The shock of 2016, the year of the Great Dying Off of Musicians, is still being felt.
It started with David Bowie on Jan. 10, 2016, and before the first quarter was over, we had lost Glen Frey (The Eagles), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane/Starship), Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), George Martin (The Beatles’ producer), and Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer).
It continued with Prince, Merle Haggard, Scotty Moore (of Elvis’ band), producer Sandy Pearlman, disgraced boy band Svengali Lou Pearlman, Greg Lake (ELP again), Gordie Tapp, and George Michael.
Count up all the notable musicians who died in 2016 and you end up with about a hundred names with the vast majority of them in their 60s and 70s. A slightly growing number left us in each of 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, most of them from the issues of old age and decades of hard (or shall we say, hearty) living.
So far, 2022 shows signs of being just as rough — or worse. Canadian R. Dean Taylor was the first on Jan. 7.
Since then, we’ve lost Ronnie Spector (cancer), Meat Loaf (a heart issue that might have been exacerbated by COVID-19), Foreigner’s Ian McDonald (cancer), Dallas Good of The Sadies (heart condition), Gary Brooker of Procol Harum (cancer), Mark Lanegan (unknown, but he’d been sick for a while with many, many things), Taylor Hawkins (looks like a heart condition), Bobby Rydell (pneumonia), Naomi Judd (died by suicide), Vangelis (COVID-19), Alan White of Yes (unknown), Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher (unknown), Ronnie Hawkins (he was 87), and dozens more.
It always comes as a shock when a favourite artist dies. It’s not as if we knew them personally, but it’s through their art that we learn more about ourselves. When we’re in pain, we often turn to their music for solace and strength. And when they die, the music that once consoled us and gave us so much joy itself becomes a source of pain. That’s very hard to take. Their deaths also remind us of our own mortality, too.
Personally, I find it incomprehensible that Bowie, Prince, Gord Downie, and Neil Peart are no longer with us. I mean, they’d always been there. How is it possible that they’re gone?
For the last couple of years, there’s been a folder on my computer labelled “When They Die.” It’s a growing collection of pre-written obituaries for a long list of musical artists who are in their 60s and 70s, ready for publication and production across a number of websites and radio stations. Newspapers and broadcasters all over the world have similar folders. You can probably imagine the names included in these files.
All this has many people thinking about spending the dosh and making efforts to see their favourite heritage artists at least one more time.
This Wednesday, I’m making a quick trip to Boston to see Paul McCartney at Fenway Park. It’s expensive and a long way to go for a concert inconveniently scheduled in the middle of the week. but anyone who’s ever been present when Macca leads the crowd in a singalong of the coda of Hey Jude knows what kind of spiritual experience that is. Leading the way is an actual living Beatle, the man who wrote one of the finest songs of the 20th century. Belay that: One of the finest songs in the history of music.
By all reports, he’s still in good health even as he approaches his 80th birthday on June 18. His voice is weakening, but he’s been able to compensate and he’s got a crack band to help him out. Heck, I’ll still go see McCartney when they’re wheeling him up to the piano in a wheelchair because … well, he’s Paul McCartney, the universe’s greatest living songwriter.
There may be another chance to see The Rolling Stones who are on their 60th-anniversary tour in Europe this summer. Charlie won’t be there, of course — we lost him last summer — but as long as we have Mick and Keef in the front row, it’s still The Stones. Mostly. Close enough.
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This September, there’s an Elton John concert I must see. The first album I ever bought was a copy of his first greatest hits collection. Can you believe I’ve never seen the man live? The excuse has always been “I’ll go next time.” But at 75, Elton is approaching the end of what he swears is his farewell tour. He’s had his health challenges, too. Can’t wait anymore.
The very first concert I ever attended was KISS on their Love Gun tour back in 1978. Gene Simmons maintains that they’re done after this current road trip called The End of the Road World Tour. The last date currently listed on their website is in Sacramento on Oct. 7. I feel some kind of obligation to be there for the end.
Finally on the schedule — at least for the moment — is one more time with The Who on their The Who Hits Back tour. I never had to see them at their most dangerous when Keith Moon was alive, but it’s always been worth it to hear Won’t Get Fooled Again live even though they’re down to just Pete and Roger.
We can deny it all we want, but we’re approaching the end of a very special era in rock. My advice? Grab everything you can with both hands while it lasts. And don’t forget to buy the T-shirt.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.