It’s starting to feel like the chorus of a Billy Joel song around here.
Whitney Houston, Davey Jones,
melatonin wouldn’t solve their woes.
We didn’t start the fiiire …
And so on. (You have to sing melatoninwouldn’t like it’s all one word for my shitty line to fit up there. Work with me here.)
Whitney Houston’s death seems particularly tragic since she died in a bathtub. Jones’ heart attack feels more natural, even though it might have been just as preventable for all I know. Anyway, I thought it might do to put these deaths in perspective with other musicians who have died too soon.
The most recent, of course, is Michael Jackson, whose doctor was just found guilty of homicide. It is impossible now, to know what his comeback tour would have produced. We are no closer to fully solving questions about his behavior with young children. Cleared of charges, yes, but not of suspicion. But he’s not the only one.
We’ve been losing rock stars ever since they started singing. Even more so since they discovered hard drugs. I’ll give you a list here of the ones I can think of without research.
The plane crash that took Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens, of course, spurred “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”. The separate crashes that that killed Otis Redding and three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.* didn’t generate tribute songs that I know of. I don’t think much can be learned from these deaths. Unless it’s ‘don’t fly in a small private plane if you don’t have to’, but I think that’s a little unfair, and it does nothing to address car crashes (damned nearly claimed Gloria Estefan), or other accidental deaths (Eric Clapton’s son who fell out a window. Christ.)
Similarly, it’s hard to pinpoint any teachable (or possibly learnable) moments from medical deaths. I think one of the members of the Byrds got blindsided by a heart attack. I’m pretty sure Mama Cass choked to death. (Jesus, what a way to go.) Strokes, pneumonia, complications from HIV (fare thee well Freddie Mercury), all of these things amount to a life cut short, a career ended brutally. Even June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash whose careers were long and storied belong on this list. They died of natural causes before they were ready to stop singing, before we were ready to stop listening.
It gets more senseless from there. The drug deaths? Elvis on the can, Marilyn Monroe sprawled across her bed, Janis Joplin beside the bed, Jim Morrison in a Paris hotel (God knows about the bed), Jimi Hendrix in his apartment. The suicides? Michael Hutchence hanging in an Australian hotel room, Kurt Cobain with a shotgun and a note. The murders? John Lennon shot by a crazed man, Selena shot by a former employee, Tupac shot in the street, Jam Master Jay shot to death in a recording studio. Death doesn’t get more violent or immediate.
The list is incomplete – it’s just what I could come up with without looking. That so many names should come to mind one after the other after the other speaks volumes to the dangers that come with musical fame. And in the last few weeks, two more names have gone on that roll. Whitney Houston, drowned in her own bathtub, and Davey Jones, heart attack. James Dean may have thought it better to burn out than to fade away, but I personally would like to see more of my idols die from the complications of old age.
I suppose the only thing left to say has already been sung by The Righteous Brothers (Bobby Hatfield, cocaine). They got a hell of a band somewhere, people. A hell of a band.
* Confession. I cannot spell Lynyrd Skynyrd without research. I had to Google that. The overuse of the letter y in place of “eo”, “a” or “i” throws me. In my stupid rigidly grammatical mind, the band pops up Leonard Skinnard, even though this isn’t an area where I object to the poetic license. It just won’t stick.
Do I care, Jessie? Quit interrupting yourself woman.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.