If you believe in forever, and life is just a one-night stand. If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a helluva band.
— The Righteous Brothers
Death, the philosophers tell us, is a part of life, the end of a journey spent preparing for what comes next.
Such platitudes don’t, however, make it any easier when we have to say a final farewell to someone we love or someone who has dramatically impacted our lives.
If you’re a music fan, such farewells have been plentiful this year, the obituary pages announcing almost daily the loss of another artist whose music touched us in that way that only such artists can. From vocal queen Etta James back in January to greats Levon Helm, Adam Yauch, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Doc Watson and Bob Welch in the last few weeks, it seems we’re losing an inordinate amount of talent as the calendar pages flip from day to day.
Singers James (who died 1-20), Johnny Otis (1-17), Jimmy Castor (leader of the Jimmy Castor Bunch, also 1-17), Whitney Houston (2-11), former Monkee Davy Jones (2-29), Band great Helm (4-17), Beastie Boy Yauch (5-4), disco/rock queen Summer (5-17), BeeGee Gibb (5-20), Bobby Thomas of the Orioles (5-3), solo/Fleetwood Mac vocalist Welch (6-7) and late Platter Herb Reed (6-4) would no doubt be a fine addition to any heavenly choir.
Then there are the great musicians: bassist Dunn (5-15), guitarist Ronnie Montrose (3-3), banjo innovator Earl Scruggs (3-28), saxophonists Tommy Marth of the Killers (4-23) and Andrew Love of the famous Memphis Horns (4-12), drummers Peter Jones of Crowded House (5-18), Robert Nix of the Atlanta Rhythm Section (5-20) and Mark “Boom Boom” McConnell of Blackfoot (5-24), as well as Flatt and Scruggs mandolin virtuoso Everett Lilly (5-8). Talk about making a joyful noise.
The list also includes lesser-known, but no less talented, artists Michael Davis (MC5, 2-17), Fred Milano (Dion & the Belmonts, 1-1), Bob Weston (Fleetwood Mac, 1-3), Ronnie Smith (K.C. & the Sunshine Band, 1-21), Thomas Andrew Kravitz-Hear (OutKast, 2-9), Red Holloway (Etta James, 2-25), Jimmy Ellis (the Trammps, 3-8), Michael Hossack (the Doobie Brothers, 3-12), Chris Etheridge (the Flying Burrito Brothers, 4-23) and Luke Brandon (the Everly Brothers, 2-15).
Two men who were not musicians but were instrumental in introducing fans to many of their favorite artists — Don Cornelius of “Soul Train” fame (2-1) and “American Bandstand’s” beloved Dick Clark (4-18) — are also among 2012’s list of gone-but-not-forgotten musical icons.
Perhaps this year’s list of the musically departed is no longer or shorter than most other such annual lists. Maybe it just seems that way because so many big-name and influential artists are on the list, one seemingly after the other.
And maybe it just hits a little closer to home when artists who were such an influential part of the baby boom generation’s musical education are among the departed, an alarming number of them taking their own lives. Who can listen to the Band’s “The Weight” or the Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” or the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” or the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” or the BeeGees’ “Words” now and not feel a sense of loss?
Certainly our lives have a little more joy in them because these artists left their work behind for us to treasure. But because that joy will now be tempered by a sometimes overwhelming sense of loss, the musical treasures we cling so tightly to will forever after be bittersweet.
Respect to all ... may they rest in peace ... Long may your music play on.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.