When I was young my friend's dad worked at a factory that pressed vinyl into records. One weekend we visited the place and took a tour. I saw 55 gallon barrels of rejects and in one waste bin saw a Rolling Stones 45 rpm that had been tossed because label had a misprint on it. (Quality Control)
When we left I brought with me an unlabelled album that turned out to be all instrumental. I never learned who made the music but my younger brother came up with a title for the first song, "Was It Suicide or Was It Murder."
This memory came to mind when I was reading an article in this week's Time magazine titled The Stranger. A new look at van Gogh's life -- and death. It was a review of the latest book on the life of Vincent Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. According to reviewer Richard Lacayo this is the definitive bio on the famous artist. It is not only a compelling read, it is also extremely well researched and includes a new interpretation of the artist's death. Or rather, Naifeh puts forward the proposition that Van Gogh may not have died by his own hand, that our picture of the despondent painter shooting himself out in a field while painting is wrong.
As you read the account of his death it's easy to see how a good researcher might begin to ask questions. Unfortunately, the events are more than a hundred years old and we can no longer go interrogate the parties involved.
The notion that he died by suicide has been easily believed because he was indeed a troubled man. Not that many people I know cut off their own ear after an argument, or at any other time for that matter.
You have to be a Time subscriber to read Richard Lacayo's review but you can read a small collection of segments from other reviews here, or if you have a Kindle you may download the first segment of the book itself and taste for yourself. The book is available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats from Amazon.com.
For still more background on this important artist, here's a link to my previous essay written when the collected letters of Van Gogh had been made available online to the public.