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June 20th, 2013 / 1:44 pm
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Crying Woolf

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On October 26, 1984, nineteen-year-old John McCollum committed suicide by shooting himself in the head while listening to “Suicide Solution” by Ozzy Osbourne. The former’s parents would later file a lawsuit against the latter, claiming there were “hidden lyrics” telling listeners to shoot themselves. At two minutes into it, between verses, Ozzy does sort of mumble away from the mic what sounds like “soot, soot…haha,” which wife/witness Sharon attributed to her husband’s “minimal” command of the English language. The opening lines wine is fine but whiskey’s quicker / suicide is slow with liquor seem to borrow both cadence and conceit from Dorothy Parker’s “Resumé¹,” in which she offers life as a disappointing alternative to rather uncomfortable death options. Likewise, Ozzy’s lyrics also end in an anti-suicide predictably pro-inebriation stance: take a bottle, drown your sorrows / then it floods away tomorrows. The court dismissed the McCollum lawsuit, ruling that their son’s suicide was just that. His parents wanted someone to blame, because they couldn’t bear blaming themselves. God is the one scapegoat who never talks back, so in the end we all hold him liable, and finally quiet down.

I find this somewhat troubling, but I enjoy that Virginia Woolf drowned herself. It augments the nostalgia of the writing, coaxes meaning, which I know is some childish, even obscene, mechanism in my head. I get to carry the image of her at Ouse river, in Sussex, walkable from her home, and — with the amateur empathy of a reader — put myself into her mind on March 28, 1941, as I had done with her words, a place that ultimately made me, through feeling sad, feel good. May art be the aesthetic masochism which turns bad feelings pleasurable. I know this is selfish, but she’s nowhere. Literature is like being an organ donor. Once you’re dead, they can do anything to you.

Admiration is often irresponsible. You love those you shouldn’t, and mistreat those who love you. Until the universe at large carpets itself wall-to-wall as a therapist’s room, we’ll just have to get by being a little sick. Virginia suffered from severe depression, as do and did many of her fans, perhaps including everyone involved in her countless cultural burial excavations. She was not found until three weeks later, the stones in her pocket keeping her safe from the birds — from the water’s surface, where sight is a collaboration with memory. Maybe we are fascinated with seeing dead bodies because that is our ultimate costume. My favorite book of hers, To the Lighthouse (1927), contained a lot of looking at something decreased in size, which is only possible with distance. To defend a dead person is to continuously tear into them, to impose more silence on them. The words she wrote when she was alive, which I read when she was dead, made me feel more alive before I was dead.