I’m older than the average metal blogger. Increasing age brings pluses and minuses. The chief advantage — and sometimes it feels like the only plus — is that it’s better than the fucking alternative. One of the disadvantages is that as the years roll on, you endure more deaths.
Time passes, and people die. People in your family die. Close friends die. People you don’t know but admire from afar, they die, too. Sometimes you see it coming and you can prepare. Sometimes it just knocks you down like all the air has been violently sucked from your lungs.
All deaths of people you know or people you wish you had known are painful. The most painful are the unexpected deaths, particularly when they happen in completely random, apparently meaningless ways, to people who have a lot of life left to live. Like the death of Makh Daniels, the vocalist of Early Graves.
I’ve already written more about this sad event than I probably should have, but I have few more things to get off my chest, and then I’m done. Promise. It has to do with whether we can take away any useful lessons from his death — or from the death of anyone. (more after the jump . . .)
When I first wrote about Makh Daniels’ death the day it happened, I said there were no lessons to be learned from it. I’ve continued to think about that, partly because I’ve also been thinking about the cancer death of a friend last week. He helped me a long time ago in a way that changed the trajectory of my life, and I’d lost touch with him. I wish I hadn’t.
But the more I think about what lessons can be drawn from death, the more I still come out at the same place — that there are no fucking lessons. But I do want to explain why I feel that way.
When tragedy strikes, particularly the mortal kind, human beings usually try to find something positive or useful from the experience. In part, it’s the need to give meaning to something that may appear meaningless, to find value in a loss, to convince ourselves that our existence is not as frighteningly haphazard and purposeless as random tragedy makes it seem.
The most commonplace lesson that people draw from deaths such as Makh Daniels’ is to “live your life each day as if it were your last.” It’s a very appealing moral. One problem is that it’s almost impossible to put that lesson into practice.
It’s one of those realizations that occurs to you when someone dies unexpectedly, but then daily life eventually resumes, and your resolution to “live life to the fullest” gets replaced with more mundane concerns (like “how can I possibly afford that engine rebuild on my piece-of-shit-car”). We’re just not capable of living life that way — partly because life won’t let us.
But even if we could consistently and literally put that lesson into practice, I doubt it would be a good thing. It would cause some people to throw away their daily concerns (“fuck that bill, it’s my last day, I ain’t paying it!”), and it would cause others to do something stupider than usual on the theory that there’s nothing left to lose: “If this really were my last day, I’d just say fuck it all and do every insane thing I’ve ever thought of doing, and let the consequences be damned.”
But I think for most people, if we genuinely believed today would be our last one, it would cause us to reflect on our lives and to spend the time doing it with family and friends — and that immediate awareness of our mortality would suck the life out of life.
If Makh Daniels had known that the 24 hours ending at 5:30 a.m. on August 2 would be his last day, would he have piled into a van with 8 other dudes and set out for his next tour stop in Reno? Would he have spent his last day getting up on stage and singing for all he was worth to a crowd of headbangers? I dunno, maybe he would have; I had the misfortune of never knowing him. But most people — even most metal musicians — probably wouldn’t.
I tend to think that many of the most exciting parts of our lives come when we’re thinking (consciously or subconsciously) that we’ll live forever — not when we think that this day could be our last.
Acting like each day could be your last sounds like a recipe for decrepitude. Think of a world populated entirely by old folks in nursing homes. Just doesn’t seem metal to me. It doesn’t seem like it would produce the kind of world I’d want to inhabit.
There’s another lesson I sometimes think about when the cosmos rubs my fucking nose in the fact of death. It’s not, “live each day as if it were your last.” Instead, it’s “treat other people you encounter each day as if it were their last day.” Which is a thought I suspect the friends of Makh Daniels have been having this week.
I tend to think a lot of good would come from that attitude. Of course, it’s another lesson that’s impossible for normal human beings to put into practice on any kind of consistent basis. The first time some motherfucker cuts you off in traffic, that lesson will go right out of your head.
And once again, I don’t think it’s a lesson we can or should draw from death. Yes, if you could put that lesson into practice, it would make you more forgiving, more charitable, more kind-hearted, more self-sacrificing. All of those are positive things. They’re all qualities we should practice more consistently and more seriously, for their own sake — but tempered with some judgment.
Some people just do not deserve to be treated as if this day were their last. Some people do not deserve your sacrifice. Some do. And you deserve the payment of your time and energy, too. And the necessity of performing that balancing act, every fucking day, is what requires judgment, because there’s only so much of you to go around.
Life being what it is, we simply can’t surrender ourselves to every other person as if we really knew they could die before the next sunrise.
I’m afraid that following that “lesson” (treating every person as if it were their last day), like the first one, would suck the life out of life. It would not bring peace of mind. It would not make the death of others less painful. It’s a recipe for having no regrets. And living — really living — is not about avoiding choices that could cause you to regret. It’s about accepting the inevitable risk that everything you do, and don’t do, carries with it the potential for regret.
There is also this: Would you want to be treated by other people as if this day were your last? I wouldn’t. Do you think Makh Daniels wanted to be treated that way? I don’t fucking know for sure, but I doubt it. Listen to this song, and then you tell me:
To sum up: In my very humble, half-witted opinion, there are no profound lessons to be learned from Makh Daniels’ death, or from anyone’s death. All the rest of us can do — those of us who still live but could die tomorrow — is to do the best we fucking can, and we can do that best, not by focusing on death, but by fucking living. By doing things that are insane, by doing things that are self-sacrificing and charitable, by being grateful for the people who make our lives more thrilling or for just being there when we need help, by remembering the joy we got from people like Makh.
As they used to say in the church in which I was raised, and have since replaced with the Church of Metal, “here endeth the lesson.”