Aug 052010

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:

Early Graves: Wraiths

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.”

14 Responses to “LESSONS?”

  1. ibc99 says:

    Beautiful, well written, and touching. The suddenness of tragedy is so offensive, but the lesson may just be that if you still have the chance, then stick your chest out, hold your head up, and put one foot in front of the other…

  2. deaths_embrace says:

    These last couple of posts have been tough for me. My stepson died on October 10th. LIke Makh’s friends and family, my wife and I were never were able to say goodbye and to tell him that we loved him. He drowned in a river after he fell off a stairway leading to an abandoned building. The sad thing is that he hasn’t been the only one. There have been several children that have fallen from those stairs and died. He hit his head when he fell and was knocked unconcious and drowned. His death was a needless tragedy that could have been avoided. He was only 13 and was my wife’s only son. HIs death reflects the death of Makh Daniel’s. It was senseless and happened with no warning. Two young people were taken from us way too early. The only lesson to take from these senseless deaths is that life is full of pain, but you have to pick yourself up and force yourself to move foward. The pain never gets easier and time doesn’t not heal wounds. You just learn to cope with that pain. It becomes a part of you and you accept that it will always be there. It’s at that point that you can make peace with yourself and with what happened and begin to move on.

    • Islander says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your stepson’s death. I really can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child. What you say makes sense to me — that time doesn’t heal wounds like this, and that all you can do is accept that the pain will always be there and move ahead. I’m sure that’s much easier to say than to do, but the alternative is to become emotionally disabled, and that’s not much of an alternative.

      • deaths_embrace says:

        I hope you never have to get that phone call, or the agony that it brings. That day will live with me forever.

  3. Utmu says:

    It’s posts like this one that make a person think. I love posts like this. Thanks Islander.

    • Utmu says:

      Although, I still find the death of a metalhead I don”t even know hits close to home for some reason, even to the point that I feel like I almost knew them. I was trying to get into Early Graves after hearing about Goner on Invisible Oranges, and I was saddened by Makh’s death. RIP Makh.

      Also, death’s_embrace, I’m sorry for your loss.

      • Islander says:

        Thank you for your comments. I felt the same way — for some reason, even though I never met Makh Daniels, his death really hit me, maybe because I was thinking about someone else’s death at the same time. And now, I’m thinking about death’s_embrace . . . Unfortunately, the experience of death, and the fear of it, is something that unites all of us. It’s a good thing we don’t have to deal with it alone.

        • deaths_embrace says:

          Thanks for your condolences. It means a lot to me and to my wife, even though she doesn’t know that I wrote about this. It’s hard to know when to bring our stepson up, we are still in that time when you can’t quite anticipate how she will react. Sometimes she smiles, other times she cries when she smiles, or every once in a while, she will completely break down and lose it. I am grateful that the latter moments are few and far between.

          And I am sorry if I depressed the blog. It just struck a chord with me and it felt like the right time to get something off my chest.

          I think about the metal muscians we lost this year. The Rev from AX7, Mike Alexander from Evile, Ronnie James Dio and Makh Daniels are the ones that come first to mind…I’m sure there are more. While I may not like the music some individuals put out, I respect their talents as musicians. Something I would sell my soul (if I had one) to have. Here is a big metal FUCK YOU to you guys. We love you and you are missed. I hope in whatever afterlife there is, you guys are keeping metal alive and blowing people away.

          • Islander says:

            Hey, you didn’t depress the blog. I feel privileged that this post gave you a chance to share some of what you and your wife have gone through. I didn’t mention it earlier, but I have two close friends (who are also close friends with each other) who both lost children. One was run over by a car while playing near his house and the other simply disappeared with her boyfriend in a flash flood while traveling in Asia. They and their wives don’t talk about it much, but it’s always so close to the surface, and it’s heart-wrenching to watch when those thoughts sometimes break through. I thought about them when you described your wife. It’s all heart-breaking.

            • deaths_embrace says:

              Tell your friends that my wife and I give our condolences. We will be thinking about them.I hope someday soon they will be able to find peace in the midst of the pain that they are feeling. Tell them about Compassionate Friends if they don’t know about them already. They are an excellent support group for parents who have lost children.

  4. ibc99 says:

    Reading these responses has taken my thoughts of this website from an area of genuine interest to one of complete respect. I am generally sickened by most everything we are saturated with in America that would be considered pop culture. The honesty, reflection, pain, and ultimately, unity that I see here inspires me and gives me hope that we are more than tools on tv that wear sunglasses inside of buildings.

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