by Tom Henihan
The death of celebrities unavoidably catches our attention as the media focuses its bovine gaze on all aspects of the deceased individual’s life. The effete, breathless pundits of popular culture are invited on television to elaborate on the complexity and enduring significance of some rock star’s spurious contribution.
If someone dies whose music you enjoyed at one time, it is reasonable to experience a fleeting moment of loss or the feeling of it being the end of an era.
For those who have allowed themselves to be mesmerized by the glittering illusion of a rock star’s life, upon that celebrity’s death, the experience of loss is fevered and delusional.
For such impressionable souls, the passing of someone who used to breathe the rarefied air of wealth, fame and adulation, someone they deemed invincible, that glittering illusion is shattered by the absoluteness of death.
Many people associate a melody or a song with a given time in their lives, usually a period in their formative years.
While they outgrow the music they may continue to value the memory it evokes. Or conversely they may also develop an aversion to the song as it reminds them of how callow they were at that time. Either response is proportionate and healthy.
More complex forms of music such as classical or jazz that demand greater musicianship and discipline, also demand comportment when being played in order to do the music justice and play it well.
In such instances the musician’s role is more challenging but less overt. The listener is allowed to appreciate the performance while disassociating the performer from the music. In this context the audience are aficionados rather than fans. While they are no less passionate about the music they are more critically engaged and far less prone to hyper-ventilating worship.
On the other hand, popular music is intimately tied to the persona and posturing of the musician, to the gyrations of the singer or the strutting guitar hero. The musicians stand in front of the music they play. It is this kind of performance that feeds the pathetic illusion that when the performer dies the fan has lost someone significant and close. However, if the music is indeed the primary issue there should be a minimal sense of loss as the music is still there.
The recent deaths of David Bowie and Prince are perfect examples of the excessive outpouring of grief by people who had never met the object of that grief.
David Bowie, who never missed an opportunity to embellish his persona, in his final contribution to popular music shamelessly contributed to the dramatization of his own passing.
With Prince, it was really just the tragedy of a talented, relatively young man dying suddenly.
But we live in excessive times when a reserved, proportionate response to these events now seems less than adequate. There is the mandatory public expressions of grief, of being emotionally abject and of course the vigils, the laying of flowers and totems at the celebrity’s home or other significant sites.
Now that most of the rock stars from the 1960’s are getting on and with old age and its attendant afflictions they are no doubt feeling the mortality blues.
So,it is as inevitable as death itself, that we are in for a lot of vigils, public displays of grief and complex analyses of facile musical offerings.