If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.
The Righteous Brothers
2016 has been a tough year for music lovers like me. It’s not a dearth of good music. There has been some wonderful new music released, among my favorites: Lucinda Williams, Ghosts of Highway 20; Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep; Mavis Staples, Livin’ On a High Note; and P. J. Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
What has saddened me are the deaths of so many whose musical work has touched our lives and our world, people whose music has been an important part of the soundtrack of our lives.
The Beatles disbanded before I was even a teenager, but their music was legendary. I remember hearing “I Saw Her Standing There” on a 45 rpm belonging to an older second cousin. While singing “She was just seventeen” is a little creepy for a man in his fifties, I still sing along at home or in the car. “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” spark creativity. “In My Life” inspires wistful recollections of years gone by. Who worked with John, Paul, George and Ringo to bring their musical vision to reality – producer George Martin, who died March 8.
My feelings about the music of David Bowie are not as ebullient as others I’ve heard speak since his death in January. Nevertheless, I appreciated his music a great deal. “Space Oddity,” the song about lonely space travel made me feel less alone as a young man who sometimes felt distant from mundane realities. “Changes” is a wonderful song about self-transformation. “Suffragette City” was an air guitar gem.
I came later to an appreciation of the music of Merle Haggard, died April 9. When I was in high school and college, liking country music was anathema. Yet, you cannot appreciate the wide spectrum of American music without appreciating a range of country music, and Merle Haggard was a giant who had a unique way with songs about heartbreak and living on the edge.
I will also admit that I was not a follower of the music of Prince in the 1980s. As his star was rising, I was becoming a parent, and did not have MTV – which actually played music videos back then. It was probably about ten years later that I really came to delight in his celebratory music and admire and appreciate his extraordinary musicianship along with his creative contributions. I can’t sit still, unless I am driving, when I hear “1999,” Raspberry Beret,” or “Let’s Go Crazy.” Nothing compares 2 U, Prince.
Another musician whose music is delightfully danceable is Maurice White, founding member of Earth, Wind and Fire. The rhythms of “September” and “Serpentine Fire” still bring a smile to my face and a bounce to my step. EWF could also spin a wonderful slow song for dancing close, like “That’s the Way of the World.” Maurice White also died in February.
When I was in college, they were Jefferson Starship singing about “Miracles”. In the 1960s they were Jefferson Airplane, singing with urgency – “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don’t you want somebody to love?” Who didn’t? Jefferson Airplane guitarist and co-founder Paul Kanter died in January.
People die – that’s the way of the world, and if there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven you know they’ve got a hell of a band. Yet that music remains with us. When people in their lives create beauty their lives echo on and we are grateful for that.
It is also good to remember that while we are not all wonderful musicians, we all have some capacity to create goodness and beauty, we all have an ability to bring a smile to others and to help them dance.
With Faith and With Feathers,