Life is a Cigarette

This is the inaugural post for the Quarry. This blogcat will be a collection of short essays and articles dealing with a range of topics that I find interesting to write about. At times, these pieces will be complements to my longer columns. Presently, this acts as a bit of an “introduction” to the column that will be written over the course of the next week. Breathe it in.

Several years ago, a friend lent me a copy of “The Complete David Bowie,” a 600 page reference book/biography of his career. I never read the book in its entirety, preferring instead to skim it looking for interesting facts and anecdotes. One thing that has always stuck with me, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, is a passing reference to the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” off of the seminal Ziggy Stardust album.

The song begins with a subdued Bowie singing,

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette

Nicholas Pegg, the author of “The Complete David Bowie,” suggested the inspiration for this line came from a poem by Manuel Machado y Ruiz, the Spanish poet and playwright. He cites the poem “Chants Andalous:”

Life is a cigarette:
Cinder, ash, and fire –
Some smoke it quickly,
Others with savor.

I rather like this stanza; it brings to mind an image of a poet at a cafe, tendrils of smoke escaping from the last smouldering ash of a cigarette, singeing the edge of a page. It is not exactly an obscure stereotype, that of a smoking writer. There has always been an association between cigarettes and writers or artists. When you think of Hunter S. Thompson, Salvidor Dali, Jean-Paul Sartre, or almost any other famous creative mind you care to name, you will inevitably picture them with a cigarette in hand.

An exhaustive search of the literary canon for allusions to cigarettes would be almost impossible. However, I have been able to compile a couple stray references, here, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

From “La cigarette” by French Symbolist poet Jules Laforgue:

Et pouer tuer le temps, en attendant la mort,
Je fume au nez des dieux de fines cigarettes.

[And to kill time while awaiting death,
I smoke in the nose of the gods fine cigarettes.]

Some sources translate the last line as, “I smoke elegant cigarettes, thumbing my nose at the gods.”

And, from Oscar Wilde, from The Portrait of Dorian Grey:

“A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”

Also of interest is this article from the Boston Evening Transcript, published on the 9th of May, 1900, titled “The Literary Cigarette: Its Relation to Successful Authorship Established – How the Cigarette Has Crept into Respectable Literature.” You can read it in its entirety complements of Google’s archives here.

This has just been a short teaser for my upcoming column. Tell your friends.

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