Songs For The Dead
I like to write about dead people.
From the most bizarre known murders in Canadian history, to the untimely passing of artists who were dear to me: I dive right into talking about death.
I have always done so. I think it’s healthy. If you can’t talk about birth or death, then you will have a hell of a time dealing with everything in between. So I tell myself.
When an artist I love dies, I feel it hard. Even when I don’t want to experience anything; even when I feel egotistical for making it about me, I am hit with an unavoidable sense of loss.
It’s as if I didn’t realize how much I cared about a person I’d never met until they left the planet.
When Toronto actor Tracy Wright died in 2010, I felt a targeted stab into my spirit. This funny, older lady was like my cool theatre company aunt who always gave me the best advice. Her presence onscreen made me feel seen. Isn’t that odd? What connection did I really have to her, apart from being another Canadian performer? Another human woman. I guess that’s all.
Her death really gave me a good jolt. Naturally, I wrote a song about it:
an earthquake when you pass
the archer aims at the stars
leave you here for three days
with an ancient wisdom
See, in late-2010, I was deeply entrenched in my very own Dark Night of the Soul. Shit was getting scary. I didn’t know how it would end; how to climb up and out of the deep well of despair in which I resided. I took solace in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying when my husband handed it to me one tearful evening.
I read every page.
I felt something come alive in me. Something resilient was born.
Then Tracy died.
And then, Ryan and I uprooted our lives and moved to Nova Scotia, based on nothing but a hunch that we needed the change.
A few months later, just after we’d settled into our shitty apartment in Halifax, Don Van Vliet died.
Now, that was a doozy. Captain Beefheart’s existence had propelled us into increasingly courageous musical and mystical territory. With Don’s departure, we each felt ourselves spiritually laid up. Flattened by awareness, inspiration, conviction… symbolic sadness. Genuine despair. Ryan took up visual art, at my urging, in part spurred by our shared love of Don’s music and paintings. I took a long look in the proverbial mirror at myself and saw a woozily esoteric artist blinking back at me.
For the first time, I saw myself as an avant-garde writer and performer instead of just a struggling musician.
When strangers die, sometimes they help us mourn the distance we have always felt from our genuine selves.
Why am I rambling about all of this now? Well, Mark Lanegan died on February 22. I played it cool when I learned of his death (via none other than Iggy Pop on Instagram - what is this absurd ether-world we all share?) Truthfully, his death struck me with force. Slowly, like a comically oversized soccer ball to the back. It sent me stumbling forward a lot faster than I’m comfortable with.
It also made me feel exhilarated.
I revisit his music and interviews with a quieter, yet renewed interest.
His voice reeled me into a passionate decades-long love affair with one of my favourite bands way back in 2000. Ryan has been listening to his music for the last couple of years almost excessively. I have approved, but also wondered: why?
We feel each other, like it or not. Fight it or not. Whether we gaze upon our individual lives as mere facets of chaos, or as intricate parts of a whole. We are connected by this big ol’ ball in space on which we reside.
In June 2010, the day after Tracy’s death, we were hit in Central Canada with the most powerful earthquake in 65 years. Just raucous enough to collapse some bridges and do some damage, and to throw us all out of complacency.
The day after Mark’s death in Ireland this year, Putin announced the start of Russian military operations in Ukraine.
Tiny ripples in humanity eventually turn into giant waves.
We feel it, breath it, absorb it, read it, hear, see, intuit and devour it all, in our uniquely fucked-up ways. For me, it is the idiosyncratic, chronically under-appreciated creators who guide me, like loved ones, through the mire and lead me to safer ground. It’s the lauded, yet widely unknown artists who burrow into my heart and stay there.
Till death, and beyond.
Your writing is so profound.