Friday, April 10, 2020

When The Music Dies 2020

Music has been my deepest obsession for as long as I can remember and, very likely, for far longer than that. I tend to think in song lyrics and, when I have trouble expression a thought or - more often - a feeling, I turn to music to find an expression I can understand. In school when we used to make book covers out of cut-up grocery sacks (ask your parents if you don’t know what I’m talking about), mine were inevitably covered in song lyrics, band logos, and concert dates. Who am I kidding? Any surface I could write or draw on, including my own clothes (Sorry, Mom), was usually covered in music. Did I mention that it was an obsession?

We who share such an appreciation for music have also shared the loss when musicians important to our appreciation pass away. The recent apparent rash of celebrity deaths put me in mind of this, and inspired me to want to do a small tribute to some of those who were some of my biggest influences over the years. Their music helped define who I am, and who I am defines everything we do here, so it will provide some extra insight into my inner ticking. Putting together such a list was tricky, to say the least, and I don’t want to give the impression that anyone not mentioned here was not important. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m just working with a limited amount of space, even allowing this to be a theme for the week, and have decided to focus on some who especially stand out for me on a personal basis. These are all musicians who meant something special to me as musicians and, with the exception of one, whose deaths had a personal impact as well. I’m always happy to discuss more in the comments. Just let me know.

Jim Morrison
12/8/1943 - 7/3/1971

Jim Morrison died the same year I was born, several months before I was born in fact, so I certainly cannot remember his death and did not know his music during his lifetime, but you would be hard pressed to identify a musician who had a more direct impact on me, my life, and my thoughts on art, life, and living. He was a man who was passionate about everything he did, and sometimes that passion conflicted with everything else he did. Ultimately, that passion would be his undoing, but even that was a lesson for someone willing to learn. To the casual observer, Morrison often appeared to have an obsession with death but, if you look more closely, that obsession was actually with life, all of life, taken as a whole, with death being an integral part of that whole. He lived without a net, and that did eventually catch up with him.

I once did a marathon of watching the 1991 movie starring Val Kilmer, the 1981 documentary No One Here Gets Out Alive, and then listened to every Doors album I owned, followed by dinner at a local eatery where I played every Doors song they had on the juke box. I didn’t come down for days, and the music and the experience was the entire high. He was one of the great American poets and, like all great poets, he had an ability to distill experience in a way that was nothing short of magic. It bypassed the brain and went to work straight on the soul. He was lost far too young, but what he did in that brief time would change the world of music forever.

John Lennon
10/9/1940 - 12/8/1980

Though my love of The Beatles would not develop its full bloom until years later, the assassination of John Lennon when I was 9-years-old was probably the first celebrity death that I had active knowledge of. I knew who Lennon was, of course - you couldn’t love music at that time and not know John Lennon - and I knew right then that he was all about peace, love, and harmony. The blustery, and often angry young man who had been such a driving force behind music in the 1960’s was still someone I had yet to learn about, but the death of the man as I knew of him in 1980 was the first hint of the end of innocence. This was the alarm that signalled something was very wrong in the world.

John Lennon was a man who struggled with life, wanting to be accepted by all, but being almost pathologically unable to conform in ways that would be necessary to make that happen. He had a burning intellect, a dry humor, and a tendency to ask questions that made people uncomfortable. He described himself as a troublemaker, someone whom parents would warn their children to stay away from, but if he was a troublemaker, it was in ways the world needs to be troubled. Sometimes the world needs to be uncomfortable, and I think Lennon was one of those people who is very good at spotting those times. He struggled with his temper, with his self-esteem, and with his understanding of the world, but the important thing is that he struggled. He kept trying, and that is often the most critical difference.

Randy Rhoads
12/6/1956 - 3/19/1982

He was, without a doubt, one of the greatest guitarists in rock and roll history and has been cited as an influence by probably more guitarists after him than any other single player, and he achieved that status after only four albums and about four years. Two of those albums were only released in Japan, and that to less than stellar applause at the time. According to most sources who knew him, Randy Rhoads was getting ready to drop out of popular music and focus on classical guitar, at least for a time, just before his death but, even if true, he had already changed popular music forever. A freak plane crash took his life far too soon, but not before he had left a mark that would become a legend.

By all accounts, Randy Rhoads was a fun, kind young man who loved guitar and lived for his music. During a time when the rock and roll bad boy image was at its peak, Rhoads was the exception who was known for being approachable by fans, and being “such a lovely guy” (former bandmate Lee Kerslake, commenting on Rhoads after his death), who would even admonish against the excesses so common to that lifestyle. According to Ozzy, the last conversation the pair had on the tour bus the night before the accident was Randy warning the singer that heavy drinking would be the death of him if he, Ozzy, didn’t get it under control. He was a man who cared, in a field where that is so often not the case.

My early life was, of course, before the rise of the Internet, and much of it was even before the rise of MTV, so we didn’t always know about things when they were happening, as we so often do now. There was not a 24-hour news cycle yet, and there was often a delay between an event and the knowledge of the event, but some things were still so big that they seemed to be almost universally known almost immediately. Some events are so big, they change the world, or at least one’s perception of the world. This was my early world, and it shaped my early understanding of the world. The world keeps moving, though, and we must move with it. The music dies, but the music lives on. Long live the music.

First Posted as When The Music Dies Part 1 2-23-16

Hope you have enjoyed revisiting some of our most popular musical posts this week. Have a great weekend!

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