Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When The Music Dies Part 2

For most of us, our “era of music” tends to be defined by what we were listening to in our high school years. We grow and change continuously, and I certainly hope that would include adding and evolving with music as well, but those last years of adolescence usually make connections that stick with us for life. We may not always look back on that music as the best or our favorite (though doing so is certainly quite common), but most people will look back on that music with fond nostalgia, at least and often, whether we realize it or not, that nostalgia plays a heavy role in how we judge what comes later.

I graduated high school in 1990, so my era of music would be predominantly the late 1980’s, and yes, I am an unabashed hair band fan. I love lots of music, and I actually have something of a reputation for my appreciation of more complex musical genres, but I will always be drawn back to the far-less-complicated glamor of screaming guitars and piercing vocals. It’s fun, and I love fun. Fun doesn’t have to be complicated, though being able to fully enjoy and appreciate more than one thing or one style certainly helps.

One of the bands that defined my era for me was Def Leppard. They were the leading edge of my generation’s British Invasion (and there does seem to be one of those almost every generation, doesn’t there?), and they managed to keep rocking through so many trials and tribulations that doing so became almost a defining element of who they were. In fact, one of those trials would be the first time I can remember a celebrity death having a personal impact at the time, and is the first part of today’s installment.

Steve Clark
4/23/1960 - 1/8/1991

In January 1991, I had been home from Army training for just over a month, and many of the people I knew and cared about were over in the Middle East either involved in or getting ready to be involved in that round of hostilities with Iraq. I spent that entire period on Stand By, and it is difficult to express the stress of those days unless you have been a part of something similar yourself. This was also shortly before the breakdown that would culminate in everything you’ve been reading here. In that environment and frame of mind, I was sitting up late one night working on something (I don’t even remember what, though I think it may have been a photo album or scrapbook of some kind), with MTV providing background noise, as it usually did during that period of my life. The Music News bit came on, and they announced that Steve Clark had been found dead in his home, an apparent result of alcohol and prescription medication. I was stunned. I was so floored by this announcement that I actually dropped what I was doing and drove to a friends house in the middle of the night because I didn’t want to be alone with this news.

Steve Clark had been the heart and soul of Def Leppard, and his low-slung guitar style defined a generation. He was the guitar version of a gunslinger, known alternately as Steve “Steamin” Clark and “The Riffmaster,” with an understated yet masterful style that was all heart. That heart, of course, was plagued by demons, and Clark’s death drove home the reality that sometimes the demons win. Steve Clark’s death hit home, and it hurt, but his music lives on and his fans have never forgotten how much more he was than just those demons.

Freddie Mercury
9/5/1946 - 11/24/1991

Freddie Mercury was a legend in his own time, and his legend has only grown since his passing. Mercury died on November 24, 1991 as a result of complications from AIDs, just one day after publicly announcing that he had the disease. Though he had not acknowledged the illness beforehand, Mercury’s death did much to put a spotlight on HIV and AIDs, and that spotlight has helped improve both treatment and the public perception in positive ways in the years since. I loved Freddie for his music and his art, but as someone who lost a very dear relative to AIDs in 1994, I can’t tell you how much this part has come to mean to me.

I remember driving around town shortly after my cousin’s death and hearing the DJ announce something about new Queen music, coming up. I nearly crashed from the audacious surprise of it. Mercury had been dead for years. There couldn’t be new Queen music. Then I found out about, and subsequently bought and listened to, Made In Heaven, the last album that Mercury recorded before his death, mastered and released posthumously. It was an amazing experience listening to a man who knew and had made peace with the fact that he was dying. That album, as much as it was Freddie’s farewell, was the purest form of innocent joy. That was Freddie Mercury in a nutshell: wild, reckless abandon on the surface and retiring, innocent joy at the core.

Criss Oliva
4/3/1963 - 10/17/1993

My favorite metal band of all time is Savatage, founded by brothers Jon and Criss Oliva, and Criss Oliva could do things with a guitar that many people only dream of. It’s worth noting that most lists of top guitarists put together today will include Criss, and that includes, unfortunately, lists of guitarists who went unappreciated in their own lifetimes. It has often been remarked by guitar aficionados, with no small amount of scorn, that none of the major guitar or metal magazines of the time ever interviewed or featured Criss and they did not do the expected tributes when he died, but they all talk about him now. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

One of the things that makes Criss stand out is that he was almost the opposite of the typical rock star in so many ways. He didn’t have the reputation for drink and drugs (and Jon had enough reputation there to overshadow the rest of the band combined). He didn’t just marry his high school sweetheart, he married his middle school sweetheart. Even his death was almost a perfect reverse of the stereotype: He and his wife Dawn were on their way to a local livestock show when a drunk driver crossed the median and struck their car, killing Criss instantly. Sometimes the universe just happens. Regardless of anything else, though, Criss was loved by his fans, and they have never forgotten him.

As time goes on, we lose more and more of the entertainers who fascinated us when we were younger, but we always have the legacy of what they gave us. Sometimes the memories are all we have, but sometimes memories can be the best things to have. Plus, there is always what comes next, and something always comes next. Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we play the hand we’re dealt and life goes on. We can go with it or we can die with the past. There really isn’t a third option. It’s just a matter of how long the second option takes. Enjoy what you have when you have it - don’t take it for granted - and enjoy the memory when that is what you have. Life is meant to be lived, so best to live it.

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