Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Through the Heart (Steve Irwin and Elliott Smith)

Steve Irwin died on September 4th, victim of a stingray barb through the heart. I wasn't one of the Crocodile Hunter's most devoted followers, but I class him in a group of people who have my respect, simply on the basis of their single-mindedness... with people like Bob Ross and Al Sharpton. He's one of a few strange public personalities, breaks in the mass-produced static of mediated culture, whose sheer force of identity and personality elevate them above the cesspool of the entertainment industry.

Irwin's death makes me think of another recently-deceased entertainer, who I would also place in the above category. This is Elliott Smith, who I associate with Irwin because he died in a similar way: pierced through the heart at the height of his career in a movingly tragic and surreally fitting spasm of mortality. Both Smith and Irwin died in the throes of their own passion, and the cardiac trauma seems almost a badge of their parallel tragedies.

Even as I write this, I ask myself: how can I talk about these deaths as though they have some sublime meaning? Is it possible for any death to be "fitting"? Is it deeply cynical to make such a tenuous connection between two unrelated entertainers, a connection based on the similar circumstances of their deaths? Am I being profoundly trite by making such a big deal out of "death by pierced heart"?

I hope not... what really characterizes these two, and ultimately connects them, was their passion and single-minded devotion to a way of life. Their deaths were the culmination of their lives, and these two individuals spent their prime years creating new meaning and diffusing ideas into the slipstream. I suppose it's only natural that I try, however artificially, to attach a meaning to Irwin's death in the fevers of nature, and to Elliott Smith's death in the tremors of his own epic emotional swings.

I feel almost overwhelmed by cliche at this point, so I'm going to draw this meditation to a close. I'll just throw my last thought out there: an individual can face death as the final spark in a long chain of circumstance, or they can face it as a part of a life fully-lived, built around a broadly-constructed personal experience of the world. Steve Irwin managed the latter, and when my time comes, I hope I'll do the same.

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