I was able to listen to another track from the upcoming Stereolab album Not Music. This song is just fantastic. It’s a faster, uptempo track. Laetitia’s voice is backed by some other female singers (I wonder who they are, is it just Laetitia multitracked?). And the propulsive beat is infectious. The backing track of the music sounds like their earlier experiments with “space age” sounds. Yet the guitar over the top is warm and inviting.
The song drops out at about the 90 second mark and offers a very cool respite from the bopping around that the song is doing. After the break, the song seems to jump back and forth between this new mellow bit and the bouncy earlier part. It’s a great track and a welcome opening to their last CD before going on hiatus. Because, yes, according to the information on the NPR page, Stereolab is going on hiatus.
This CD is full of songs that were created around the time of their previous disc Chemical Chords, and it’s also packed with mixes, remixes and seemingly alternate version of some of those songs. I haven’t heard the whole disc but it sounds like they’re going out with a winner.
[READ: November 15, 2010] “A Good Death: Exit Strategies”
I’ve mentioned before about my reader-relationship with Vollmann–I feel that I ought to read a lot more of him, yet I haven’t brought myself to do it (those books are huge!). Nevertheless, I’ll keep reading the new pieces that I stumble upon.
So this piece is a nonfiction essay. I’m tempted to say it’s more personal than the other pieces that I’ve read because it concerns the death of his father. Yet from the little Vollmann I have read, it feels like he takes all of his writings very personally and invests himself pretty much bodily into them.
So, this piece, as I said, is sort of about the death of his father. He died just a few months ago and Vollmann wants to find out a number of answers about death: should he be afraid of it, will he suffer, what should he expect? So he interviews several “experts” in different fields: coroners, funeral directors and many religious people of different faiths (Vollmann and his companion/translator are agnostic). He’s given a vast array of answers, some of which are comforting to him and others just kind of piss him off.
As with other Vollmann works, this piece is pretty exhaustive. And he asks difficult questions of people who deal with the dead but who may not have asked themselves these questions before. Of a coroner: Can you tell from a corpse’s expression if it suffered? A doctor, faced with the same question says that everyone has agonal breathing when they die. A priest in Mexico says that he has seen many people die. Does everyone suffer? No, he says.
These same individuals weigh in on many different questions: fear of death, the difference between euthanasia and (according to the priest) “dignified death” (which is an interesting choice of words since the assisted suicide movement is all about dignity. The euthanasia discussion leads to some interesting statistics about the efficacy and legal hurdles of assisted suicide. It also leads to a fascinating and gentle discussion with the president of EXIT A.D.M.D. (Association for the Right to Die with Dignity) who talks about historical precedents of people receiving assistance with their own death (from military members to the elderly). He also offers one example where a Catholic woman asked her priest to be there when she took the drugs to end her life. When he was over half an hour late, she stated: “Never mind, we will just go on without this little man.” But he also offers another example that is more heartwarming. A pastor received permission to be with a suffering woman. He told her that no one could criticize her and that everyone loved her. He told her:
“I hope that the light of Christ illuminates the valley of death as you walk through it.” After that phrase, she spontaneously picked up the glass and drank it. She fell asleep in three minutes and died soon after. There is room for spirituality in all of this. Some believe in the Creator but don’t listen to the religious institutions. This pastor really understood. He had the confidence of the family. He did not judge. He did not flee. He was there for them.
A funeral director says that a funeral does not help the victim, that it is purely for the loved ones. And when asked if he wants a funeral, merely shrugs and says that that is the normal thing. Meanwhile, Buddhists think that although suicide is unskillful, palliative sedation is fine (since they feel that people are essentially dying from the day they are born).
A Mormon bishop offers them some very calming advice, suggesting that suffering can make us “More Christlike, more sensitive” but he disagreed with the Mexican priest that daily suffering can prepare you for death.
Vollmann wonders how he would like to die and when. And he accepts the validity of not wanting to think about it. However, as he points out:
in the course of our dying we will obviously become too impaired to decide anything, if we do wish to die in a non-accidental fashion, then logic dictates that we express our wishes while we are still healthy, in much the same way we might draw up a will.
From the little I’ve read of Vollmann I wouldn’t have expected him to be a source of comfort in issues of death, and yet his style is so methodical and deliberate that is rather calming. His tone allows you to face an uncomfortable issue without feeling uncomfortable. One of these days, Vollmann, I’ll tackle your books!