Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dead Pop Stars

The first pop star I remember dying was the biggest. I was only five years old, but even though my parents were old enough to be from the generation before rock 'n' roll, I still remember the death of Elvis in 1977. I remember standing in the door from the kitchen to the living room and asking my mum to explain what had happened. I must have been able to sense the shock in the air, the shock of the whole world to the death of a legend.

By contrast, I have no memory whatsoever of the death of John Lennon three years later. Perhaps it meant less to my parents, though that's hard to believe. Not because they were Beatles fans, but because the circumstances of Lennon's end were so much more dramatic than Elvis's heart exploding while he sat on the loo. I made up for not acknowledging Lennon's death as a child by becoming fascinated by it later in life. When I went through my Beatles phase, in my late teens / early 20s, the subject obsessed me, fed largely by Jack Jones's Chapman biography, Let Me Take You Down. I even created Pepper's Ghost in tribute, a spooky character in The Jock who died as the result of a record shop argument over which was the best Beatles album.

The death that had the biggest effect on me was Freddie Mercury. I've written before about how Freddie was my first rock idol. The tragic thing about Freddie's death was that we got to watch him waste away before our eyes. You have to admire his conviction to keep recording until his last breath, even though he was little more than a skeleton with a moustache by the time he announced his condition to the world. I still find it painful to watch the videos he recorded for that last Queen album. Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse... Freddie didn't get much choice in that.

Roy Orbison, Michael Hutchence, Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer, Kirsty MacColl, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, Clarence Clemons, Amy Winehouse... I remember being affected by all their deaths to varying degrees, among many others. And it's only going to get worse, isn't it? Not just the ones who burn out, but those who fade away too. I can only imagine how I'll feel when Bruce hangs up his guitar for the final time or Moz finally chucks himself off Beachy Head. How inconsolable will I be?

Though only two months old, 2012's already proved fatal for Whitney Houston. I had a soft spot for Whitney, if only because 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' is one of many songs that reminds me of unrequited crushes at high school discos.

And now we say goodbye to Davy Jones too. The man who gave us this...

"Okay. Now really, like, don't get excited, man. Just 'cause I'm short, I know."

...the self-deprecating intro to one of the greatest pure pop singles ever recorded. For a "manufactured boy band", The Monkees were anything but a manufactured boy band. There was more charm, heart and humour in Davy Jones's little toe than in Ronan Keating's entire recording career. I mean, people said they monkeyed around, but they were too busy singing to put anybody down. They were just trying to be friendly - after all, they were the young generation and they'd got something to say.

While I long since grew out of the Beatles, I don't believe I'll ever grow out of the Monkees. I felt genuinely sad when I read of Davy's passing. Another part of my childhood, another musical hero, another ever-smiling memory: gone. Still, cheer up, sleepy Jean... we'll always have the songs to remember him by.

Which rock star death had the biggest effect on you? And who will you mourn the most when they finally join the heavenly choir?


Steve said...

I was on holiday in Weymouth with my grandparents when Elvis died... even on holiday his death sent shock waves. Kurt Cobain's death was shocking in its gory violence and so needless.

Most of my music idols are still alive thank God... though seeing Siouxsie at 50 is discomforting.

Vicky said...

I was in my first year highschool when Elvis died but the one I remember most was Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1990, I was on a plane and heard that he had died in a helicopter crash.

Kelloggsville said...

I read about Elvis from the Daily Mirror in my parents bedroom. I remember lying on the floor reading it all in the paper. I've had a monkees cd in my car for years. It's one of the few I never change over because it's my ''happy cd". I love 'it's a little bit me" and valleri. But for me it's all about school holiday 10am tv. The monkees or donny and Marie. I'm sad as these people get old and fade as it signals the real death of my childhood. So sad for Davy but long live Donny (and Moz!).

Rob Wells said...

I clearly remember seeing 'The King Is Dead' on the cover of The Sun (or maybe another paper) when I was on holiday in Jersey with my family in 1977. I only vaguely remember the death of John Lennon a few years later. I would probably mourn the death of Tom Waits more than anyone, particularly as he is still making great records. But these rock star deaths tend to affect me more when it's someone whose records I can't stand, like Whitney Houston, and I have to hear their awful bloody records everywhere I go for weeks on end, and watch nauseating clips from their funerals on the news. For that reason, I am willing Elton John and the N-Dubz to live forever.

My favourite rock star death was Michael Hutchence, because he basically died of wanking. I remember Paula Yeats wanted his official cause of death changed from suicide to accidental death, because a verdict of suicide was upsetting to his family, but I really couldn't see how 'death by wanking' would have been any less embarrassing.

Nige Lowrey said...

I remember both Elvis and John Lennon's deaths but few have shocked me. Freddie Mercury a bit but only becuaes I wasn't expecting it: he announced he AIDS so I assumed he had months to live, then the next day he was gone. It was that sideswipe that made it affecting.

Winehouse was inevitable and a pretty nasty person from what I read and saw (and I don't even mean the drugs, just her general attitude) and I could never stand Houston so while not jubilant, I'm far from upset she's dead. Robert Palmer was a shocker.

Sad to see Davey Jones go though: as well as the Monkees being more fun than they had any right to be, he was always teh child-friendly one when I was a kid, everyone's favourite. Shame.

I get more hit when favourite artists pop off: Al Williamson and John Severin being recent examples and sometimes when a favourite actor goes can be hard too..can't think of any examples at the minute though...

Rol said...

Yeah, I should have included Robert Palmer in the list - his death a complete shock and I was a huge fan of his back in the old days.

Rob Wells said...

Yeah, I get much more upset when great comic artists die, too - even when they are old men (Gene Colan, Jim Aparo, etc.).


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