Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The cult of the ever-youthful dead pop star

One of my earliest childhood memories -- and certainly my first real brush with popular culture -- is the death of Elvis. Of course, I knew not who he was really, although I do recall telling my mum that her boyfriend was dead. Seems I was wrong, though, and it was Alvin Stardust who she had a thing for.

Regardless, the notion of dead pop star as icon and cult was born, for me, there and then, and I lapped up Elvis's music via my dad's record collection. Sadly, my brother and I probably ruined many highly collectable discs in the process.

Other dead icons preceded Elvis of course: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix to name but a few. I have nothing much to add. I despise The Doors and Morrison. Joplin, whatever. Hendrix, yeah he's all right...

A couple of years later I discovered Buddy Holly. This one had been in his grave a while longer, of course. But so devoted was I, that I soon acquired everything I could. The great thing about picking up on a dead artist was that the output was finite. (Or so it seemed in those days.)

It wasn't long before I turned to punk and the Sex Pistols. Oh, look, one of them's dead. I'm sensing a disturbing pattern here... Although it goes without saying that, as this list progresses, Sid Vicious will be seen as the odd one out, being as he was an untalented loser and all.

The 1980s passed without a real notable pop-star death for me, with the exception early on in that decade of John Lennon, and so we move on to the '90s.

In 1991, the Manic Street Preachers landed in my lap with a bang. It felt good to get in at ground level with a new band. Good look, good music (although I thought my band was better at first).

And then came Nirvana. And within a couple of years here was my first first-hand taste of rock martyr, suicide, or whatever you want to call it. Here was an artist who had meant something to me while he was alive, only to have him do himself in. I was used to having dead heroes, but this was my first dead hero that I knew when he was alive.

And then, about a year after Cobain's death, Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers disappears. He'd been clinically depressed for ages. Is he dead? We still don't know. Officially, though, he is, as a result of being missing for so long -- 11 years and counting. So he's kind of my own second dead idol.

I guess Tupac doesn't really count, since my interest in his music really began with his death in 1996. Going to back to my roots, picking up the pieces after the fact. Despite my voracious appetite for his material, the supply soon outstripped my demand, and I had to stop buying his records once it became clear that substandard work was being released. Shame to do that to his memory.

And then, most recently, Elliott Smith, just a few short years ago, who took his own life with several knife wounds to the chest. Umm, yeah, that sounds feasible. He was more Wife's guy than mine, but we did see him perform live and he was undoubtedly a major talent, desperately underapprecieted in his US homeland.

Invariably these deaths all occurred at a young age, too. Of those cited, Elvis made it to 42 -- hardly a ripe old age; Elliott got to 34. Nobody else even made it to 30. Live fast, die young, leave a good-lookin' corpse.

Where does all that leave us?

Beyond a doubt, I am, on a certain level, a victim of the cult of the dead pop star. A performer's passing makes me want to at least check out their oeuvre and see what all the fuss is about.

But it's also true, as evidenced above, that I am drawn to the music of these lost, suicidal souls way before they go the way of all things.

What does that mean?

Is it inevitable that those artists -- poets, performers, men of the people, who put themsleves out there, stripped bare for all to see -- are ultimately doomed to an early grave? Is too much passion a short cut to the hereafter? And is there any truth in my belief that the first of these tortured storytellers -- indeed, the reason for our obsession with the dead pop star -- was Jesus Christ himself?

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Blogger Jesus aka J-Man said...

Well. That's really nice of you to say, but I really can't sing THAT well. But thanks.

11 October, 2006 09:26  
Blogger Milla said...

You forgot GG Allin...

11 October, 2006 10:55  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Not only did they die before thirty, but weren't they all 27? Weird.

I think the dead hero motif, older than Christ, is a part of the mythology. but the dead hero has to be talented. It's not enough to be just dead. They had to be artistic. And their fans usually have artistic natures. And by that, I don't mean suicidal...but the well rounded traits. A dialogue with emotions, able to verbally express those emotions, compassionate, sensitive, energetic, curious, thoughtful, empathic and sensitive.

Unfortunately, our culture loves to stomp all over the artistic personality, its a dangerous place for such empathic personalities. Hamlet, Arjuna, Christ, Siddhartha,..all their narratives come from the same root story. Thats why they have over laps and helped create a tradition of a hero. We don't have a healthy group attitude to artistic personalities and empathic often they play with substances to numb the pain, are risk takers, with travel, love, art, emotions. Not conducive to a long life unless one gets a chance to be self reflective and often strong support group, through family, marriage or management. See, Jesus died because he had bad management. (and hell...we all know he didn't die he snuck away to France with Mary and their kids are alive and well and living in the CotedAzur)

11 October, 2006 13:01  
Blogger FOUR DINNERS said...

Jesus did a crackin' Anarchy in the UK I'm told....Is Elvis dead then? The chip shops still open, thought it'd close in memory or some'at.

11 October, 2006 14:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that's why my records are selling for shit...

I need to kill myself.

Or, wait...I don't have any records. ;)


11 October, 2006 16:08  
Blogger Yasamin said...

yeah milla!!! hell yeah for someone who remembere GG Allin!!! rock on!

Saw the murder junkies just a few years ago and his brother is the nicest rockin guy i have ever met!!!

you know what freaks me out? when they die then a year later new songs are released under his name. NAMELY TUPAC!!! uhhh weird!

11 October, 2006 17:09  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Jesus: Thanks for stopping by, bro. I bet you thought that was a pic of you at the top of the post, huh? I'm sure you can sing just fine, you put yer mind to it...

Milla: Not so much forgot him. More he wasn't really on my radar. Still isn't really. Know the name, know the face, don't know the output.

Candy: It had crossed my mind while writing the post that they were all very similar in age, around 27, but I then forgot to go check some of those that I'm not that familiar with. You would know better than me the historical longevity of this phenomenon, but for sure it's a recurrent theme. And I like the "bad management" thing! Maybe he had Colonel Tom Parker on his side...

11 October, 2006 19:04  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

4D: Well, Jesus reckons he can't sing (see comment at top), so maybe he does do a good Anarchy In The UK. Elvis is either dead or he ain't; jury's out on that one.

Steven: Thanks for dropping by. Maybe you should make some records before topping yourself.

Yasamin: Hey, welcome. Yeah that 2Pac thing bugs me, too, which is why I had to mention it in the post. It's got way out of hand...

11 October, 2006 19:40  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

GG Allin?!? Ugg. Never understood what was so cool about a guy who loved to smear his own shit on himself and those around him. I met him when he was staying at the YMCA here in Ann Arbor. He told me his name was Kevin. WTF?

11 October, 2006 20:54  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

It's a tough life workin for the man (that would be the record company). It's a wonder any of them survive it. Like what's with Weird Bob Dylan, after whopping bouts with substance use and Christianity....and continuing to play a couple hundred gigs a year.

12 October, 2006 01:15  
Blogger Milla said...

I never got GG Allin either, nor liked his music, but I've always been fascinated by such people. He was like a lost soul in a way...

12 October, 2006 10:34  
Blogger apositivepessimist said...

arhaaha I remember that Alvin Stardust dude. funny that I don't remember anything other than the name and what he looked like...a pose all in black leather.

I think my first "rockstar" death was that of Bon Scott...I enjoyed him on our CountDown many a Sunday night...then he was gone.

I don't even know who the fook GG Allin IS/WAS. I'll have to google him.

12 October, 2006 11:14  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

I forgot to mention that GG's "real" name was Jesus Christ Allin. So, in a way, he does kind of pertain to this post. Why he told me he was Kevin, I'll never know. Oh, and he was in Ann Arbor serving out his probation time after his term in Jackson (Michigan) Prison.

12 October, 2006 15:18  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Camie: Yeah, I'd forgotten that he was excrement guy. Nice. Funny he chose to tell you his name was Kevin! And his real name does tie in rather nicely. Sounds like a stand-up guy.

Mr A: I think you're right that it's a wonder any come thru okay. Still, those that make it are well remunerated for thie troubles...

Milla: Ah, I thought you were a fan or something! A lost soul indeed.

APP: Bon Scott, yeah. That's a good one for the list. Not totally my thing, but still. I hope you liked what you found on Google.

12 October, 2006 19:49  
Blogger Martha Elaine Belden said...

from Wikipedia:

Shortly before Allin started school, his mother changed his legal name to Kevin Michael Allin (on March 2, 1962 by his birth certificate).

just fyi :)

12 October, 2006 20:41  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

Hey Martha! Thanks for the info. I had no idea. I now give the guy kudos for telling me the truth, and not trying to get out of saying who he was.

13 October, 2006 00:12  
Blogger Gardenia said...

Wow, what a powerful ending! Powerful post. I think maybe being an artist is a risk factor. My son, a poet and artist, also died at age 27. He felt too much, too hard, too deep. Kurt Colbain seemed to be like that until he numbed most all away with drugs. Ray Charles lives, but his life story is an example of haunted brilliance. Look at Frida Kahlo, not 27 - but more tortured brilliance, and now so famous. Bob Dylan, the great, prophet & poet, yeh, how has he survived? His music is still brilliant, but compared to the very early days, a bit numbed up. Now, his latest album sounds a bit like my groanings into old age, even a bit banal. But I adore him and will forever. Elvis, I grieved over. What a waste to loose these hall of famers. Candy Minx's analysis leading to risk taking behavior was really insightful!

13 October, 2006 05:19  
Blogger Yasamin said...

GG Allin was born Jesus Christ Allin but was christened Kevin. He was more then insane in so many ways and still to this day has an extreme following.

13 October, 2006 06:36  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Martha: Thanks. I guess I could've looked it up myself, but I'm just too damn lazy.

Camie: And there you were, thinking he was a lyin' sack o' shit!

Diana: Thanks. So sorry to hear about your son.

Yasamin: It's a crazy, mixed-up world, ain't it?!

13 October, 2006 10:14  
Blogger Camie Vog said...

Well, he liked to wear shit...I just know, you wear it, you are it. Still, Ugg.
For the record, I saw no shit on him during my 5 minute visit. 5 minutes was all I could stand. His room did smell a little funny, though.

13 October, 2006 22:57  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Camie: Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck, huh? Fair enough.

14 October, 2006 10:41  
Blogger Martha Elaine Belden said...

*: yeah, i'm a dork like that. i always look stuff up... google is my friend

camie: glad i could help

14 October, 2006 17:38  

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