Partially because of a paper for Race and Ethnic Relations class and partially because all of this talk about race in the 2008 presidential election, I have found myself revisiting "The Autobiography of Malcolm X". There are about a million things that are significant about this book, but one thing I have been thinking about recently is how damn entertaining it is. It's so exciting and eventful that it sounds totally made up. Being confronted with this fact has had me wondering exactly how many people are actually qualified to write an autobiography that anyone will read at all, let alone forty-plus years after they're dead. But here's the funny part: it's not like this guy's life was awesome, it was just epically entertaining. In fact, it really fucking sucked, actually. Before he had turned fourteen, this guy had seen his father assasinated by the Klan by being beaten near to death and left on nearby tracks to be finished off by an oncoming street car, and watched his mother's gradual descent into complete lunacy under the stress of being a poor, black widow with eight kids. When you read about something like that, it's hard to picture an autobiography made up of events like "At age 11, I finally stopped picking my nose in public, and my parents withdrew long-held breaths in relief" being as worthy of print.
When I was a kid, I always used to think about writing an autobiography one day and I'm pretty sure the reason for this is how many stupid autobiographies I had to read and write reports or make cute dioramas about between second and fifth grades. When picturing what my life would be like 20 years into the future, I mainly thought of it in terms of what I could reflect on in an autobiography while using lots of cleverly embedded rhetorical devices and making sure all of the "suspenseful" parts came as cliffhanger endings of chapters. Which, of course, more or less goes back to my suggestion that art mitigates life. Now, after revisiting the work of X and Alex Haley, I'm kind of starting to think of autobiographies as the beginning of facing one's mortality, maybe not in small part because X was kind of a morbid guy who was always making cryptic predictions of his own untimely demise, the nature of which ultimately turned out to be right.
As in, if an autobiography is the story of your life told by you, then is the end of that story your death? And you're not around to tell that part, so the guy who wrote "Roots" has to step in and write a day-ruiningly depressing epilogue? Another thing that creeps me out about this is the biographical movie, "X" (I think it's called, I haven't watched it since I was about eight) by Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington. In the scene where Malcolm is driving to the Audubon to make what turned out to be his final public appearance, they stage it so that Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" (an incredible song, by the way) is playing in the background, and as Denzel makes alternately contemplative or paranoid faces into the camera, it almost feels like the character is aware of the song and is grappling with what its elegiac nature suggests about his near future.
Can you say "creepy as all hell?"
Now, when I'm traveling somewhere and listening to music while I do it, if a death-related song comes on, I have to wonder if murderous black muslims are hiding out at my eventual destination and waiting to scream "Take your hand out of my pocket!" before pumping my torso full of two dozen bullets.