Axl’s howl at the start of “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” had become part of our family discourse even before I had listened to the song properly – many years before, in fact. If somebody complained of fatigue, or complained they had too much to do, or complained about life and the world in general, one or another of us would roll our eyes, throw our head backwards and release a long wail, full of mockery and derision for complainer for taking themself and life so seriously, mocking the self-pitier. And as there was a lot of complaining and self-pity and fatigue going on in our family, there was a lot of howling too.
Most Iranians immigrate to developed countries so they can watch their favourite stars and clips on Youtube freely and easily, and I am no exception. Diving into the wonderful world of Axl clips on Youtube, I watched him howl and wail through “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and I realised he hadn’t actually sung this song for me and my family being tired all the time, as I had thought, all these years, it was a song about some sherrif dying. And it was as much full rage and anger than it was of grief and sorrow.
Rage at the death of your loved ones- of course Axl or Bob Dylan didn’t create this. There is the famous poem by Dylan Thomas, where he exhorts his dying father not to “go quietly into the long night”, but to “rage, rage against the dying light.” And an incredible novel by Kingsley Amis, “The Anti-Death League”. But there is little realisation at large that death does not just create sorrow, but a huge amount of anger in those left behind, and, in a long series of cruel tricks which nature plays on us, this is one of the cruellest.
I remember my father smiling at the mourning ceremony for his own father. He had lived to over a hundred years old, died peacefully, had a crowd of children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. No cause for sorrow or rage. But when I think of the death of my other grandfather in his prime, leaving behind a dysfunctional family of youngsters, and I think of the ramifictions and consequences which still hurt us all, or the accidental death of my favourite cousin a few years ago, which paralysed the collective brain of the family at large, well, several thousand Axl-howls swell up and burst forth to the heavens.
When I was a teenager, I remember praying that we all die at once, in car crash, so none of us would have to bear the sorrow of seeing their loved ones die. Now I think of my children, on this side of the world, and rest of my family, on the other side, and think, well, it has to be pretty big crash.