Ray Bradbury died. I’m not sure what to say about that. I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago in my blog about Neil Gaiman, said that there wasn’t better company that Gaiman could be in amongst the living. I feel really weird about that paragraph now. What a new and peculiar corner I’ve painted myself into. So, by way of a sort of posthumous retraction: There’s not better company one could be in. Period.
So of course I started thinking about the other greats that we’ve lost. My first brush with this sort of dead hero experience was when Freddie Mercury died. I know that seems weird. I was nine. But I had a really strange childhood and I knew every word to every Queen album. I just remember being sad about it and listening to A Night at the Opera on vinyl with my dad. More recently, when Hunter S. Thompson died I definitely had a little come-apart. I was in the car with my sisters when we heard it on the radio. I started bawling and the older sister said “You going to be ok?” in a non-sympathetic, non-fan kind of way. I nodded and sobbed. The younger sister said “Who’s Hunter S. Thompson?” And I sobbed some more. For completely different reasons.
But worse than that is thinking about the ones we will lose. Do you guys realize how old some of these people are? We are going to have to deal with the deaths of Stan Lee, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Queen Elizabeth, Hugh Hefner, Woody Allen. And those are just the ones we can see coming. Nevermind some out-of-nowhere River Pheonix/Heath Ledger/Kurt Cobain shit.
Urgh. How depressing. Sorry I’m being a total downer, guys.
I don’t remember which was the first Bradbury book I read. I think it was Fahrenheit 451, which is still my favorite. I was going through a dystopian scifi phase at the time, but that one blew Brave New World and 1984 out of the water. And always will. I’m way more scared of books being banned than Big Brother taking over. (That’s already happened and I’m getting along just fine.) The thing about Bradbury that makes him stand out among the writers with whom he’s usually grouped is that his work doesn’t focus so much on whatever wacky shit is happening, but more on the people involved. The characters seem to take the weirdness as a matter of course, and we get lost in their reactions, in their humanity. There’s something really profound about a writer who can make the world just fall away, you know?
I was recently in the used bookstore in Arcata and I found a copy of Green Shadows, White Whale. I’d never heard of it. Bradbury’s one of those authors whose stuff has so permeated our culture that you think you know all of their work. So I bought it and was completely shocked that it wasn’t scifi. Not even close. It’s the most lovely and weird book about Ireland and Moby Dick, of all things. A great exploration of obsession, of culture, of writery pain and finding beauty where you thought there would be none. And fifteen years after becoming a fan I thought, Holy shit, Ray Bradbury. You, sir, are incredible. Because it doesn’t always have to be the odd or the alien that draws us in and makes us remember what we’re made of. As a rabid scifi/fantasy consumer I tend to forget that. I forget that there are things all around us all the time that can hold up a mirror and make us think about what we are, and drop us on our ass when we realize what we’re not. That seems important. Worth holding on to.
I’m just babbling now. I’m sad. When I’m sad I don’t articulate well. This doesn’t really seem like a good time for a review or a critique anyway. On the upside, I haven’t exhausted Bradbury’s catalogue yet. There are quite a few of his books I haven’t gotten around to. So I’m not left hanging in that horrible void of author love that exists in the space after the last book is finished. For now, that’s comforting.
Some quotes from Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). May you rest in peace.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”