Over the past few days I have been thinking long and hard about my burgeoning career and where it may lead, if anywhere. Hours spent contemplating what I will be allowed to give the world has led to thoughts of how I might be eulogized. What will be said about me depends on what I do in life and the man I hope to become. When I think about these things, more like agonize and worry about them, I reflect on some of those people that have come and gone, and how we can look back on their bodies of work, and what legacy they left us to cherish.
Hunter S. Thompson, my biggest literary influence, took his own life with a handgun and a short piece written four days before his death that stands as his suicide note. Hunter lived hard, fast, and loose, and in his time wrote some of the greatest pieces of journalism and writing that stands as a testament to a style of writing he invented. Hunter went out on his own terms, a fitting end that he was destined for. That man was withering away and his mind was going, as well as his work, but he took the bullet train to the afterlife so he could torment Nixon on the other side, and this was the way he wanted it.
But his timely death at his own hand makes me wonder what we might think of if he had passed on sooner. What if Hunter had killed himself in the early eighties, at the peak of his popularity? What if he had been cut down in his prime doing his work, some violent crime, or died accidentally covering a story? What would our outlook be had he passed on in the years just after Nixon?
This makes me think of Elvis Presley. What if he had died in the war instead of on his bathroom floor addicted to painkillers, overweight, and a shadow of his former self? We might talk of him cut down in his prime, gone before he could give the world more. We would not have the jokes of dying on the toilet, or the images of the ‘fat elvis’ to chuckle about. The masses would morn his passing as a light snuffed out and taken from us, a far cry from the way he went out.
My thoughts also turn to Kurt Cobain. He went out with a gun blast as well, the last thing to cross him mind being a load of buckshot and his last sight seen a muzzle blast. What if Kurt had not died in that manner? What if he had lived on maybe even today, what would we think of him? Would he be like a Keith Richards? A drug addled skeleton that looks like the living dead, defying all odds and making it to red carpet events with skin like a road map of Austin, Texas.
Would Kurt have kept putting out great albums? We certainly would not feel that he was gone before his time or a light snuffed out by the very drugs and lifestyle that bore such great music, if he was still making records. He would be an old celebrity, maybe a fallen star, someone who used to have a career but now can only reminisce about the good old days with Nirvana. What kind of music could he make now, “Smells like mid-life crisis”? Would we look at him and frown, feel bad for the guy? Is this better than having snuffed out his own candle at the height of his success to leave an unrealized legacy?
It seems that we hold in regard those that were victims of their own demise and were taken from us before they had a chance to finish their life’s work. We hold them close, mourn their loss, but it may have been the only way for them. Hunter certainly went out the way he wanted, and maybe he could have done it sooner to be one of those taken too soon. It may be sad that we have lost people who punched the ticket to their last big ride, but would we rather have had them fade in to obscurity and almost pity for them when they might have become just a sad side show act, like a fat elvis or a disgraced Michael Jackson? Think about it, if Michael had died in the early nineties, we would have a completely different outlook on him, and pedophilia would not be synonymous with his name as it is today.
I have always subscribed to the old adage that you should ‘live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.’ I would rather be ‘struck down in my prime’, ‘passed with so much more to offer the world’, or ‘died the only way he knew how to live, on his own terms’, than to have come and gone in success and to be a punchline in connection to falling to pieces. I also have a few jokes that I make about my eventual demise; I want to be killed by a stray bullet, or a wild animal like a bengal tiger, as long as I have a camera in my hands I don’t care which. I smoke like a chimney, drink like a fish, and do not take care of myself. I have no intention to live past 50, like Hunter, and I will go out on my own terms, as he did, so as to avoid my own ‘Fat Elvis’ phase. It seems that this is better than having once been great, and then fallen from grace. The end of the world will not come with a bang, but with a whimper, and I respect those that refused to go the way of the world, that is, after all, what made them great when they were with us.