Cunning Keith was killed yesterday when a semi-trailer truck struck his vehicle from the side. He was on US-169 highway, driving home from a 4-month tour that took him to locations across the Midwest. Officials prefer not to reveal what autopsy found in his system, for the usual rational reason of not wanting to contribute to the further glorification of these types of events. It was just some PCP and cannabis. You’re no richer for the knowledge- not only did he constantly boast about “smokin’ some sherm” in his rap music, the driver of the truck was found to be utterly sleep deprived. It could have happened to anyone.
Cunning Keith entered the KC rap scene around 1987. Does this matter? No. It doesn’t matter. Nor does any of Keith’s music matter. Somehow, it’s more pathetic than anything else that it was believed (and not only by Keith himself) that avoiding spelling “Cunning” with a K would make any of this less of a joke. It failed. All of this is a joke.
Keith was a man plagued by unusual bouts of spiritual congestion. His crisis, if it can even be called that, was not a normal one. He did not “become depressed.” He rarely “gave in to anger.” You couldn’t truly say that his day-to-day thought patterns were all that out of the ordinary. As I say, it was, above all else, a type of congestion that afflicted Keith. Imagine your intestine filling up with gas. I admit that this is a biased analogy. Almost all of us 30-year-old men experience this unpleasant buoyant sensation on a daily basis. However, I can think of no better analogy. Now, as your intestines fill up, it does not merely displace the supply of clean air in your innards. It displaces some of the clean air in your soul. For Keith, it was as if a bit of his humanity was being displaced.
What was the cause of this congestion? It’s difficult to say. If Keith had some degree of greater potential, it was well hidden. Like most of us, Keith’s life was fairly inane. He purchased and used drugs. He occasionally convinced some naïve woman to allow him to sexually penetrate her rectum. He made music in an effort to convince others, but mainly himself, that these things made his life more interesting than that of the normal person. They did not. He failed to make his life any more interesting than the norm, and what’s more, after a while it’s doubtful that he was fooling even himself one bit. If you can’t fully accept at this very moment that Keith’s life was not exciting, you can go no further in understanding Keith. And the purpose of learning about Keith is not, in itself, to understand him. This would be pointless. It is the malady, not the man, that’s of interest. I write this not in sadness to commemorate Keith. I write this in rapture, to commemorate a malady well-lived.
Perhaps all of us, or at least most of us, have experienced some part of this malady. Remember picking a long-encrusting scab. Suppose that an ingrown hair lurks in the scab, waiting to be aerated. The skin under your scab is like the spring soil after it rains, before the clouds have fully cleared. It keenly awaits the roasting sunshine. And at the moment of ripeness, when the scab peels with ease. Blessed suppuration. The lymph fluid oozes to the surface in a welcoming ejaculation. Then, an end to the sensations as abrupt as the scabbing process was prolonged. But suppose you were never able to peal the scab. Suppose the hair would stay inside forever, growing in a curly network throughout the inside of your arm. You could attribute that lurking resentment to almost anything. To admit that it was only your scab? Never. But this makes the feeling no less justified. This is the form in which Keith’s emotion would at times manifest itself. What was at the heart of this emotion?
Now, the suggestion that follows is only a speculative musing. The spiders like to lurk in dusty alcoves. At deepest night, the giants are so deep in slumber that they are unmoving in the style of objects. It’s at these times that the spiders come out to roost on the nape of the neck, on the tender region behind the ear. At places like this, the spiders inject venom into the giants. The venom goes into the blood. Some of it passes through the blood-brain barrier to enter the mind and infect the dreams of the sleeping giants. Their dreams take morbid turns. Yet giants still look forward to sleep. Unlike fleas or bedbugs, which disrupt all sleep with their draining of vital energy, a strong giant may shrug off the disruption to dreams such as this. But suppose the spiders of this world confused Keith for one of their giants? Could such a malady be the result?
For weeks, the undefined gas might build up. Keith would go about his routine, leading a life more furtive than cunning. The days grew darker, however, for no apparent reason. And again, there was nothing like melancholia. The notion, presented by some, that there was “a storm brewing under the surface” is uproarious. But there were the subtle, the strangely memory-resistant signs. Friends found Keith harder to talk to, but could not remember him ever being especially easy to talk to. Nor could they ever recall having an especially interesting, or worthwhile, conversation with Keith. The question became- what was the need to talk to Keith anyway? For his part, Keith displayed no signs of neglect when spoken to less often. The displacement steadily increased.
Could it be that Cunning Keith was truly becoming less human?
I hesitate to make a suggestion with such dramatic weight to it. To really judge whether loss of humanity is taking place in a given instance, one should probably consult at least one authority, such as Japanese author Osamu Dazai. I haven’t even devoted all that much study to the matter. Yet when I go over the malady in my head- the displacement, the unease, the resentment, and above all the never-relieved congestion- it becomes impossible for my limited imagination to come up with anything that explains the situation with the same sense of satisfaction. Why this would afflict Keith and not someone else, I can’t imagine. In my mind, on that dark day, a puerile god seated lazily in the dark cosmos was laughing a mischievous, pointless, empty laugh , while farting out nebulae. He rolled the dice, spun the wheel, played the lottery. Keith came up. The gambling god chuckled, “I’ll take this one’s life force for my farts.” Perhaps the outer gods, the true, meaningless gods, drink human souls for their beverages, like crusty old men sipping beers during their dice games. In that case, Keith may have been selected in the style of a connoisseur choosing a pabst for some trivial reason, like nostalgia for college days.
Of course, this describes a draining and not the type of bloating I’ve mentioned. But the key is the sense of some outer intentionality, some fate. What I don’t believe is that Keith brought it upon himself. Not only were his bouts of hedonism both utterly plain, and exaggerated by him in retrospect. His mysterious lose of human habits didn’t have any of the character of this animality that’s taken hold in the United States. There was no true sense of need to shake off a weight, to let go of the burden of human responsibility. What responsibility? The weight was deeper, and more ill-defined. But most tellingly, it was not so much the weight itself, as what was excluded. The old god might have filled the bottle of Keith’s soul with a quantity of drool and spittle equal to the life force he drank from it. Keith became a receptacle of cosmic phlegm. And no sooner had Keith forgotten his unimagined humiliation and moved onward, than the lordly old bastard put another swig to his ever-drooling, amoral grin.
So went the life of Cunning Keith, wizard on the KC hip hop scene. And he died, like all the rest of us. But please don’t think I hold any ill feelings towards Keith. What I’ve said negative about him could apply to almost anybody, and most of it could apply to me. Our lives go by, like shadows on water, like farts on the breeze, and we don’t grasp a merest fraction of our awesome human potential. Within those dismal chains of events, often there lurks a sign of things incredible, wondrous and hard-to-reach. Who among us can tell what stuff humanity is made of? Who has the wisdom to know what afflicted Cunning Keith?
-Kansas City, Missouri, April 4, 2014