Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, of Myanmar, is standing three feet away from Vincent Van Gogh’s painting: “The Church at Auvers,” at the Musee d’ Orsay in Paris. She’s in awe. Prayerful. Her eyes are raised up towards the swirling blue sky above the church. Who is she? I know she received the Nobel Peace Prize. She’d been under house arrest in Myanmar for two decades. She’s called “the opposition leader.” She’s very beautiful. There are flowers in her hair. This photo came in my daily newspaper. Good news for once. Inspired images. I am reminded of a Townes Van Zandt story – how Townes stared at this same painting, in the Van Gogh museum, for hours. Townes moved forward an inch every few minutes. Until he was six inches away, and guards threw him out.
I am mentioning these things because I’m 678 pages into “Van Gogh: The Life,” which was published last year. Light summer reading, eh? There are almost 900 pages in this book. So far Vincent has alienated his teachers, classmates, and relatives; slept with and impregnated bottom-rung whores; contracted syphilis; killed his father; cut off his own ear; and is killing his brother, Theo, who’s been supporting him. Reading this tome I’m beginning to feel like a man carrying a gigantic, aching heart around on my back. It’s getting heavy, ma.
Now as I walk through sunflower fields, under flocks of black crows, here in Switzerland, I think of Vincent, and Townes, and Daw Aung Kyi. It alI worked out for Vincent. 100 years after he died. A truer account of all this might be Artaud’s: “Van Gogh -The Man Suicided by Society.”
Summer! I’m working on a songbook and a Western opera. A horse opera? I’m painting pictures of the rooftops of Emmental. I’m writing essays for a Western magazine. I’m thinking of the fanatics of the Van Gogh heart who have passed through my life in the last few years: Freddy Nock, the great wirewalker – the master of air – and the most extreme athlete in the world. Soon he’ll walk three kilometers across the Lake of Thun, and give money to UNESCO. Chris Koch, born with no arms or legs, who hopped up to me in Calgary and gave me a Mesabi sweatshirt, from a ranch of the same name. Chris is busy travelling the world and filming it. Chris, like Freddy Nock, is an extreme athlete of the finest kind. And finally, George Kimball, who passed away last year, one of the foremost boxing writers of the last century. We did a reading together in Lawrence, Kansas, at the Williams S. Burroughs house. George was on a feeding tube. Unable to eat. But touring his three books. A rock and roller to the end.
These three souls proved to me that there are no limits to life when you believe in the power of your intent and will. These three inspire. Like Vincent. Townes. And the face of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.