On February 3rd, 1959 an airplane in route for Moorhead, MN went down shortly after take off killing all that were on board instantly. Passengers of this fateful voyage included Richie Valens and early rock and roll visionary Buddy Holly. Although it occured more than 50 years ago, this date lives in in infamy due in part to a Don McLean folk song that, despite being nearly 80 minutes long, can be sung along to word for word by anyone likely to ready this post. I will spare you that particular song as you probably heard the musak version while waiting in line at the bank earlier this week. What I want to look at here is the concept McLean posits in his song's title. At the time of the crash Buddy Holly had already written songs that have outlived him twice over. He was 22 years old when that plane went down and we music fans are left to only imagine the music that died with him.
Let us take a look at some of the musicians who have died too young and try to imagine the music that their death "cheated" us fans out of. It's quite a list actually and I know I will leave more than a few important people out. That's where I am hoping you will come in Hoopus music fans. Post your entries below. I'll get it started with a few obvious choices, starting with the aforementioned Buddy Holly.
Holly's "Everyday" is simplicity at it's best. I loved it when I was a kid andI love it now. Did I mention he was 22 years old when he died. Music changed quite a bit in the decade following the crash and there is no reason to assume that Buddy Holly wouldn't have changed with it. Would he have faded away (not) or trended into a Peter Paul and Mary/ Byrds type realm? How about today. Who wouldn't pay to see 74 year old Buddy Holly playing songs from his 50 year catalogue? It's pretty easy to imagine that Holly's best music was still ahead of him.
Next let's step backwards in time and look at Robert Johnson. Often credited as a major influence on both blues and rock and roll, Johnson's death clearly asks more musical questions than it answers. A friend of mine once told me that Muddy Waters invented electricity. An interesting statement I think. Can you imagine a 45 year old Robert Johnson with an electric guitar in his hands? I almost can.
Moving along in no particular order we get to Marvin Gaye. Gaye is one of just a few artists that pretty much everyone agrees on. Do you think he would have faded into obscurity or kept the soul train moving? My guess is that he would be revered as a national treasure. Close your eyes and try to imagine the duet he and Aretha Franklin would have delivered at the Obama inauguration.
The 16 year old version of myself will never forgive me for saying this but I think that Jim Morrison had already given us his best stuff when he died. Do you have a different view? What would Morrison have been up to these last 30 years?
John Lennon's death creates one of the biggest "what ifs" in music history. What if he had lived- would he and Sir Paul have patched things up and gone on to do more with the Beatles? If not what directions would the talented Lennon have taken his out of this world fame? He could have gone a good many directions I think and might well have had several musical versions of himself to share with us had he lived. Check out this live rehearsal version of "Working Class Hero" I found.
Much has been made in recent years of our cultural "divas" gracing the stage in long sparkly gowns and glitter. Sure many of them can sing (some better than others) and I have no problem with the pedestal that has been built for these women to stand on. Janis Joplin, however, might be the anti diva. Known famously as a hard drinking, one of the guys type, her singing rests not on beauty in the classical sense but on the emotion of a hormone fueled grade schooler and the power of a steam engine. I'm not sure where Joplin's career would have gone if she had lived but I think you will agree that the world cannot possibly have too much of this:
I think that in a strange way there are some clear comparisons to draw between Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain: power, raw emotion, legend, hairstyle... Anyway, for me Cobain may be the hardest person on this list to imagine on stage at any date past his death. As Nirvana's greatest rival Pearl Jam sits next in line to inherit the the Rock and Roll elder torch (whenever Neil Young is ready to give it up) I just can't see Nirvana or another Cobain band in a similar position. In fact it's pretty clear he would have avoided it. What do you think would have happened to Kurt Cobain if he had lived? Creepy recluse? More Nirvana albums? Drummer for Foo Fighters? I have no idea. Do you?
Guru isn't a perfect fit for this list. With his Gang Star records far in his rear view mirror and the Jazzmatazz series on it's last leg (if even that) it was not clear that Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal was going to contribute much more of major importance. Still, his death at the hands of cancer a few years ago came at far too young of an age and he was one of my favorite MC's. I'm hoping others will help fill the obvious void in this genre.
Amy Winehouse is much more of a flash in the pan artist than the others on this list. With only two full albums under her tiny belt some might suggest she does not belong. Another way to look at it is that she should be moved to the head of the class. Her last album Back in Black was simply amazing and then the horse tranquilizers and alcohol hit her hard and it was over. We music fans were truly cheated out of something special here. Oh Amy, if only you had said yes, yes, yes to rehab.
Obviously this list would not be complete without mentioning Jimi Hendrix. Jimi died just as he was coming into his own as a torch bearer for the American music tradition. Blending blues and rock into his own hard driving sound he is widely considered one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. I will not argue this point one way or the other but I will suggest that this version of history neglects his considerable skills as a singer. Towards the end Hendrix was trending towards more traditional blues but I do not believe he would have neglected rock and roll if he had lived. What do you think? Would Hendrix have morphed slowly into Buddy Guy or would he have headlined rock festivals well into his sixties?
Well folks, that is enough for me. I left out some obvious choices and I probably have forgotten or not even been aware of some others. Please contribute in the comments with your choices of music that grim death has cheated us out of. Last year Canis Hoopus was every bit as great of a music blog as it was a basketball blog (or at least close). I'm hoping this season will bring more of the same. It's the preseason and we need to round into game shape so please post some music for us all to enjoy.