List of music tragedies falls well short of knowledgeable

Allen WorrellEditor

October 2, 2012

A few days ago, I noticed a story on my Xfinity homepage entitled, “The Worst Tragedies in Music History.” I immediately clicked on the story for a couple of reasons – one, I love music, and two, I knew there was a list involved. As mentioned in a previous column, I love to see how closely a list conforms to my opinion.

Well, let me just say that whoever compiled the list is a tone-deaf, rhythm-lacking, boy band wannabee lacking any in-depth knowledge of music history. As you may surmise from that statement, I found the list lacking. Artists were listed from one to 21, although it didn’t specify if that was the ranking of their importance, or if it was just a list without any numerical importance. If it was the former, The Carroll News cannot, from a decency standpoint, print my scathing response to the lack of knowledge displayed by the list’s creator.

We have greats like Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and John Lennon (listed four through nine), followed by Elliott Smith at No. 10. Heck, I didn’t even know he existed, much less that he was dead. Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury and Marvin Gaye come next, followed by Jay Reatard … okay, let that sink in … Jay Reatard. Who out there has heard of Jay Reatard? Anybody? I didn’t think so.

So, who is one through four? Well, it’s a who’s who of recent casualties – Tupac Shukar, Kurt Cobain, Aaliyah and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. I’ll give credit to Shukar and Cobain because of what they meant to their types of music, although I’m a fan of neither. But Aaliya and Lopez; I’m sorry they’re dead, but neither has left a gaping hole in the history of music.

Now, I realize that any list is subjective, but it’s hard to figure how unknowns, such as Reatard and Smith, or common talents, such Selena, Karen Carpenter, Aaliya or Lopez made the list. It’s even more difficult to figure how Sonny Bono was on the list, when five great music talents, men, who did affect music history, were omitted.

The first music great not making the list is the founder of the “World’s Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band,” while the second is a key influence in the country-rock genre. Two others are generally considered the two greatest rock n’ roll drummers of all time, and the fifth was without a doubt one of the greatest saxophone players of all time. Oh, I forgot to tell you, there is a quiz involved. Okay, if you can name all five, you, my friend, are an astute and knowledgeable fan of music. If you get four right, you’re still pretty cool; three right and you’re beginning to slide from cool to possibly being an Archies fan; two right, you are an Archies fan; and one right, go listen to Perry Como.

The first aforementioned great is Brian Jones, who founded a little group known as The Rolling Stones. Although Mick Jagger and Keith Richards eventually overshadowed Jones, it was he who chose the members, named the band, and was the Stones’ most accomplished musician. His genius was cut short by a steady decline into drug addiction that made it impossible for him to record, much less perform. He was asked to leave the band in June of 1969, and died less than a month later by drowning in his swimming pool. While drugs played a role in his drowning, there are many who feel that foul play by his estate’s caretaker may have been the real cause.

Gram Parsons was a country boy from Waycross, Ga., who may be the person most responsible for the formation of the country rock and alternative country genres. He played with three bands, including The Byrds, but influenced many more, including The Rolling Stones. Stones’ songs like “Girl With the Faraway Eyes” and “Dead Flowers” are due to Keith Richards’ close friendship with Parsons, and, according to some, that friendship may have led to Parsons’ death. Richards is most known for two things – one, being the best at creating unforgettable guitar riffs, and, two, his great drug indulgence over many of his 68 years. Parsons, who died of a drug overdose in 1973, can also be credited with presenting one of the most gifted performers ever to the public. Some of his best music, including the superb album “Grievous Angel,” was performed with Emmylou Harris.

The drummers I have referenced are known not only for their amazing talent, but for their lives of excess. They are, of course, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Keith Moon of The Who, two men who Rolling Stone magazine ranked as the best and second best drummers of all time. Once again, drugs were the culprit. Both died at the age of 32, Bonham after consuming over 40 shots of vodka in a 24-hour period and Moon by overdosing on a drug prescribed to help him beat his alcoholism.

The final member of my forgotten quintet is Clarence Clemmons, whose saxophone solos were just as recognizable as Richards’ riffs. Clemmons, who died of a heart attack this past year, was the “big man” Bruce Springsteen spoke of in his song “10th Avenue Shootout,” and his soulful saxophone was a trademark of the E-Street Band.

Now, I hope you did well on the quiz, but, more importantly, I hope you remember some of the giants of the music industry that some flunky responsible for compiling the Xfinity list didn’t. The list, of course, does not carry any great significance, who’s on the list is not going to help feed people, provide them a home or help their children get an education. It’s not going to stop hate, war, terrorism. It’s meaningless really. But … on the other hand, what would this world be without great paintings, without great literature, without great music. Creativity is one of the most important gifts God has given to man. That’s why I celebrate creativity. That’s why a meaningless list does mean something to me.