We’re going to drop back into questions of death and life for a little bit with this one.
Arthur Koestler was a novelist and public intellectual who lived and wrote about some of the greatest issues of the middle of the 20th Century, and his breakthrough work was his novel “Darkness at Noon.” Let me be honest here: I know of Arthur Koestler, but I have not read Arthur Koestler. I’m not sure how much of Koestler this piece’s author Dave Moore has read either. Perhaps that is of secondary importance, as this song isn’t so much about Koestler’s life or his works, but is instead about his death.
By 1983 Koestler was in his mid 70s and was suffering from serious and incurable illnesses. With apparent deliberation, he decided to commit suicide, writing his suicide note in the summer of 1982. Nine months later, in this severe but promising month of March, he decided to go through with it.
Later that same year Dave Moore wrote this piece, and the LYL Band would perform it with our usual sound at the time, which featured somewhat distorted Farfisa organ, organ bass keys, and loud discordant guitar. My understanding of “Arthur Koestler’s Death Song,” as we performed it then, was it was about Koestler’s intellectual and philosophical approach to this choice, and the hubris that implied. Of course, we were Thirty-Somethings considering the choices of much more esteemed old man.
The performance of “Arthur Koestler’s Death Song” you will hear here was recorded almost 30 years after this. It’s a solo piece I recorded as part of a collection I put together then to showcase some of Dave Moore’s writing.
A key part of the story of Koestler’s act is depicted in one verse. In March of 1983, Koestler’s original suicide note of the year before now carried an addendum. His wife, 20 years younger and in perfectly good health, was going to join him in taking the barbiturates and alcohol that was his chosen suicide method. “I see my wife sitting across from me. She’s going to join me in death.” The verse starts.
Please allow this to disturb you, because it should.
One of these two people is a famous polemicist reasoning to end his life, but other person will die too.
I’m no psychic. I cannot know what went into that decision and what was in his wife, Cynthia Jefferies’, mind, but I do know all too many relationships where the spouse of the artist, the intellectual—even if that thinker is an avowed proponent of freedom, liberty, and equality—is reduced to the role of servant and subservient.
“Arthur Koestler’s Death Song” lays out the facts and lets you consider the possible motives. It assumes you will be an active listener, one who can not only form your own answers, but your own questions. To hear my performance of Dave Moore’s words and music, use the player below.
2 thoughts on “Arthur Koestler’s Death Song”
I wrote this song having fallen in love with my piano’s black keys, in E flat and A flat. The opening quote about adding to our knowledge comes from Koestler’s book THE ACT OF CREATION, which has sat on my bedside table for over 30 years inspiring me.
To laugh, not to kill myself, and to write more songs on the black keys.