Thursday, January 27, 2011

Twelve Very Sad Musician Deaths

Elvis. His last album, Moody Blue, still sounds fresh, new, emotional, and fascinating. It pointed the way for much of what I remember of the next five years or so of music, especially early '80s country, which all sounds derived from "For The Heart" and "Moody Blue" and "He'll Have To Go". He was still active and creative and innovative and I'd love to know what he would have done for the last thirty years or so.

John Lennon. Possibly the saddest, most shocking, senseless, unfair rock star death ever. He wasn't effed up on drugs. He had a five year old son he loved, a smart, loving wife and collaborator, a new album (Double Fantasy) that was the best thing he'd done in almost ten years, and a public ready and waiting to welcome him back from his self-imposed exile. And he was only 40!

George Harrison. The last album (Brainwashed) is brilliant, the equal of anything he'd ever done. I would love for him to have gotten another twenty or thirty years; both for his own music and so he could hear the excellent music his son is now making (Fistful of Mercy) and tell him in person how proud he was.

Kirsty MacColl. Again the fantastic creative leap of the last album (Tropical Brainstorm) pointing the way to what else she might have done. She also never got the widespread, A-list acclaim she deserved for her outstanding songwriting.

Kurt Cobain. Nirvana is still the most interesting thing on modern rock radio, despite the familiarity of all the tunes. I never switch stations when "Lithium" or even "Smells Like Teen Spirit" comes on. I started teaching guitar the year he died and I always felt like the kids really learned something musically important by playing his songs.

Jimi Hendrix. What would he have done next? What would he be doing now? I can't even imagine it and neither can anyone else. That's what's so frustrating about a lot of the people on this list. A sense of an unfulfilled mission, the continuation of which would have benefitted the entire world. Perhaps most especially...

John Coltrane. His last recordings were the most extreme, intense, intelligent thing anyone had ever done and no one has ever matched him. Would he have topped himself somehow and showed us something even more new and revolutionary? The frustrating answer is that only he had the mind, the technique, the feeling, and the soul to do whatever it is he would have done next. You could make a case that an entire genre died with him.

Janis Joplin. Wouldn't it be cool to have some late '70s Janis albums? They would sound so soulful and rockin' and mellow by turns and probably sometimes all at once.

John Stenseth. My favorite regular performer at St. Olaf's Larson Coffeehouse by a wide margin and the only one to whom I willingly, enthusiastically surrendered the open mic night stage back in the day. His 12-string was a marvelous machine of melody and rhythm and his voice was a fountain of soul. It makes me question the very nature of existence that he, of all people, died so young.

Sandy Denny. I only recently discovered for myself the true glory and power of this British singer/songwriter, a giant of folk, and I look forward to hearing everything else she ever did and I'm sure I'll get to the point where I am knowledgeable enough to wish there was another thirty years of it.

Chris Bell. His post-Big Star recordings (I Am The Cosmos) are really excellent and I'd love to see where he would have gone. Plus, Like John L. above, his band's inevitable reunion would have been a lot more interesting and authentic.

Alex Chilton. He seems to have been pretty much done with studio recordings but his shows were still great, be they with Big Star, The Box Tops, or solo. I would've liked to have seen him another time or two.

Ars longa, vita brevis.
Wish You Were Here.