Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Belated RIPs

After I got that fruit out of my system, I looked up some info for the Star Party, and noticed that Jeff Medkeff died exactly one year ago yesterday. Doesn't seem that long ago, but it reminded me that I let another important death pass without comment.

Actually, I let several slip by.
  • David Carradine: No! Bad Grasshopper! Bad! What a way to allegedly go. Bad enough dying by asphyxiation; gotta be even worse to feel your spine curve and hair grow on your palms right before the end.
  • Ed McMahon: Always liked Ed, but my fondness for him was mostly because of his association with someone more famous. (Not that I can relate to that.) He had it rough at the end with his health and his finances (I think the last time we saw him was on a Cash4Gold ad during the Superbowl), but he knew how to work that giant novelty check.
  • Farrah Fawcett: Like most guys my age, I felt Farrah's greatest work was the red swimsuit poster from 1976. Her right nipple sent more boys into, through, out of, and back into puberty than all the 20-something third grade homeroom teachers in America put together. Now, every memory I have about her last days and death are tainted because I just read that Ryan O'Neal hit on his daughter Tatum at Farrah's funeral. Uncool. You gotta give your daughter at least a month to mourn her stepmother's death before you try to have sex with her.
  • Gidget the Chihuahua: Got a national commercial campaign and did two movies with Reese Witherspoon. Good gig for an animal bred to either shake or pee at all times. I've got a soft spot for chihuahuas, but 15 is ancient.
  • Walter Cronkite: Now I'm depressed. When he told us something, we believed it until he told us differently. We don't give that trust to, say, Katie Couric or Geraldo. For good reason, too. But Cronkite was, what, 92? That was a big life.
Seems like I'm forgetting someone...

Oh right! Michael Jackson. I was never a fan of his music, to be honest. He had one great song (of course I mean Blame it on the Boogie) and one good move (making Jay Leno stop telling jokes about his child molestation trial). Every mention of his name during the last 20 years was followed by a slow head-shake and a chill up the spine. He sustained the careers of many mediocre comedians and all late-night talk show hosts for more than a decade -- he was the airline seat belt lecture of pop music.

But the one I want to mention is a man who had a subtle but major impact on me: David Eddings, died two months ago.

Eddings was a decent-not-great epic fantasy author. He had basically one plot idea which he and his wife stretched into two five-book series and two trilogies. And that plot idea was suspiciously similar to Lord of the Rings.

But those were the first books I read that built a world from scratch (this was before I read LotR). Eddings had created separate cultures and histories and mythologies and tied them together in one complex story with clunky dialog. I'm sure this outs me as a Righteous Nerd to the one or two people there who hadn't guessed it already.

So be it, but losing myself in epic fantasy books kept me sane through high school, college, and every long plane ride since. It opened me up to grander works such as Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series and Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books.

Eddings wrote his last book in 2006, not long before Leigh died.

It's hard for me to argue that he deserved more press coverage than anyone else mentioned here (except maybe Gidget, but we are nuts for our puppies -- ya hear that, Michael Vick, you stupid bastard?). Yet his work opened up some doors for me that have stayed open since. I'm sorry he's gone, and I'll remember him fondly. Might even reread his books. RIP Mr. Eddings.

Maudlin Postscript: August 5, 2009 is the 60th Anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire. I'm working on a talk about that event, the ignorance and poor communication that caused it, and the science that spawned from it. If you're local to Atlanta, stay tuned!

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