I’m finding rock star deaths much harder to cope with these days.
I know we’ve all now developed a rather morose habit of clambering to our social media site of choice in order to solemnly announce to our circle of friends just how much more the dead artist in question really meant to us. As opposed to those mere casual fans now jumping on the grief band wagon just because they happen to have a “best of” compilation CD. But regardless of which of us actually has the most original Bowie vinyl to justify how upset we really are, this recent spate of rock legend demises is really hitting me hard, and I believe it’s hitting many others pretty hard too.
Although their deaths we not recent, I was unsurprised that I was so moved by the deaths of both John Lennon and George Harrison, the guys were Beatles FFS, it’s to be expected. However my grief at the loss of other rock stars has sometimes taken me by surprise. I’d always quite liked Nirvana, but the untimely and tragic death of Kurt Cobain left me reeling for some time at the sudden realization of the genius we had lost. However, possibly the hardest rock star death that I’ve ever had to come to terms was for a man who wasn’t even in a bloody band, yet I have never felt so robbed and cheated as I did when I learned of the death of John Peel.
If I’d been invited onto Desert Island Discs back in November (no reason why I would be), chances are that my selections would probably have overlooked both Motörhead and David Bowie, but the chasm they now seem to have left is both vast and profound. The sense of loss is easily and immediately explainable by the titanic contributions, ingenuity and passion both men bought to the music industry, but perhaps the sense of loss is further amplified by the nagging realization that we may never see their like again
The hitting comprehension that we no longer have the capacity to back fill the immense loss of musical talent we are currently suffering is adding to our sense of loss. I’ve seen loads of jocular Facebook posts pleading with Death for the chance to swap Lemmy or Bowie with Bieber, One Direction or [insert name of this week’s primetime Saturday night karaoke TV show winners here]. We seem to be hemorrhaging rock and pop icons and being left with strategically-groomed choreographed Muppets obeying the formulaic instructions of soulless media executives. No wonder we’re upset.
The easy solution for old farts like me is to wag the bigoted finger of blame at the unimaginative 13-year old girls downloading this dull dirge. I could then opt to take no further part in this music malarkey I once so loved and retreat to the familiar comfort of my neatly ordered gapless Zeppelin and Floyd collections, safe in the opinionated predisposition that modern music is dead. But the reality is that Justin Bieber and Simon Cowell are no more undermining the music industry now any more than The Bay City Rollers or Frank Farian were in my supposed golden age.
Great new music is still out there. Innovative original musicians are still learning their craft in their bedrooms, they’re making demo tapes (or whatever the equivalent of a C90 is these days), they’re forming bands and playing gigs in small clubs. The problem is that many of us have become too lazy to seek them out. We’ve stopped buying Melody Maker and the NME, we no longer bother to read about new bands we haven’t heard of and small gigs that hardly anyone went to. We just log on to Amazon and get told that because we bought Now That’s What I call Commercial Shite Vol. 67 we’d probably also want to buy a copy of Now That’s What I call Commercial Shite Vol. 68, because that’s what everyone else did and it’s far easier than making the effort of broadening our musical horizons.
Maybe the problem isn’t the decline of music, it’s the decline of music journalism. When we abandoned the 12” 33.3 rpm format we also abandoned the rich professional music journalism that informed our careful choices and new discoveries. Fortunately now we’ve realized the error of our ways and vinyl is back, but alas we no longer know what new records to buy, so the vinyl charts are packed with 40th Anniversary Special Editions.
It would be nice to also see the resurgence of music journalism on new platforms like iTunes and Spotify (if hard-copy magazine are no longer viable), but until then we have to accept that John Peel is dead and that we’re just going to have to make more of an effort ourselves to discover the next Bowie and Lemmy.