Not Too Young To Die

The baby boom generation is contemplating its mortality. Or at least I find I am thinking about death a lot lately. Not in a morbid fashion, but it does seem that every day when I read the newspaper I read about what seems to me to be an untimely death.

When I scan the obituaries there are rarely people I know. I am still at the stage where I am looking to see whose parents have died; most of my friends are still with us.

In high school, a classmate died in a motorcycle accident at lunchtime one day. In the year after high school graduation another tragically took his own life. That one still bothers me. He was away at school and I guess had no-one to reach out to. That might not have happened in these internet days when contact across distances is easier. A few years later another good friend was killed in a car accident. For the most part though, aside from the expected deaths of elderly relatives, I have rarely had to confront the idea of death. Recently though I have become aware that in the newspaper entertainment section I increasingly am seeing the names of people recently deceased that I have never met, yet to whom I feel a sort of connection.

When politicians die their countries may or may not mourn. We don’t feel a real connection to actors since they are always portraying someone else. Sports stars have some appeal, but not universal. Musicians are different.

We live our lives through music; it is the soundtrack to our culture. The musicians who died young, the Jimis and the Janises died through their own excesses. There were also accidents, such as Duane and the tragedies such as John.

Now the musicians I grew up listening to are dying. Not in accidents, not through excesses, but through more or less natural causes (assuming you consider the results of the Fall to be natural). Farewell tours really can be just that.

This has been a bad week for bass players. Andy Fraser of the band Free (remember “All Right Now”?) and Mike Porcaro of the band Toto died, at 62 and 59 respectively. Keyboardist Michael Brown, of the Left Banke (he wrote “Walk Away Renee), died at 65. Relatively young when you think about it.

What does it mean to a generation when its icons die? Hockey stars Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard were mourned by all of Quebec, but their passing was barely felt in Vancouver or Manchester. But what about when Bob Dylan dies? How will we deal with that?

When Frank Sinatra died my generation barely registered the event. But recently generations have been more inter-connected, more homogenous. With more common experiences, and better communication than ever before, will we have a greater sense of mourning when the icons of the baby boomers begin to pass away?

We talk about our increasingly interconnected “global village,” which I suppose to some extent it is. I am sure there are many billions yet who have not heard of the Rolling Stones. But there are as many others perhaps who recognize Mick Jagger’s name, face and voice and will mourn when he is gone, even though their only contact with him is through his recordings.

We feel an instinctive need for community, to feel connected, to have shared experiences. That shared experience also includes sharing death. Which perhaps is how it should be. We are all mortal after all. Death doesn’t need to be scary if you confront the idea beforehand and do proper preparation. Perhaps the mortality of a generation of music stars will give some of us incentive to ask those big questions of life, death and afterlife before it is too late.

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