Hemingway is dead. Bukowski is dead. Burroughs is dead. Hunter is dead. And now, sadly, Kurt Vonnegut is dead. So it goes. The greatest satirist since Mark Twain died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan, after suffering brain damage from a serious fall earlier in the year. A lifetime advocate of the "extended family" mentality, Vonnegut is survived by his wife, the photographer Jill Krementz, and his biological children Mark and Edith, along with his four adopted children by his deceased sister Alice who died of cancer shortly after her husband was killed when the train he was on dropped off an open drawbridge. So it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis Indiana, making his granfalloon, or false karass, a true Hoosier. On Mother's day in 1944 Vonnegut's mother committed suicide. The following year the scraggly haired wit found himself fighting in World War Two, where he was captured by the Nazis during the bombing of Dresden. This horrific chapter of his life inspired the best selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five. In it, Vonnegut reaches out to his old war buddy Bernard V. O'Hare, and as the two veterans get smashed while attempting to verbally describe the exact nightmare which they endured, we follow the half-witted solider Billy Pilgrim as he time dashes back to his humdrum past, while being held captive in an abandoned German butchery.
O'Hare, like most of Vonnegut's characters, including his father the architect, his brother the cloud scientist, and the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, helped create a steady scaffold of reading, linking the midwesterner's dark humor and bright intelligence found in dozens of essays, hundred of short stories, and nineteen novels. The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions stand out as major achievements and timeless classics while Jailbird, Timequake, Hocus Pocus, Slapstick, and Bluebeard are marvelous lonely night companions. Foma, Wampeters, and Granfalloons is a wonderful collection of Vonnegut's earlier articles which includes a review of the Hunter Thompson book, Hell's Angels. Vonnegut's final contribution came in the form of another set of essays, this batch served as a protest to the incompetence of president George W. Bush. "Honestly, I wish Nixon were president," Vonnegut told Douglas Brinkley in a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone. "Bush is so ignorant."
Kurt Vonnegut was a tremendous painter and graphic designer. In addition to his collaboration paintings with Joe Petro III, he designed the album cover for Phish's Hook, Line, and Sinker, in addition to the cover for Slaughterhouse, and all of the beautiful assholes found scattered throughout Breakfast Of Champions. When he wasn't smoking and condemning his Pall Mall cigarettes, he was teaching or speaking to audiences of young and old who continue to embraced his rare talent and enthralling words of wisdom.
Now that he is gone, I find myself a little relieved. What else can this man go through, I thought to myself. He was bombed, his mother ended it, he tried and failed to check out in 1984 after a combo of pills and booze that he later said he "botched." And now it is all over, after the man took a spill. I strangely remember reading, possibly in Slapstick, the closest thing to a Vonnegut autobiography, how he and his sister used to laugh giggle snicker at the silliest things that we humans do, like falling down. So it goes.
One thing to remember about authors is that they never truly die. Kurt Vonnegut has given our eyes a lifetime, literally, pun intended, of reading material that will span from this generation to the next. From Midland City to San Lorenzo, up to Titan or Tramalfadore, above and beyond the accolades and praise, the silly little man has bequeathed us remaining stiffs lucky enough to still be alive, with the greatest gift that any artist can ever leave behind, his books. Ting-a-ling.