Tomorrow marks the 57th anniversary of, what would later be coined (by singer songwriter Don McLean), “the Day the Music Died”. A plane carrying rock stars of their time, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson along with pilot Roger Peterson, crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. Some of our readers may remember that day well. They may have been devastated by that loss to the artistic world. And so it is today that, for many of us, we mourn the loss of someone we never met. Perhaps it was an actor, a poet, a leader, or a musician. I’ll be focusing on the latter of that list, as it’s most personal to me and lately, with a surge of well-known and well-loved artists passing away, it’s relevant.
In 1980, I was 9 years old. I grew up listening to the Beatles. It’s in my gene pool (later passed on to my own offspring). On December 8th of that year, I awoke to the sound of my mother sobbing. I came out to the living room in the apartment we lived in to find out what was happening. That’s when she told me about John Lennon being murdered, in cold blood, outside of his home in New York City. Again, I was 9, didn’t have the extensive history my mother and uncle (her twin brother) had with the Beatles. They watched the broadcast on Ed Sullivan, listened and sang their songs, saw them live in 1964, and were influenced by them (my uncle was a songwriter that was strongly influenced by the Beatles). Somehow though, Lennon’s death was very personal to me too. I cried and didn’t understand why, having never known the man. Maybe it was because it was upsetting to see my mother so distraught. But, I believe it was because John Lennon and the Beatles played a very important part of my own life.
There have been many untimely deaths of our musical heroes in the years since, far too many to mention. And on January 10 of this year, I felt the same sadness I did on December 8, 1980 when news broke about the passing of David Bowie. I always loved his music and admired his groundbreaking and unapologetic personae. I was a fan but I wasn’t a “die hard, nothing but Bowie all the time”, fan. I was shocked at my reaction to his death. It made me think, dissect, and analyze these feelings. Not that it’s “rocket” science, but I realized why it was so poignant to me. Music plays a very big part in my life, and likely yours too. There’s a song for every occasion, whether it be joyous, heartbreak or frustration. Hence the popular saying, “the soundtrack of our lives”.
My uncle and I were very close. His passing 5 1/2 years ago was (and still is) devastating to me, my mother, sister…anyone who was lucky enough to have him in their lives. He was not only the encyclopedia of all things Beatles (and music in general), but he was a Bowie fan. His (and my mothers) love of music was passed down like an old family heirloom. It’s more valuable than any dollar amount you could possibly offer. The passing of David Bowie was raw, it was like losing another part of my uncle. It’s personal. Very personal.
That’s the thing: a true lover of music will feel like they’ve had a piece of them, in all of its vulnerability and passion, ripped away when the maker of those musical memories is no longer with us. It seems strange to some people. They don’t understand how someone can be so affected and mourn the death of someone that they knew only over airwaves. And I guess I can appreciate their stance. It’s not something that can be fully explained…only felt. My life has been richer by having the love of music bestowed upon me and if that means heartache will come along with it, so be it. Not much different than life, is it?
Some of our readers were wonderful enough to share with us in advance, which artists passing was most memorable or significant to them and why. We encourage you to share yours in the comments. Thank you for allowing us to share this appreciation with you.
“John Lennon’s death. He was such an influence, since I was a kid. Harmonies, songwriting just amazing. So many memories linked to his songs with that band called the Beatles and also with his solo career. Major influence to me in my writing, passion for music, and recording style too.” Mark L.
“Just for the brevity and impact of his peak, probably Stevie Ray Vaughn. He finally started to beat some of his personal demons only to die in a crash…was a shock to my system. I also, will always remember the day that John Bonham passed. Led Zeppelin is, and always has been, my favorite band.” Mike S.
“I was just listening to something on NPR where peope were complaining about public mourning on social media which started me thinking about the whole thing about mourning for celebrities. When Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix died, it was shocking and sad and I felt a huge loss, but it was almost academic in a way…I had that young people “indestructible” thing going. Also, they kind of did it to themselves. When John Lennon died, it was surreal and so violent that it almost didn’t feel real but I felt it more personally – he had been such a part of my life for so long, since 8th grade. And I was still invincible. But when Bowie died, I cried. As much for myself as for him. Again, he had been in my life, his music had framed my life, for so long it was as if I had known him in a way. But also, because he was my age-peer and died of a disease rather than an unusual cause, it forced me to face my own mortality, which I’m pretty good at avoiding.” Andrea W.
“I remember I was in an AA meeting. My friends John and Kevin came in. John says, “I remember where I was and who told me that Elvis died. So, I want you to remember me always. JERRY GARCIA died”, and walked away. Asshole was right and every year on the anniversary of Jerry’s death I call John and tell him he is a dick.” Steve A.
“That’s a really easy one for me. It would have to be John Lennon. I went to high school in Manhattan and was friends with a kid who lived in the Dakota where Lennon also resided. I was at a party there shortly before he was murdered.” Steve C.
“I had just turned 15 two weeks before the tragic news of Bonzos death. It took a few hours for it to sink in that it was all over, Led Zeppelin are finished. 😞… I cried a lot and I never have gotten over it to this day.😞..” Bryon J.
“The recent death of so many musical icons, David Bowie in particular, really had me thinking about the way that each has affected my life. David Bowie hit real hard. He was such a huge part of my childhood and upbringing. But I have to say the one that affected me most was Jerry Garcia. In 1995 when he passed away, I was very, very active in the Grateful Dead scene. Mostly all of my friends were dead heads and it was very much a part of my life. Apart from the musical impact that he had on me, his passing literally changed the course of my life. Because of his death I was forced to change so many things about my existence. And so I can definitely say that his death directly impacted my life the most- both musically and actually.” Michelle W.