Demon of Eclipses & Illusions – Part 2/9

Can modern smokers blame the devious advertising of tobacco companies for their inability to quit smoking? After all, those catchy slogans have beguiled billions over the decades: You’ve come a long way baby; I’d walk a mile for a Camel; Winston tastes good like a cigarette should! And perhaps the worst of the lot: More doctors smoke Camels.

The Marlboro Man campaign that used real cowboys as models was such an astounding hit that it ran for thirty years, from the 60s all the way into the 90s. One of those cowboy gods was Wayne McLaren, who died of lung cancer in 1992. Before he passed on, McLaren appeared in a television spot showing him in a hospital bed. An earlier shot of him as the drop-dead gorgeous tough guy who’d sold millions of cancer sticks was juxtaposed over this shot, even as a voiceover detailed the dangers of smoking. Impossible to adequately express my admiration for men like this — humble enough to admit their mistakes even at the bitter end, and who spread the true word about nicotine — that eventually it kills, agonizingly and humiliatingly. The great actor John Huston, father of Angelica Huston, was another such hero. Continue reading

Demon of Eclipses & Illusions – Part 1/9

opening_imageStrolling down Manhattan’s Broadway in the early 1990s, I stopped to stare at a dramatic hoarding, the elements of which I shall attempt to recapitulate for you: a smoldering cigarette hangs out the corner of the mouth of an older woman with a halo of frizzy gray hair; her heavily made-up face barely masks a mesh of wrinkles and furrows, her cunning eyes are narrowed as a shield against the rising smoke, her cracked smoker’s lips are painted a bright red; as for the ironic caption below, it reads: Smoking Is Glamorous.

Oh what a powerful message! I thought, even as I dragged deeply on the fragrant Nat Sherman cigarette hanging, Bohemian style, out of the side of my own mouth. But despite the irony of that moment, that harsh image continued to hover on the fringes of my insubordinate mind, warning me how I might end up if I didn’t quit smoking.

Back in India, two upper-class women of my mother’s generation had ended their lives looking pretty similar to the hag on the hoarding. Both had thumbed their noses at convention and taken up smoking and drinking with a vengeance. Both had died heavily burdened by the circumstances of their lives, their striking beauty a sad memory; despite medical warnings, the mounting concern of their respective families, and their own fierce wills, neither had ever been able to quit either ciggies or booze. Continue reading