, down to the platform. Where she would miss the first train. And the second. And then usually get the 4th, on which he might just have decided to accompany her anyway. “It’s just a train ride, Baby”.
Here’s Abram himself playing some modern New Orleans Jazz (by Wynton Marsalis)
Over in the New York Review of Books there’s a conversation with South African artist William Kentridge that includes this video. Danse Macabre, Dance of Fools he seems to be saying that all life presses on to…Well the video ends with a black hole. Although there is an afterthought.
Find out what the afterthought is, read about the work and see more of Kentridge’s remarkable videos here.
Although it closed in September 2011, the idea has spread all over the world including London. Interest has been so great that a website has been set up showing walls from across the world. It includes a kit for people to create their own before I die wall. Why not set one up near you? Something for one of those empty shopfronts on our derelict High Streets?