It is a somber time for the music world. Three legends were lost. Some continued their renowned status through their name and talent. Some blazed trails for future generations. And some came from other galaxies to share their brilliance. Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister, and David Bowie. Exemplars all.
Once you’ve been touched by a song, an artist, a band, it’s indelible. Even if the band breaks up, the artist never records again, or sadly they pass on, that mark is left upon our souls henceforth. When the artist is of legendary status, the loss is more keenly felt. The repertoire of these three legends is at least a mile long. And in these vast catalogues there are a myriad of memory.
For a performer the loss of a musical icon has a heartfelt, though more professional slant. To personal friends and family obviously a more personal effect. But for we mere mortals it’s a bit different.
In our grief we will dig through our record collections, or ransack various music sites, view endless youtube videos for a fitting goodbye. For me, it’s like pulling out the good silver for special occasions; reverently removing the vinyl disc from its cover and placing it deftly onto the turntable. As the cascade of memory triggered by certain tracks begins the volume tends to go up.
Lemmy Kilmister, known simply as Lemmy, a name synonymous with rock ‘n roll. My Motörhead memory is not exactly very heavy metal, but amuses me still nonetheless. The only head-banging I’d ever seen was in music videos. I’d never actually seen it in action. It was truly a sight to behold. I was a girl in school and there was a boy in school I had a little crush on. We’d meet after school at his house to do our homework together. One afternoon I arrived late at the appointed homework hour. I wandered down the hallway to his room, the sound of Motörhead bouncing off the walls. His door ajar, I peeked in. There in front of the mirror, playing his wee heart out on air-bass, and head-banging, was the boy in his best Lemmy impression.
I stood transfixed until during a spectacular solo that concerned me he might actually do himself a harm, I began laughing. I couldn’t help it really. Abruptly he stopped his solo and faced me, turning twelve shades of purple.
A smile spreads across my face to this day when I think on it.
The memories associated with David Bowie songs is long and varied. Over a few days after his passing I was party to many shocked and saddened conversations, everyone citing their favorite Bowie song. A near unachievable task, if you ask me. At some point, a friend of mine mentioned, “Let’s Dance”. I drifted for a moment out of the conversation and into a memory from ages ago.
A sweltering summer of my youth spent as a camp counselor. One day me and my compadres wandered down the dirt road to a dingy little bodega. We gorged ourselves on junk food and ice cold Cokes from the ice box. There was an old jukebox in the corner of the place and “Let’s Dance” was the song we played over and over again. We danced and sang along. Sweat pouring down our backs, laughing all the while. How many coins we plugged in that jukebox, I couldn’t say. I can’t hear that song without being transported across space and time to that very spot.
As for our Natalie Cole, it’s impossible to think of her and not be reminded of her musical pedigree. I grew up listening to my grandparents’ Nat King Cole records, and then later to my mother’s Natalie Cole records. When Natalie recorded the virtual duet with her famous father, “Unforgetable” it was not only a fitting tribute to her father, but a musical bridge between generations. When I hear that particular rendition of that song I am instantly reminded of the generations of women in my life to whom I can thank for the introduction to the music.
When the music stops, the music lives on in memory. It’s part of music’s initial intention. It’s as simple as and as transcendent as that. There will still be grandmothers and mothers who listen to Natalie Cole, there will still be boys playing their hearts out to Motörhead, and groups of friends will still dance along to “Let’s Dance”.