Indianapolis, when he was 9 years old

[…] He wants to tell us things: It is not the fittest who survive – it is
merely those who happen to survive who survive. The earth is a
''fragile habitat'' that our big brains have failed to take care of. We
must hope for flippers and beaks – or nothing at all. We are all,
finally, being too mean to one another. ''I'll tell you what the human
soul is,'' a character in ''Galapagos'' says. ''It's the part of you that knows when your brain isn't working right.'' […]

[…] No matter how
corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our
media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the
music will still be wonderful.

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

Now,
during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept
getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way.
Order couldn’t be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out.

That
war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today’s war is making
trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.

And
how come the people in countries we invade can’t fight like ladies and
gentlemen, in uniform and with tanks and helicopter gunships?

Back
to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she
would be without it. Even military bands, although I am a pacifist,
always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that,
but the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when
they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost
the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit.
That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift
called the blues. All pop music today – jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis
Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on
– is derived from the blues.

A
gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard
was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow,
Poland.

The
wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of
mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this
country – an atrocity from which we can never fully recover – the
suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the
suicide rate among slaves.

Murray
says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing with
depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old
Man Suicide by playing and singing the Blues. He says something else
which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can’t drive depression
clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room
where it’s being played. So please remember that.

Foreigners
love us for our jazz. And they don’t hate us for our purported liberty
and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance. […]

[…] I
went to an overachiever’s high school in Indianapolis, which no longer
exists. It was called Shortridge High School, and since 1906 had a
daily paper. I was an editor of the Shortridge Daily Echo, and
I learned to write. It was beneficial, really, because it made me aware
immediately of the response of readers. You publish something people
don’t like and you hear about it right away.

I knew how to
paste up a front page and write headlines. At the City News Bureau, we
phoned in our stories and we phoned in leads. The first thing you’d say
is who, what, when, where and why. In writing fiction, that’s what I
always did. I made sure the reader knew at once where he was, too.
Fiction is a game for two. You have to make it possible for a reader to
play along.

[…] DAVID BRANCACCIO:
Well, I want to ask you about this. You ask in the book a question that actually you don't answer so I want to –

KURT VONNEGUT:
I'm old.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
But I want to– think about answering this one. You write "what can be
said to our young people now that psychopathic personalities — which is
to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame —
have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and
corporations and made it their own?" What can we say to younger people
who have their whole lives ahead of them?

KURT VONNEGUT:
Well, you are human beings. Resourceful. Form a little society of your own. And, hang out with them. Get a gang.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
You're preaching getting into gangs?

KURT VONNEGUT:
Yes. Well, look, it's–

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
A good gang.

KURT VONNEGUT:
Look, I don't mean to intimidate you, but I have a master's degree in anthropology.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
I'm intimidated.

KURT VONNEGUT:
From the University of Chicago– as did Saul Bellow, incidentally. But
anyway, one thing I found out was that we need extended families. We
need gangs. And, of course, if they're tribes and clans and so forth
have been dispersed by the industrial revolution by people looking for
work wherever they can find it. And a nuclear family, a man, a woman
and kids and a dog and cat is no survival scheme at all. Horribly
vulnerable.

So yes, I tell people to formulate a little gang. And, you know, you love each other. […]

[…] Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to
reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This
makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of
the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about
themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and
intentional, elements of style. […]

[…] One thing which has not changed is that none of us, no matter what
continent or island or ice cap, asked to be born in the first place,
and that even somebody as old as I am, which is 80, only just got here.
There were already all these games going on when I got here. … An apt
motto for any polity anywhere, to put on its state seal or currency or
whatever, might be this quotation from the late baseball manager Casey
Stengel, who was addressing a team of losing professional athletes:
“Can’t anybody here play this game?” […]

[…] What painters and sculptors and writers do, incidentally, is put
very small properties indeed into good order, as best they can.

A painter thinks, "I can't fix the whole planet, but I can at least
make this square of canvas what it ought to be." And a sculptor thinks
the same thing about a lump of clay or marble. A writer thinks the same
about a piece of paper, conventionally eleven inches long and
eight-and-a-half inches wide. […]

[…] I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express.
It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from
which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are
here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I
pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you
can forget it. […]


2 thoughts on “Indianapolis, when he was 9 years old

  1. [this is good] See you on the other side…. after I’ve decompressed a bit.

    Thanks again.

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