THE DEATH ISSUE
Letter from the publisher
BY ROGER BENNETT, PUBLISHER
Malcolm Middleton, formerly of the Scottish band Arab Strap, released a brilliant song this past holiday season. He attempted to claim the coveted British Christmas singles No. 1 spot, following in the footsteps of such iconic classics as Wham!’s “Last Christmas” or Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Power of Love” with a release titled “We’re All Going to Die.” You can find it on YouTube. At first listen, its chugging beat and ripping verses are upliftingly infectious; it’s not until the lyrics sink in and you realize the chorus consists of a gruff Scottish man repeating “You’re going to die, you’re going to die, you’re going to die alone” that you fully appreciate the genius of the piece. Middleton has taken one of the facts of life we most deeply repress and turned it into a drinking song, and as the single climbed the British charts (it cracked the Top 40), he forced people to confront their fear of death and consider the fact that one day they wouldn’t be here. Middleton has said that his aim was to make people feel happier about their life by accepting the inevitability of death, but that he failed because he “couldn’t find a fourth verse to finish it off properly and come up with some solutions.”
While we were putting this issue together, my own grandmother passed away just prior to her ninety-fifth birthday. Thankfully, it was nothing dramatic — she died of old age and with little suffering — but it was only after she had passed that we discovered hundreds of photograph albums stored away in her apartment that we had never seen before. They were stuffed with images of her, all over Europe and into pre-state Palestine, and they feature unidentified family members we will never be able to name. It was only in her death that we realized just how little we had known about her life and our own past.
My grandmother Flora and Malcolm Middleton may never again be mentioned in the same context, but their two stories combine to underpin much of what motivated us in this, the seventh volume of Guilt & Pleasure, in which we racked our brains and examined every aspect of death our morbid minds could think of. We do this not because we are hard core Goths or because we love Depeche Mode a little too much, but because we hope that this issue will frame conversations about how we think about death and how it impacts the way we choose to live, as well as what we know and don’t know about the world around us. These are lofty ambitions for a humble magazine, indeed — it would probably be easier to try to write a No. 1 single for the British pop charts. But in this spirit, we are proud to present an issue that is chock-full of some of the most reflective work we have had the honor to carry, including Nathaniel Deutsch, who kindly lets us in on the secrets of the Jewish afterlife; Elizabeth Heyert’s masterful portfolio; and an essay about the Hebrew murderer Pesach Rubenstein, which cries out to be made into a film, by Eddy Portnoy (who is a national treasure).
May you all live to be 120. &