(Commercial) Suicide is Painless

Ok, so last week’s MySpace blog, while cataloguing my most recent publishing activity and drawing attention to the release of my latest work, ‘Lust for Death,’ didn’t really give a great deal of detail regarding the booklet, and the attendant bulletins I posted throughout the week were a mix of self-promotion and puntastic reference-laden flippancy that may have seemed to some rather inappropriate to the subject matter. But that was rather the point. At least, on one level.
One of the things that drove me to write the story was a fascination not only with the idea of death itself, but also social attitudes toward it, which appear to me to be largely polarised. People will either avoid the topic altogether, or otherwise speak of it in hushed, fearful and reverent tones, or laugh about it as though it were wholly inconsequential. Now, these approaches could be considered as representative of the main ways of dealing with the subject, but one could equally argue that fundamentally, these are ways of skirting the issue. And it strikes me as strange that the one thing that is certain to affect us all should be something that we are all reticent to discuss openly and frankly.
Perhaps one of the central problem is that we all fear the unknown. And since no-one’s been able to come back from being dead to tell us all what it’s like, it remains the great unknown. It’s hard to imagine being dead. And the reality of death is something that only really hits home when it touches close to home, with the death of a relative or close friend for example, or we otherwise experience a proximity to death, such as an involvement or witnessing of a fatal accident. For the most part, it’s purely abstract and beyond comprehension. And so I wanted to write a story that looked at death from all angles, which is why I constructed a narrative that presented different perspectives on the same event.
That the bulletin campaign was built around song titles and lyrics that refer to death was similarly important, first and foremost because I’m a music obsessive who loves to reference at every opportunity, and also because music – and poetry – both commonly refer to death, probably for the reasons previously outlined here. But there was a more substantial purpose behind this also, and this is why all of the chapters and sub-chapters in ‘Lust for Death’ are either song or album titles or lyrics.
When 90s indie band Mansun released ‘Wide Open Space’ I thought it was a cracking song, and ‘Legacy,’ the lead single from the second album ‘Six’ similarly excited me. And so I went out and purchased ‘Six.’ I happened to mention this to some friends of mine, who, not knowing a great deal about music, pulled faces and declared Mansun to be horrible. Of course, some may agree with this opinion, but in this instance it was a case of mistaken identity and I had to explain that this was a CD by a band called Mansun, and not Marilyn Manson.
Anyway, this exchange got me thinking. It was, I believe, around the time that Marilyn Manson was cited as the inspiration for a US college massacre. It wasn’t the first time a (shit) metal act had been blamed as the catalyst for killing, with Judas Priest having been famously put on trial for the supposed subliminal messages on their records being the reason a couple of numbskulls decided to put bullets in their own heads being a particularly memorable example of metal’s ‘bad influence’ in ‘impressionable’ teens.
I’ve always maintained that one will act in a way one has a certain predisposition to act, and that if it isn’t one catalyst then it will be another, and that blaming any art (however poorly executed and however dubious its message) is misguided at best. But the moral majority and grieving families love a scapegoat.
But the lyrics to many popular songs are as dark as any metal numbers when you actually listen to them. Elton John’s made a career out of dead blondes, for starters. Hot Chocolate’s ‘Emma’ is about a failed actress who tops herself. And the singles chart’s depressing enough to make even the most passionate pacifist want to reach for a revolver. And Mansun’s ‘Legacy’ is definitely a ten on the gloom scale (whoever says The Cure and Leonard Cohen are dark really need to get some perspective), and is unquestionably a song about death. It features the following lines,

‘If you fear transition to your other life don’t need money to be there
Leave behind your money just to prove your worth won’t be here so I don’t care’

And closes with the refrain,

‘Nobody cares when you’re gone.’
I did in fact build this into the plot of the first novel I ever wrote, which I gave the title ‘The Sound of Impact’ after the big Black semi-official live album. It’s still lurking on my hard drive and in need of some very heavy editing if it’s ever to see the light of day, but I do reference it in ‘Lust for Death’ because I’m trying to create across my output one vast intertext and construct my own mythology. But more than that, I thought it would be a great wheeze to have a fairly tame indie band have the finger pointed at them for someone’s suicide because it’s so absurd… although in reality, probably no more absurd than blaming some pussies who try to appear hard by wearing leather, latex and makeup for the actions of others.

As a writer, and as one who doesn’t believe in afterlife, I’m particularly interested in the idea of legacy. Let’s face it, few will remember Jade Goody three years from now, which makes the media coverage and gratuitous public displays of mourning from people who never even met her sick and absurd in equal measure. I mean, what will she be remembered for? Nothing, really. Because she didn’t really do anything. And, to a lesser extent, despite the media coverage and gratuitous public displays of mourning from people who never even met her, Princess Diana’s death is hardly close to the hearts of the masses on a daily basis these days. Yet I suspect more people discuss the works of Shakespeare, and that he is in fact better remembered some five centuries on.

Now I obviously have no illusions that I’m going to be where Shakespeare is even a century from now (unless you mean six feet under), but my point is that given society’s increasingly short collective memory, if you want to be remembered, it’s not enough to live fast, die young and leave a good looking (or bald and bloated) corpse: no, you actually have to do something, and also leave something behind. ‘Lust for Death’ is by no means my bid to write myself to immortality, but the idea of producing a work that touches on the issues of (dis)remembrance in a format that may or may not endure or have any future significance is once I find most intriguing, while also demonstrating the kind of knowing self-reflexivity that is common to much postmodern literature. That right now I’m also deeply fascinated by the economics of art in the post-postmodern age is perhaps one for later…

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