Eleven years ago today my dad, Bruce Dickie, died. He was 83. I miss him every day. I wrote about Dad last year on this day, too.
Recently I came across an article about how the ravages of war become etched on the faces of young soldiers. They show close-up pictures of dozens of Scottish soldiers before, during and after serving in Afghanistan along with their comments. If you ever needed further testimonial to the insanity, destructiveness and uselessness of war, look into the eyes of these men. In every case, the innocence, hope and clarity of the first photograph transmogrifies by the third photograph into reflected horror, soul death and hopelessness. Instead of innocence, their faces convey only fear, instead of hope there is loss and despair, instead of clarity, they are haunted by memories of unspeakable horrors.
Similar changes were wrought upon the face of another Scotsman, my father Bruce Dickie, before, during and after he saw combat as a lance bombardier in WWII from 1942 to 1945. In a series of pictures he sent Mom while he was overseas, the transformation of my father’s face is obvious and frightening.
This first picture was taken in London just after he arrived overseas in 1942. He was a fresh-faced farm boy from the Canadian prairies.
The next picture was taken in Aberdeen, Scotland in late 1943 after Dad had seen combat. Experience and sadness lurk in his eyes and his serious expression.
The third picture was taken in Amsterdam near the end of the war in 1945. Innocence is gone, replaced with aggression, his eyes are wild and his teeth are bared. No other image ever taken of my father is more heartbreaking for me than this one.
The horrors of battle that Dad witnessed become progressively more evident on his face in each photograph. Dad signed each picture he sent to Mom but it was only on the last one that he mentions love. Dad lived another 55 years after that last picture was taken. Quietly and peacefully he died of old age eleven years ago today. Luckily he never had to live in a post-911 world.
“Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” John Lennon was assassinated on this day in 1980 by Dakota “doorman” Jose Perdomo, longtime CIA hitman and mind control agent. I miss John but we still have his music and his thoughts to challenge and comfort us. “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” “Everybody loves you when you’re six feet in the ground.” “I’m not claiming divinity. I’ve never claimed purity of soul. I’ve never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can. But I still believe in peace, love and understanding.” “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” “My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.” “The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” “We all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.” Watch a video of Mind Games. What’s with happy deathday?
“You can’t write a chord ugly enough to say what you want sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.” I miss Frank. He died of prostate cancer on this day in 1993. He was 52. We can still tune in to some of Frank’s thoughts. “Take the Kama Sutra. How many people died from the Kama Sutra as opposed to the Bible? Who wins?” “A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.” “It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.” “The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.” “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” “My best advice to anyone who wants to raise a happy, mentally healthy child is: Keep him or her as far away from a church as you can.” “Scientology, how about that? You hold on to the tin cans and then this guy asks you a bunch of questions and if you pay enough money you get to join the master race. How’s that for a religion?” “The United States is a nation of laws, badly written and randomly enforced.” “People make a lot of fuss about my kids having supposedly strange names, but the fact is that no matter what first names I might have given them, it is the last name that is going to get them in trouble.” At a Congressional hearing about parental advisory labels on records, Frank said to Tipper Gore, “May your shit come to life and kiss you on the face.” Read my post on Weasels Ripped My Flesh. Watch Frank’s version of Ravel’s Bolero. (My Sharona at 3:47) What’s with happy deathday?
“I’d join a band with John Lennon anyday, but I wouldn’t join a band with Paul McCartney.” Good choice, George. On this day in 2001 Beatle George died of lung cancer. He was 58. His ashes were scattered in the Ganges River. George left a few thoughts behind for us today. “After all we did for Britain, selling that corduroy and making it swing, all we got was a bit of tin on a piece of leather.” “It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.” “As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a Beatles reunion as long as John Lennon remains dead.” “As long as you hate, there will be people to hate.” “The biggest break in my career was getting into the Beatles in 1962. The second biggest break since then is getting out of them.” “When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.” “You’ve got as many lives as you like, and more, even ones you don’t want.” What’s with happy deathday?
“Nothing is lost, nothing is created … all is transformed. Nothing is the prey of death. All is the prey of life.” – Antoine Béchamp
“All goes onward and outward. Nothing collapses. And to die is different from what anyone supposes…and luckier.” -Walt Whitman
A good question and one asked of me several times since I began the Happy Deathday features on the blog. Don’t misinterpret this as me being happy these people no longer live. That’s not the point at all.
My perspective on this is shamanic and incorporates a shaman’s understanding of death which differs vastly from the mainstream idea of death being scary and unknowable. In the shaman’s world death is simply a change of being, a moving from organic to inorganic, from flesh to Spirit, that faithful old process we’ve lived and died with for eons.
Death is our next opportunity to express our spiritual evolution and put to use the soul building we have done during our life. It is a celebratory moment when we face Great Spirit and obtain final clarity for that lifetime. If we are prepared, if we have trained well during all our lifetimes, we transcend reincarnation, become enlightened and merge with The Light. If we still aren’t ready to achieve that, we contract away from The Light back through the mental realm as a sexual thought then reproduced again in a gross body with all its suffering and bondage. This is also our next opportunity for personal evolution, for pursuing our next level of soul building.
Because we communicate with spirits directly, shamans know that Spirit persists after the elemental needs of the body are gone and the mind is relieved of its duties. Seen simply, sometimes we are alive, sometimes we are dead, always we are Spirit. Since the aftermath of birth is life in the gross reflecting realm and the aftermath of death is heaven, it’s just as appropriate to wish someone a happy deathday. The hope that accompanies the loving wish is that you have used this life as a stepping stone on your path to enlightenment and eternal bliss, that you have done the real work, the necessary work.
“Realism is a bad word. In a sense everything is realistic. I see no line between the imaginary and the real.” Not seeing a line between the imaginery and the real is probably a form of mental illness unless you happen to be Italian film director Federico Fellini, in which case, dream on baby! After living for 73 years and giving the world a unique body of work, Fellini died on this day in 1993 (as did River Phoenix who was 23). Some of Fellini’s thoughts on film and life bear acknowledging today. “A good opening and a good ending make for a good film providing they come close together.” “All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” “I think television has betrayed the meaning of democratic speech, adding visual chaos to the confusion of voices. What role does silence have in all this noise?” “The artist is the medium between his fantasies and the rest of the world.” “You exist only in what you do.” “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.” You can find an earlier post about Fellini directing and watch an erotic scene from Fellini Satyricon here. What’s with deathday?
American poet Richard Brautigan was found in front of a large picture window overlooking the Pacific Ocean, an empty bottle of whisky and a .44 Magnum next to him, on this day in 1984. He’d probably been dead for over a month before his badly decomposed body was discovered. His suicide note said, “Messy, isn’t it?” Brautigan wrote contemporary poetry which either does or doesn’t stand the test of timeliness. I still find him amusing and wise. Here are some samples: “I didn’t know the full dimensions of forever, but I knew it was longer than waiting for Christmas to come.” “All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.” “It’s strange how the simple things in life go on while we become more difficult.” “Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.” “Money is sad shit.” “Im haunted a little this evening by feelings that have no vocabulary and events that should be explained in dimensions of lint rather than words. Ive been examining half-scraps of my childhood. They are pieces of distant life that have no form or meaning. They are things that just happened like lint.” “I will be very careful the next time I fall in love, she told herself. Also, she had made a promise to herself that she intended on keeping. She was never going to go out with another writer: no matter how charming, sensitive, inventive or fun they could be. They weren’t worth it in the long run. They were emotionally too expensive and the upkeep was complicated. They were like having a vacuum cleaner around the house that broke all the time and only Einstein could fix it. She wanted her next lover to be a broom.” “The bookstore was a parking lot for used graveyards. Thousands of graveyards were parked in rows like cars. Most of the books were out of print, and no one wanted to read them any more and the people who had read the books had died or forgotten about them, but through the organic process of music the books had become virgins again.”
Jack Kerouac successfully drank himself to death on this day in 1969. After years of alcohol abuse, his liver wouldn’t let his blood clot and he bled to death. He was 47. From On The Road:“[…] the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ What did they call such young people in Goethe’s Germany?” From The Dharma Bums: “Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said, ‘God, I love you’ and looked to the sky and really meant it. ‘I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other.’ To the children and the innocent it’s all the same.” and “Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running—that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters. And if your cans are redhot and you can’t hold them in your hands, just use good old railroad gloves, that’s all.” A few other random thoughts from Jack’s fertile consciousness: “I’m going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children.” and “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.” and “My witness is the empty sky.” and “Don’t use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.” Ultimately, “I’m writing this book because we’re all going to die.” Watch my short video homage to Jack. What’s with deathday?
“My art belongs to Dada,” songwriter Cole Porter once said. His art leaves a legacy of whimsical, brilliant, sometimes cheeky songs whose interpreters have spanned decades and will continue to do so into the future. Cole never collaborated. He always wrote his own lyrics and music. When asked, “Who wrote ‘Some Enchanted Evening’?” he replied “Rodgers and Hammerstein, if you can imagine it taking two men to write one song.” Asked where he looked for inspiration, Porter quipped, “My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director.” Cole Porter died this day in 1964 at age 73 leaving the world hundreds of marvelous songs. I picked three, all sung by Frank Sinatra who was a major interpreter of Porter’s material. First, hear a young Sinatra swing Night and Day. One of Cole Porter’s best rhymes, and there are hundreds of great ones, can be found in I Get A Kick Out of You: he rhymes spree with ennui. Hear Sinatra sing it. The pinnacle: Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin live by Sinatra with Count Basie’s Orchestra backing him up. The break is wild (Frank just sits down and lets the band go nuts), Frank’s inflection and phrasing is genius and the whole event SWINGS!! Watch this one!
UPDATE: all the links are now dead. Sorry.
What’s with deathday?
Where have you gone, Janis? Morrison and Hendrix have nether careers but you seem to have fallen through the cracks in the rock and roll sidewalk. You were part of the heavy triumvirate of 1960s American music and, like your two brothers, you had to die at age 27.Tell us some thoughts, dear Janis: “I’d rather have ten years of super-hypermost than live to be seventy by sitting in some goddamn chair watching TV.” and “Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people – then I go home alone.” and “I’m one of those regular weird people.” and “Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers. You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely. All you really have that really matters are feelings. That’s what music is to me.” and “Audiences like their blues singers to be miserable.” and “Texas is OK if you want to settle down and do your own thing quietly, but it’s not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous.” Janis died this day in 1970. One final word from her: “It’s hard to be free but when it works, it’s worth it!” Watch Janis sing “Ball & Chain” at Woodstock. What’s with deathday?
Although the inevitable occurred on this day in 1997, during his long productive life, William S. Burroughs said many clever things. “Which came first, the intestine or the tapeworm?” “After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager.'” “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.” “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.” “In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.” “Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.” “There couldn’t be a society of people who didn’t dream. They’d be dead in two weeks.” More advice from Bill. What’s with deathday?