Monday, June 30, 2008

Sharing Cremains.

Today I ask you to indulge me in entertaining a hypothetical situation. Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting the following is true. Treat it as if it were fiction, and don't try to sort out any reality from the story. This is as standard a disclaimer as I can muster, so bear with me.

What if someone threw a pinch of cremains on you without any advanced notice? Perhaps we should define terms first. Do you know what "cremains" are? Very simply, they are exactly what they sound like- the remains left behind after a body is cremated. You know... the stuff that is usually referred to as "ashes", and is either buried with ceremony or kept in an urn on a mantel. Creamins are a material usually disposed of according to formal procedures. There are laws about what you can do with it. There are also religious, spiritual, and social taboos associated with human remains. Certainly people have come up with all types of creative ideas regarding this material. It's reasonable to suppose that many of these have been acted upon.

So how would you feel if you got dusted with human ash? Imagine that you went to see a performance by a band that you were only vaguely familiar with. Maybe you had one of their CD's over a decade ago, but you haven't been paying attention since. You don't know what they've been up to in the interim, and you haven't really thought about them in years. And then your friend tells you that she has an extra ticket to one of their performances, and figures that you (of all the people she knows) is best equipped to enjoy the show. Since you were initially intrigued by the novelty and creativity of the band, you feel that there is nothing to lose by accepting her offer. Who knows but that you might have a lot of fun?

Then you find yourself at a local arts space and you settle in. The room is so crowded that you find yourself in the back, on the floor. But then your friend suggests going up front, and you are surprised to find available seats with an unobstructed view. As the two musicians on stage proceed through their repertoire, you learn that the event is only one stop along a tour meant to commemorate the memory of the duo's mentor and musical collaborator. It turns out that the man is now six months dead, and that the bulk of the songs being presented were written by him. And they are conceptually and viscerally twisted. Murder, sexual perversion and the vile nature of humanity are prominent themes. Still there is a certain genius in the music. It is startlingly original and well articulated.

As the show continues, you begin to realize that you actually like it quite a bit. It's transgressive and it pushes boundaries in markedly innovative ways. But most importantly- it is entertaining and you can identify with a lot of it. You sit watching transfixed. You laugh out loud and cringe just a bit. You are truly enjoying yourself. And then it happens... the arbitrary boundary between performer and audience is abruptly violated. A benediction is offered without explanation. One of the artists on-stage removes something from a small, ornately designed box and sifts it through his hands. He walks purposefully into the audience and throws small amounts of this dusty substance on particular individuals. Upon inquiry he answers that the stuff he's sharing is "whatever you want it to be".

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what has happened, especially as your host (who has met and shares mutual friends with the band) confirms that your initial suspicion is quite possibly accurate. Given the nature of the night's tribute, there is only one explanation that makes sense. After the show you approach the performers and allude to the gesture with the mysterious (and gritty) substance, and ask whether it had anything to do with the last wishes of their fallen associate. One of the principal players looks around furtively and then carefully confirms your speculation without an explicit admission. You're told that there was indeed conversation and an agreement regarding the remains of the soon-to-be passing partner. This was a purposeful and well-thought out ritualistic offering.

How would you process such a hypothetical situation?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I always liked the "this is my body/ this is my blood ritual. I'd like to perhaps hang around as a condiment in my favorite diner or restaurant.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Rick Byerly said...

tough to say but ideally i would like to take it as an experience few might get the chance to be a part of and also take it with a side of humor. i also have a thing about the government regulating what has to be done with my own body, it's remains etc to keep the machinery running smoothly. i could see someone getting upset but that wouldn't be me. would make some good performance art!


9:12 AM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

I've read that well over half the dust in the air is particles of human skin, so having a few ashes thrown on me wouldn't bother me in the least.

7:41 AM  

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