by Joe McNulty
Scrolling through my Facebook homepage last night I came across an article on Vice with a picture of Prince and the headline “Dear 2016, Fuck You.” It instantly caught my attention, and I thought to myself , “you took the words out of my mouth,” this should be an interesting read. Sadly there was no actual content, except for the word “Fuck,” and a full stop. I suppose that single word was enough to express the writers contempt for a year that has vanquished more musical legends in its first quarter in a manner unparalleled in my brief existence. Much more elaboration was required than that single word expletive, and as I turned on TXFM to find that Nialler9 was dedicating the whole night to the deceased Prince, with Raspberry Beret followed by Purple Rain, I felt compelled to finish off the story that wasn’t told. Now, I reiterate the headline “Dear 2016, Fuck you,” but not without adding an indebted “but thanks”.
Towards the end of 2015 the heaviest hitting rock star of them all, Lemmy Kilmister, passed away. The Motorhead legend and metal god, would initiate a cycle of deaths that have shook the world. The iconic frontman’s departure has left a massive hat shaped void in the world’s musical landscape. But with the man himself admitting to drinking vodka and smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, just months before his death, and at the ripe old age of 70, it was always only a matter of time before he would meet his demise. Advised by doctors to change his lifestyle habits and especially his fondness for whiskey, his compromise would be to swap the witch for the bitch and drink vodka instead. A true testament to his hardcore nature, and just one of many stories that characterise him as one of Music’s most loved, yet most self-destructive, characters.
Then came 2016, the dawning of a new year and new beginnings, or so we thought. The 5th of January would mark the death of Nicholas Caldwell, vocalist in 80’s band The Whispers who had hits such as “And The Beat Goes On,” and “Rock Steady” . Five days later and music’s messiah himself, David Bowie, singlehandedly broke the internet. The passing of the Thin White Duke received more media coverage than anything I’ve ever witnessed, his status as music royalty evident by the sheer outpouring of grief which ensued. Creative to his last breath, Bowie still managed to talk to us from the grave, with the chilling video for Lazarus seen as his parting gift to the world. The opening lyrics “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” begins the sequence of Bowie in his death bed, tortured, before eventually experiencing his release, crawling backwards into the wardrobe from whence he came. The fact that he has new music planned for release after his death, beginning at the end of 2017, epitomises the nature of this musical juggernaut. Relentless beyond all comprehension, and unwilling to allow transience to cut short his continued contribution and creativity.
Glenn Frey, founding member of The Eagles, and vocalist/ guitarist was the co-writer of some of their biggest hits such as “Hotel California,” “Desperado,” and “Take it Easy”. Frey died on the 18th January after suffering from a bout of pneumonia combined with on-going health issues. The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee and 6 time Grammy winner was only 67, another one taken by the dreaded 2016. Paul Kantner, vocalist and guitarist in Jefferson Airplane would follow Glenn into the abyss 10 days later at the age of 74, but not before Colin Verncombe, aka Black, was killed in a car crash just outside Cork City. His song, “Wonderful Life,” will live long in the memory. Earth, Wind and Fire vocalist Maurice White began the month of February in equally morbid fashion, succumbing to Parkinson’s disease, and it didn’t stop there.
Dan Hicks, from Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks passed away on February 6th, followed by Denise Mathews from The Vanity 6 who had the hit single “Nasty Girl”. Harvey Danger bassist Aaron Huffman, died aged just 43 on March 6th. Their song “Flagpole Sitta,” was the theme tune to Channel 4’s Peep Show. Keith Emerson, pianist with Emerson, Lake and Palmer killed himself four days later, with four time Grammy nominee Ernestine Anderson also dying that day. Rapper Phife Dawg, Co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, took his last breath on the 22nd March, a week before Andy Newman from Thunderclap Newman, creators of the classic vintage pop track “Something in the Air”. Grammy Award winning jazz man Leonardo “Gato” Barbieri was deceased on April 2nd, before Merle Haggard called it time on a distinguished career and life on April 6th, ten years after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Grammy award in 2006. He will be fondly remembered for the famous line “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, We don’t take our trips on LSD,” and also for his anti- Vietnam War focused lyrics. And then, and then there was Prince.
Although he had a health scare last week , causing his private jet to make an unscheduled landing so he could be hospitalised, Prince’s passing came as a shock to a lot of people. At only 57 he could never be classified as old, but it does seem like he has been around forever. If there ever was an artist living today that could’ve matched Bowie in stature, it could only ever of been Prince. Selling over 150 million records worldwide, a figure that will substantially increase given his status mortem, Prince’s imprint on Music runs much deeper than the 39 studio albums he has in his back catalogue. In addition to his own success, he wrote hit songs for many others, from Sinead O’Connor’s – “Nothing Compare to you”, to The Bangles – “Manic Monday,” and Stevie Nicks – “Stand Back”.
One man who was a massive Prince fan and a heavy influence on his music was Miles Davis and in his 1989 Autobiography this is what he had to say:
“Prince is from the school of James Brown, but Prince got some Marvin Gaye, and Jimi Hendrix and Sly in him also, even Little Richard. He’s a mixture of all those guys, and Duke Elington. He reminds me in a way of Charlie Chaplin, he, and Michael Jackson. I think Prince’s music is pointing towards the future.”
Aptly put, considering the influence that the Pioneering artist has had on shaping music as we know it today. What makes Prince so special is the way in which he was regarded amongst his peers, nobody could ever denounce his talent as a musician, his charisma as a showman or his ability to make women faint with one subtle, yet intentional, pout of the lips or thrust of the hips. He was all of those guys, and when they passed, they lived on through Prince. What saddens me is that I cannot think of anyone who can carry on this legacy, someone who could even be mentioned in the same breath as any of those guys. Nobody comes close. This is not just the passing of an artist and a person, this is the passing of a generation of artists.
Death in any instance is a morbid experience, but why is it that when one of our heroes die, (people whom we do not know and in most instances have never met) do we feel so much compassion? The fact of the matter is, most of the time it’s a complete miracle they make it as far as they do, a lifetime on the road along with drugs consumed through every orifice is enough to make the word “longevity” obsolete. One thing that death does ensure though, is the longevity of their music, along with a new found appreciation for their existence, a generation of new fans and the revival of real music. So much so, that for just one moment it masks the nonsense polluting our airwaves. Oscar Wilde once said: “Everything popular is wrong”, and, unfortunately, to an extent, this is normally the case. It’s only when a legend dies that everything popular is right in that moment, and for that we must not mourn, we must rejoice the re-ignition of their music, reminisce their genius, and realise that ironically, their deaths have made them immortal.