I caught the tail end of Letterman last night. Bill Murray was on, and it was the last show before the big finale, so I tuned in. There was vodka and cake and a palpable sense of sadness, even desperation maybe, but not because the show was coming to an end necessarily.
I got the sense, in the moment, that I did years ago when reading the Dylan Thomas poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. It was a brief flash of revelation, of insight. I remember sitting there in Brenda Wineapple’s class, first semester college freshman at Union, vaguely attracted to English as a major because I liked to read and write, and largely directionless on everything else.
In some respects, not much has changed.
Anyway, we’re reading through the poem, and picking it apart, and we hit the “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” line, where the narrator is fiercely imploring his father, apparently on his deathbed, to fight against the coming and inevitable close of his life. It is a very moving scene, between father and son, but the sudden flash I felt – this ‘a ha’ moment – was that Thomas saw the inevitability of his own end in the final struggles of his father’s life. This overwhelming realization of his own mortality. That was my take, anyway, on why the language is so desperate and strong, because if Dad was going to go, well…
And I saw that a little bit in Murray’s eyes, and saw Dave recognize it, but also put up the blast shield of humor so as to protect himself, perhaps, from blubbering.
Either way, both men knew – recognized anyway – that it was not only the end of an era, but maybe also – like Thomas – glimpsed the end of their own eras. I grew up with Letterman, so maybe I got it, too.
So Why Won’t They Remember Letterman?
It is a new era, and I’m not sure where this one ends. Or how.
You see, Murray left the studio and went out into the street attempting to rally New Yorkers into something memorable and moving perhaps. The cameras followed him, a whirling mess of sincerity and emotion, as he tried to create an impromptu moment of tribute, his own moment of raging I suppose.
And here’s where it fell apart. I watched, dumbstruck, as this opportunity to be a part of something, of being in the right place at the right time, simply died as hundreds of cell phones popped up trying get that selfie with Murray, or chronicle the event. Murray just stood there, trying to express himself, yet curiously impotent and alone in this sea of idiots.
I sigh as I write this. Like so many of my posts, I worry about where we’re going these days. The enormity of the changes over the past 20 years or so so seems to have put us on a shallow and ephemeral path. I worry about my kids, and wonder what the end game is. And, as I’ve pointed out quite often, my generation is the last one that will have experienced life both before and after the so-called digital age. My kids only know iPads and Google – that is their reality. My parents – who are closer to Letterman and Murray’s generation – are not immersed in technology.
We are fast becoming spectators-in-real-time to our own lives. We find proof of life only through the captured image of ourselves living, and not the deeper experience of being in the moment – of feeling.
[Tweet “We are fast becoming spectators-in-real-time to our own lives….”]
The people so desperate to Tweet or capture or chronicle this moment with Murray, at the end of Letterman and in the greatest city in the world will have no real recollection of the moment. How it felt, what it smelled like or tasted. Because they weren’t in the moment; too busy trying to capture it, to prove, perhaps, that they were there and alive, and leaving them ultimately with only an image, but not a memory.
That’s why they won’t remember it. Because they were never really there. Just on the outside, and through a screen.
Am I raging? Maybe, but even if it hurts I’ll choose engagement – of living – over being a spectator. Every single time.