Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Goners*



Goners: The Final Hours of the Notable and Notorious
By Gordon Kerr
Abrams Image, $18.95 cloth
ISBN 978-0810-98364-9


So there I was, buried in student papers last weekend, grades due Monday, and I needed a book to distract me in the few moments I would allow myself some time off. This is how I came to read Gordon Kerr’s book, Goners: The Final Hours of the Notable and Notorious.

“What?” you might ask. “Did Moby Dick fall behind the book case?”

I was looking for the literary equivalent of junk food, and Kerr’s book did not disappoint. In fact, I gave it rather more attention than such a tabloidesque piece of entertainment nonfiction deserves.

In short, Kerr’s book details the final hours of a number of famous people as diverse as Sylvia Plath, Tupac Shakur, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson*, and film star Natalie Wood. He takes us through the death scene, the post mortem, the conspiracy theories, the place of final repose.

Right from the get go, I need to say that this is a book badly in need of a line editor. Grammar errors abound. In addition, no sources are listed, and some of the information is a stretch of the truth, but this is entertainment first, and journalism twenty-fifth, if you know what I mean. And as a teacher I once worked with wrote on a senior English paper, “It’s bullshit, but it is entertaining bullshit!”

Take the death of young actor River Phoenix. Did you know that he was working on a film called Dark Blood where he played “a hermit living on a nuclear testing site, waiting for the end of the world” when he died one night at the Sunset Boulevard club the Viper Room? Or that he went to the club to see some friends who were playing there that night, including “Flea, bass player of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; Al Jourgenson from Ministry; and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers?” The piece de resistance? Actress Christina Applegate was at the club that night and witnessed the seizures Phoenix had before he expired on the sidewalk outside the club from a massive overdose of cocaine and morphine. She later reenacted the grand mal moment as “an anti-drug dance piece.”

Need I go on? I think not. Suffice to say, that this is reading for the rabid and morbid. It served my purposes quite well: I finished my grading for Monday’s deadline, and had something to do with my tired brain while wolfing down a turkey sandwich between exegeses on the right to think as portrayed in the drama, Inherit the Wind. Next to student papers like that, this book was infinitely superior and gripping. (Insert insane laughter and organ music here.)

Now if someone would just tell me who are the Butthole Surfers.

*As Lauren pointed out in the comments, Brian Wilson is very much alive. Dennis Wilson has departed for the big beach in the sky. My mistake and now it is fixed. Thanks, Lauren.