Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jawbox -- "Motorist" (1994)

When you examined the wreck
What did you see?
Glass everywhere
And wheels still spinning free

Marina Keegan
The Saturday before Memorial Day, I was driving to my favorite Cape Cod bike rental place.  As I crossed over Route 6 (which is the main east-west highway on the Cape), I noticed that traffic was stopped dead.

It seemed odd that there would be a traffic jam at that spot on a Saturday afternoon, and I was mildly curious about what had caused it.  But it didn't inconvenience me so I quickly forgot about the tie-up.

A few days latter, I found out what had caused the traffic jam.  From the May 26 Boston Globe:
A 22-year-old Wayland woman was killed when the car she was riding in rolled over on Route 6 in Dennis Saturday afternoon, the Massachusetts State Police said in a statement.

Marina Keegan was pronounced dead on the scene by Dennis emergency responders at about 2:30 p.m. The vehicle’s driver, Michael Gocksch, was transported to Cape Cod Hospital and was in stable condition Saturday night.

According to the statement, a preliminary investigation found that the 1997 Lexus ES300 was traveling east on Route 6 when it drifted off the road and into the right side guardrail. The vehicle then careened back across the road, crashed into the left side guardrail, and rolled over at least twice.

Traffic was backed up as much as a mile before authorities reopened Route 6 at about 5:45 p.m.

The incident remains under investigation, but both occupants reportedly were wearing their seatbelts, and speed did not appear to be a factor in the severity of the accident, the statement said.

Marina Keegan had graduated from Yale College the previous Monday.  According to all accounts, she was a well-liked and unusually talented young woman with strong convictions.  Here are some excerpts from her obituary in the Yale Daily News:

Marina Keegan ’12, a prolific writer, actress and activist, died Saturday afternoon in a car accident near Dennis, Mass.  She was 22.

At Yale, Keegan distinguished herself as a leader across disciplines: in addition to writing and starring in several campus plays, Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats, and last fall sparked a campus discussion on careers in finance and consulting that ultimately spread to other Ivy League campuses and the pages of the New York Times. . . .

“Marina was someone who looked at the world and knew it had to be changed, but at the same time saw there was beauty in it,” said Yael Zinkow ’12, Keegan’s close friend.

Keegan came to Yale from Wayland, Mass., in fall 2008.  An English major and member of Saybrook College, she completed the writing concentration and graduated magna cum laude five days before her death.

In her writing, Keegan captured the concerns of her generation, friends and writing professors said.  She drew national media attention in September 2011 with [a Yale Daily News story titled] “Even artichokes have doubts,” which critiqued the high number of recent Yale graduates pursuing careers in finance and consulting.  Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and on the New Yorker website, and one of her short stories aired in NPR’s “Selected Shorts” in 2011.

Keegan interned at the Paris Review in New York City this spring and was preparing to move to Brooklyn in June to start a position as assistant to the general counsel at The New Yorker.

“She was an exceptional person, wildly talented, and with the confidence and character (and personal modesty) to have done fine things,” English lecturer John Crowley, who advised Keegan on her writing concentration senior project, wrote in a Sunday email.  “Her loss can’t be expressed — to those who knew her, to her family, to her friends — but the loss also to the world that lay before her.  In what seems to me now the beautiful yet terribly small pile of writing she left, that’s clear.”

Writing professor Anne Fadiman described Keegan as a “self-starting cornucopia” who demonstrated her aptitude as a writer across several genres, never falling victim to writer’s block or needing the pressure of a good grade or impending deadline to write.

Fadiman first encountered Keegan at a Master’s Tea in fall 2010, when Keegan, then a junior, challenged author Mark Helprin after he told audience members not to pursue writing careers because of their low likelihood of success.

“I just remember this beautiful, articulate woman standing up and clearly not willing to be cowed by this famous writer, contradicting him, speaking up, declaring her determination to try, declaring her determination to ignore his discouraging words,” Fadiman said.

The same conviction was evident in her political and social advocacy on campus.

Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats in 2011 . . . In late 2011, she helped organize the Occupy Morgan Stanley movement, which urged Yalies to be more conscious of their career choices. . . .

“Marina was motivated by the same impulse that drove her to write, to act, to invest in friends, and to improve her community — the impulse that insisted that all of us were destined to do something tremendous, and it ought to be something tremendously good for the world,” Alexandra Brodsky ’12, who helped organize Occupy Morgan Stanley, said in a Sunday email. “Marina, I think, saw clearer than most just how privileged we were, and thus how little stood in our way to doing great things — and so she demanded that greatness of herself and those around her.”

As with her efforts in advocacy and writing, Keegan approached her work in theater boldly.

Charlie Polinger ’13, who directed Keegan’s musical, “Independents,” last fall and will direct it at the New York International Fringe Festival production in August, said Keegan pursued ambitious goals in her creative work. He recalled how Keegan insisted a 10-minute monologue at the end of “Independents” be left uncut, though the creative team worried the piece would not engage its audience. The monologue “ended up being one of the most powerful parts of the show,” Polinger said.

Keegan’s close friends said she considered friendships and relationships a vital part of her life, and maintained them in spite of her numerous other commitments. . . .

Marina Keegan with her brother, Pierce
Michael Blume ’12 and David Mogilner ’12 said Keegan was a prolific source of romantic advice for her friends. Blume said she “loved love,” while Mogilner described Keegan as the “first cheerleader” in her friends' lives. Brodsky noted that, while Keegan was ambitious about her future career, she "very much wanted to fall in love with one person for her whole life and raise a family."  

Her death Saturday reverberated throughout the University.  

Saybrook College Master Paul Hudak said all of his college is in shock, calling the event “an unbelievable tragedy.” Yale College Dean and former Saybrook College Master Mary Miller and her husband, Japanese literature professor and former interim Saybrook College Master Edward Kamens, said they were “devastated.”  

Marina Keegan with her parents

Marina Keegan wrote a piece for the special edition of the Yale newspaper that was distributed at the class of 2012's commencement exercises.  Click here if you'd like to read the entire essay, which described her feelings as she came to the end of her years at Yale:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

As her essay demonstrates, Marina Keegan was not following the Roman poet Horace's advice to "be wise, scale back your long hopes to a short period" and "seize the day" -- carpe diem -- "trusting as little as possible in the future."

We’re so young.  We’re so young.  We’re twenty-two years old.  We have so much time. . . .

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything.  We can change our minds.  We can start over.  Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time.  The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical.  It’s hilarious.  We’re graduating college.  We’re so young.  We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.

The terrible accident that took place only days after Marina Keegan wrote these words proved that she was wrong and Horace was right.  Perhaps it was not wise for her or for anyone to trust too much in the future when we live in a world where a small mistake can have such horrific results.

But she was only 22 years old.  How could she not believe that the best years of her life were yet to come?

I turned 60 a few days after Marina Keegan's death.  It turned out that I'm the one (not Marina) who "can still do anything" -- I'm the one that has "so much time" -- I'm the one who is "so young."

How is that?  Why is that?

Much of the press coverage of Marina Keegan's death focused on the fact that she had just graduated from one of the elite universities in the world, and that she was an outspoken activist and talented writer who seemed destined to "make something happen to this world" (to quote her graduation-day essay).

I don't mean to minimize the significance of political activists or great writers -- I've been a voracious reader since I was a child, and I don't know of anyone who cares more about books or respects great writers more than I do.

But the fact that Marina Keegan had been published by the New York Times and was having her play produced isn't really the point.

Here's what Harold Bloom -- a brilliant literary critic who has been teaching the best and the brightest at Yale for over half a century -- had to say about Marina Keegan (who had worked for him as a research assistant):

“Marina was wise, almost beyond measure, and manifested immense good will towards everyone privileged to have known her,” Bloom wrote.  “It is 60 years since I first came to Yale. I can think of only a few other women and men I have taught whose presence always will be with me.”

Bloom went on to say that he had come to regard Keegan "as a granddaughter." He called her death “beyond human comprehension” -- words that are as true as they are sad.

But as far as I'm concerned, the saddest line in Marina Keegan's obituary is this one:

Keegan is survived by her parents, Tracy and Kevin.

I guarantee you that as proud as her parents were of her accomplishments, those accomplishments ultimately meant very little to them.  Her father said as much at her memorial service:

The New York Times called her a journalist and a playwright.  But for me and most importantly, she was my daughter.

I can't help but think about Michael Gocksh, the driver of the car, and his parents.  They are suffering in a different manner, but no one can doubt that they are suffering terribly.

According to her mother, Marina "so loved and admired" Michael.  The Keegans told him that they had forgiven him, and are doing what they can to help him forgive himself.

"You can't go off course," Kevin Keegan told him. "To honor her, you need to live your life -- to make a difference for others, to embrace life as she did."  

On to our song, which has no real relevance to Marina Keegan's death.  But it's a rule at 2 or 3 lines (actually, it's the only rule) that there always has to be a song.

Jawbox was a post-punk band from Washington, DC, that was known for its "cerebral and inscrutable" lyrics (to quote AllMusic).  The singer of "Motorist," which appeared on the band's 1994 album, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, has just crashed his car -- he's in a bit of a daze, looking around at the wreckage that surrounds him and wondering if someone is going to stop and rescue him.

"Motorist" is just one of the dozens of rock, country, and rap songs about car crashes that have been recorded.  (In fact, a Wikipedia article lists over a hundred such songs.)

Of course, that's nothing compared to the number of fatalities that result from automobile accidents -- which is the leading cause of accidental death in this country.  Traffic deaths in the United States peaked at 54,589 in 1972.  There were only 32,885 in 2010, which was the lowest figure in 62 years.  That's 90 deaths per day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year -- in this country alone.

Here's "Motorist":


Here's a link you can use to buy that song from Amazon: