Wednesday, April 27, 2016

1635 My Famous Dead Singer is Better than Yours

Let’s start this one with

Today’s quote:
--“In death, a man becomes 10-thousand times greater than he was in life.” -- Salvador Dali, famous dead self- promoter and painter of melting watches.

This has become a year of famous or almost famous singers who have died.

Here’s an alphabetical list:

Asawa, Brian*
Bowie, David
Dawg, Phife*
Feek, Joey*
Frey, Glen
Haggard, Merle
Kantner, Paul
Paul, Billy
Sinatra, Frank Jr
Wemba, Papa
White, Maurice*

That’s probably not every one.  But close enough for rock.

Those with asterisks after their names are people you probably never heard of.  So, how about we look at some of them.

Brian Asawa was a countertenor who sang at the Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas. There aren’t a whole lot of roles for guys who sing in the same range as contraltos.  But Asawa was the best since Alfred Deller and unlike Deller didn’t bother with the stuffy old English ballad nonsense and focused on Purcell and Handel. Asawa was 49 and had heart trouble.

Phife Dawg was a founder of the hip hop ensemble, “A Tribe Called Quest.”  His real name was Malik Taylor and “Tribe” is just now gaining fame. He was 45 and had kidney problems.

Joey Feek was a Grammy- nominated mid level country singer. She was 40 and died of cancer.

Vanity aka Denise Matthews, 57, was best known for the song “Nasty Girl,” and was a friend of Prince’s. Cause of death unknown.  But she had kidney problems, too.

Maurice White was a founder of Earth Wind and Fire. He was 74.  Parkinson’s.

Papa Wemba was “the king of Congolese Rumba.” He was 66 and collapsed during a performance in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

As for the bigger names…

Billy Paul, 81. His biggest hit was “Me and Mrs. Jones” in the early 1970s. Often forgotten by the mainstream, he just kept keeping on, and pleasing his knot of devotees -- and devotees they were -- with material old and new.
Paul Kantner was a founder of Jefferson Airplane, Glen Frey was a founder of The Eagles, Frank Sinatra Jr. was well known because of his name but not his work.

As for the Superstars, Prince, Haggard and Bowie… you had to have slept longer than Rip Van Winkle to not know who they were.

And here’s where we run into trouble.  Each of these men had huge legions of fans.  And after each died, their lives were celebrated with the power of a high- category earthquake.

Each were fine artists and showmen. Each had “legendary” attached to their names, first by publicists and record promoters, then by fans.

There was an attractiveness about each.  And each was a printer of money, some of which they actually kept.  But when you stripped away the “legend” part, you found three men who were bound to their audiences more by schtick than by artistry, strangeness more than musicality, and special effect shows more than musicianship.

Sure, mourn the loss of your favorite.  But remember whichever cult you joined, it’s just a cult.

And for goodness’ sake don’t fight about which was the best.  Each was good in his own way.  But “great” and “legendary” should be reserved for greats and legends.

Also, please remember the quotation from Dali.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to
© WJR 2016

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