Words by Chris Martin
If life were a movie, the script for 2016 would be co-written by George RR Martin (Game of Thrones) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead.) We’re barely midway through the third month of the year and the music world has taken some crushing blows thanks to the Grim Reaper (and I’m not talking about the band from the 80’s.) It’s like with the death of Lemmy at the end of 2015, that was the harbinger of things to come. Just to rattle off a handful of legends gone: David Bowie, George Martin (the fifth Beatle,) Clarence Reid (aka Blowfly,) Glenn Frey, Jimmy Bain (of Dio,) Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson (both from Jefferson Airplane,) and I could go on, and if I added movie and television personalities, geez the list is astronomical.
The most recent musical icon to head out on their final tour is Keith Emerson of ELP. In one way or another these folks impacted the music world as well as the lives of all of their fans in ways that even family members can’t. Not to say we love our idols more than our family, but we’re touched by them in a different way, in a more spiritual way. Sure, when Aunt Mary passes it hurts awful bad, and you cry and hold on to the memories, and as time passes the images slowly change in our mind and you don’t think about her as much. When someone like David Bowie passes on, it almost hurts even worse because even though Aunt Mary gave her blood, sweat and tears to take care of her kith and kin, she never recorded an album of such significant impact as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Aunt Mary may have been a wizard in the kitchen, but she wasn’t responsible for the prog rock epic Brain Salad Surgery. Aunt Mary may have helped raise a bunch of great kids who went on later on to do good things in their community, but she wasn’t responsible for the legacy that is The Beatles.
Maybe I’m just an odd guy, but if a musician (in particular the musicians) passes away and I happen to be a fan of their music I feel a greater loss in my soul than I do when a family member passes. Well, maybe not greater, but at the very least I feel a deeper impact. Full disclosure I’m not a big “yay family” guy. The immediate folks (ie. Parents and sibling and of course AJ) are the only ones I have consistent contact with and one Grandma I don’t really talk to much but still care for. The rest of the family that I cared about/knew are dead (like Aunt Mary) or I never liked them to begin with (some of the dead ones fit this too.) Yes, I know, “Oh God that’s horrible that you feel that way.” Whatever, I don’t care. It’s how it is and doesn’t change me as the person I have always been. Music, on the other hand, has been something near and dear to my heart like a family member since I can remember. Music, without fail, was always there; was always the soundtrack to whatever life decided to chuck my way. So when one of my favorites passes on not only do I lament the loss of the individual, but the loss of that talent and ability. I have very eclectic tastes and enjoy major acts and obscure groups, so someone can die that others might not care about, but it effects me. Look at Jimmy Bain versus Ronnie James Dio. Both men created some amazing music together, but Dio is the name known and mourned for the most, yet I also felt sadness for Bain. Not as much perhaps, but I still felt that loss.
The reason I’ve taken to write about this is simple: we need to enjoy our musicians and idols while we still can because without a doubt someday, they’ll be gone. Even you reading this will be taking a dirt nap a lot sooner than you realize. I’m not saying that if you hate Glenn Frey and The Eagles that you have to bawl your eyes out and spin their entire catalog in celebration. If you hate a band/musician, you hate them. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that on the reverse spectrum there have been some performers that have died that I either felt nothing for or was happy about (I absolutely detest Nirvana so when Cobain shot himself I had no compunctions with being OK with it.) However I respect those that are fans enough to allow them their chance to mourn and pay their respects because I would want the same done for me (except for my buddy Dave. Sorry Dave.) Humor is one way I deal with grief, so sometimes a meme in bad taste will make me chuckle, even if it happens to be someone I love immensely. I don’t get the whole “Too Soon” mentality. Still, if I know someone that feels the opposite I will honor their wish and keep my opinion to myself (something the world would benefit more from if people kept their opinions to themselves when it has no direct bearing on their lives, but that’s a different subject.)
As these rock stars age, we don’t stop to think how their death will impact so many levels of your life. Look at someone like Bowie: the man literally worked until the very end. His music may not have reached the levels of success as some of his previous work, but it was all still amazing material. He and Lemmy were two people that the thought of them no longer being around ever crossed my mind. Lemmy was supposed to be one of the last remaining survivors during the nuclear holocaust along with roaches and Keith Richards (and even Keith isn’t safe from the Reaper’s touch.) This is why I go to as many shows as I possibly can when it comes to those classic performers. In particular if it’s a band or musician I’ve not been able to see live before. This is why I’m seeing Ace Frehley twice in one week next month because he’s one of my biggest music heroes still out there doing it, yet he ain’t getting any younger, so I need to make sure I stand in his presence every chance I can. It’s why it breaks my heart that I’ve stopped seeing KISS live because despite my misgivings of them no longer being around, I can’t part with that high rate of money on a less than stellar performance (looking at you Stanley.) When our heroes reach the point where they can no longer do it, then it’s time for them to hang it up. No shame in admitting it. But killing one’s legacy isn’t the same as no longer being among the living. But again, that’s a topic for later discussion.
My parting words are these: celebrate your musical favorites while you still can. Sure, you can pull out their albums after they’re gone, but they’ll likely be somewhat shrouded in the sadness of them being no longer around. I still get very emotional when I hear songs from Dio at certain times. And never take them for granted- thinking, “Oh they’ll be around forever.” Alas, this is not to be true. All of us will have our card punched some day (some sooner than others.) Here’s hoping the rest of 2016 will be a bright shining beacon for our heroes and that the death knell we ring for far fewer than has happened thus far. I’m just afraid that won’t be the case though.