It’s not the music that reminds us we’re mortal… it’s the musicians

Music plays a big part in our lives. So losing the creators of our favourite music can have a profound impact on us.

There’s an odd sensation inside when you turn on the news and hear a familiar track, only to be told at the end of it, “That was x, who passed away today.” Somehow a piece of your life has been torn away, like a much-loved shirt off your back. You may not have known the person personally but they provided part of the soundtrack to your life.

So it has not been a great few months for anyone whose musical heroes strutted their stuff in the 70s… Lemmy, Bowie, Glenn Frey and now Keith Emerson have all been lost – none of them exactly “old”.  It’s little consolation when people suggest that somewhere in Heaven the greatest line up of all time is being assembled.

Of course many of the great contributors to the rock and pop canon passed away at a very young age indeed: Moon at 32, Presley at 42, Gaye at 44, Marley at 37, Lennon at 40, Mercury at 45, Stevie Ray Vaughn at 35; and of course a long list at just 27 – Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, Hendrix, Brian Jones…

Their deaths was shocking in a different way: they seemed to us mortals to have been plucked from life like the poets of old – they were too good for this plane, so the Gods took them from us. They also reminded us of the fragility of genius.

The new “batch” of leavers are people our age or thereabouts, and so in part their deaths are stark reminders of our own mortality… but perhaps also they throw us back to the time when the world was young, anything was possible and it was their music that – in part – defined us.

Bowie will be the big one to many of my generation and I was one of many who aspired after the androgynous look, and resonated to the rebellion in the lyrics – confident that they were harbingers of the social revolution that was surely to com

Of course the social revolution we confidently anticipated never really happened, but the spirit of what could have been can still be witnessed whenever “Jean Genie” is played and with a whoop of recognition, the 60 somethings take to the dance floor. It may not be pretty, it may not even be entirely safe, but it sure is defiant.

Quite what those words meant, we never really knew, but they were dark and mysterious, hinting at seductive alternatives… our parents’ generation didn’t like them – and that was good enough for us.

In stark contrast to that interpretation of music, some University researcher has just opined that lyrics about ageing and loss depress us and make us feel older. Nah.

I’m pretty sure that Leonard Cohen, when he sings “Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey, I ache in the places where I used to play” speaks for us all in our gloomier moments; but the overarching moral of “The Tower of Song” is that songs make their creators immortal: “You’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’ve gone, I’ll be singing to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song” is the concluding message.

Great art does that: it unleashes a potent power that can live on, in minds and hearts, for ever.

But as for all these great musos popping off, well I guess it’s downhill from here. Each month some icon of the 60s, 70s or even later is sure to drop off the twig and bring forth a wave of memories of when to be young was very heaven.

There are still plenty out there who made a difference to our lives, and who will be mourned when they too go. But their music will live on – and we should continue to celebrate that. I know that despite all outward appearances to the contrary, the music I loved then and still love today won’t make me immortal… but it means I can always be 19.

Image: Photobra|Adam Bielawski

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