On Friday we went to the funeral of a family member who had died, finally, after many years of crises that had come about through his apparent determination to drink himself to death. We had been prepared to be saddened, if not immobilised by the terrible and depressing circumstances of his final years. After all, he had once been a conscientious academic in the faculty of Drama at a rural university. In his lifetime he had directed and performed many plays and cabarets, both his own and others'. In fact, it was this person who had first introduced me to the plays of Samuel Beckett, through a production of short pieces he had directed with his students. Although it was only about a year or so later that I saw productions of Beckett's most well-known plays by the company, as I've been reminded since, that Beckett himself directed, I know that it was the intimacy and even amateurish directness of those student pieces that had touched me more profoundly than the supposedly brilliant productions of Beckett I saw later.
Less than a decade ago, this family member who had directed his students in a series of Beckett short plays had taken very early retirement, and after this so much had gone wrong for him. His marriage split up, a computer crash saw the loss of most of his major literary and musical works — he was a prolific writer of songs, cabarets, plays, and poems — but while many people have copies of some of these, it was the long and complex novel that he supposedly wrote and finished on that one never-backed-up computer whose annihilation is most complete — all this and, what was far more devastating for everyone around him (especially his young adult children and his sister who looked after him in the years that followed), he took to alcohol in a serious and doggedly self-destructive way. He nearly died three years ago from some kind of internal bleeding in the brain that had been brought on by the sheer intensity of his drinking; several weeks ago, there was another crisis from which he never recovered. And yet his funeral — all of it: the eulogies, the tears, and the splendidly wild and energetic wake — was so exuberant and rich and not at all sober, that we knew by the end that we had celebrated a life that had been lived to the full. After all, he had been one whose summary, we'd learned, of Waiting for Godot could run (with a tune) to four simple lines:
I want to take my shoes off
I want a bigger hat
Intellectuals can piss off
There's no more to it than that
(vale Andrew McCue)