My post a week or so ago about Whitney Houston's death elicited a comment from someone noting (favorably) the fact that I didn't call it a tragedy. I called it untimely, which I think is reasonably justifiable. A tragedy? No.
But the comment reminded me of some thoughts I have regarding how we react to musicians' deaths. To celebrity deaths in general, I guess. But this blog is ostensibly about music, so I'll try to stick to musicians. (I'll admit, I was tempted when Gary Carter died last week to post the video of "Let's Go Mets Go" so I could comment on Carter and tie it in to music.
I remember when John Lennon died. I was in high school, and many classmates were mourning. One even took a week off from school to sit shiva (the Jewish ritual of weeklong mourning over a dead relative). I never quite got this. Sure, I liked John Lennon's music -- some of it anyway. I still do. But he wasn't a messiah or a family member. He was a musician.
One may say that the problem is that I wasn't a big Lennon fan. I just admitted, afterall, in a kind of lukewarm way that I liked "some" of his music. Fair enough. I didn't mourn when Lee Brilleaux (of Dr. Feelgood) died in 1994. I felt sad about it. And there's a wistfullness as it reminds me of my own mortality and my lost youth. But I don't mourn the death of a singer and musician, however talented he may have been, whom I have never met and have never had any relationship with.
When my grandparents died, I mourned. When my parents die I will mourn. If I outlive them, I will mourn the deaths of my wife, my sister and (God forbid) my children. But musicians? My favorite musicians? Nick Lowe? Dave Edmunds? Wreckless Eric? No.
I was called heartless and uncaring for what was perceived as a lack of sufficient grief when Lennon died. However, I think we trivialize the concept of mourning and familial closeness when we confuse our interest in a musician (even if we say "love" colloquially) with what we feel for our loved ones