Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rock 'n' Roll Heaven...or is it?

Last week I got into a Twitter discussion about the 28th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. One friend, Justin Kunkle of Spotobe, mused about what/where Lennon would be today if he hadn't been killed. One thing led to another and we began discussing similar fates for other musicians who died before their time: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, the guys from Skynyrd, and so on. So with that in mind, here's my take on it, and I'll admit that some of the ideas here came from Justin and others as we discussed the situation on Twitter. 

Let me just preface by saying that my gut feeling is that most of these people have had their reputations cemented for posterity as the result of their untimely deaths. I have a feeling that none of them would have transitioned well into the culture and music industry as we know it today. Despite that, also please remember, as is often the case, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek on some of this...this is merely an exercise in fun.

Here we are, 2008. 

John Lennon, now 68 years old, has not aged well. He has continued to release albums over the years, most of which feature the unlistenable vocals of Yoko Ono. He has been a recluse in the Dakota and most of his friends are lawyers. During the past two decades he has sued all three of the other Beatles, their spouses, their offspring, Michael Jackson, May Pang, several record labels, Ford, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, numerous other corporations, and several non-profit causes for whom he was a spokesman. He has become increasingly difficult to deal with and even the folks at Amnesty International won't go near him for fear of having shoes hurled in their direction. John no longer speaks with any of his kids, and hasn't been seen in public since 1993, leading some to speculate that he is in the midst of a private 15-year "bed-in," protesting pretty much everything under the sun. The few missives that have made their way out of his compound show that he is clearly resentful of Paul McCartney's career. Rumor has it that he even invited Heather Mills to join him at the Dakota as part of the "bed-in." Lennon's most recent CD was a spoken word effort that many confused to be a recording of Ozzy Osborne yelling at his kids.

Guitar god Jimi Hendrix, now 66, survived a 1970 drug overdose and continued making music through the seventies, each album featuring a different cast of musicians. By the 80s Hendrix found it difficult to continue making the same unbelievable guitar music, and settled for a more manageable pop career like many of his Woodstock peers. As The Jefferson Airplane morphed into The Jefferson Starship (and "built this city on rock 'n' roll), Hendrix reformed the Jimi Hendrix Experience as the Jimi Hendrix Ordeal, flaunting three chords and lots of harmonies. By the mid-90s Hendrix realized that no one was interested in getting any new music from him so he began touring the amusement park and state fair circuit, once again opening for the reformed Monkees, with pared down versions of his hits. Hendrix is also a staple of summer music festivals, being asked to open them with his version of the "Star-Spangled Banner," even adding a version of "God Bless America" to his repertoire, which he plays during 7th inning stretches at minor league baseball games.

65-year old Jim Morrison has a regular gig at the Mirage in Las Vegas (thanks to his good friends Wayne Newton). After The Doors fired him in 1973, Morrison unsuccessfully sued the remaining members of the band, who to this day continue to tour under that name. Morrison put on a lot of weight and began wearing stretchy pants as he revived his career as a lounge singer. He was rumored to have died in 1985 from a drug overdose but actually went into hiding, working as a doo-wop singing waiter at a Johnny Rockets restaurant in Myrtle Beach. A few years later he was "discovered" by record producer and brought out of hiding. The low point of his career came in 1997 when he came in third place in a Jim Morrison impersonator competition. In 1998 Morrison became the opening act for Siegfried and Roy, an engagement that ended in 2003 when Roy Horn was attacked by one of his tigers. Morrison took to the road with gigs in Atlantic City and Branson, Missouri, but has just signed on to return to the Mirage in 2009 as the opener for ventriloquist Terry Fator. He also moonlights as the lead singer in a Doors tribute band, The Artist Formerly Known as The Doors (TAFKATD). Morrison told MTV's Kurt Loder that he would love to quit performing, but numerous paternity claims have forced him to keep going. 

Janis Joplin, now 65, gave up on her career as singer in 1980 when people stopped buying her records and coming to her shows. After years of serious drug-abuse, friends and family staged an intervention and Joplin admitted herself to the Betty Ford clinic in 1984, for the first of five visits. Today, Joplin is a motivational speaker and celebrity spokesperson on numerous cable infomercials. In 2003 she briefly came out of retirement to take the lead in a touring show of "The Rose." It became clear fairly quickly that a clean and sober Joplin clearly didn't have the voice of the drug-addled version, and she quietly bowed out, blaming her departure on vocal chord nodules. 

Kurt Cobain, now 41, celebrated his 40th birthday by signing a long-term deal with VH-1 productions, for a reality show titled "Smells like Mid-Life Crisis." Cobain and wife Courtney Love divorced in 1996, and engaged in a very bitter custody battle over daughter, Frances Bean. The judge in the case was loathe to give custody to either parent, but ended up tossing a coin. Cobain called "!" but it landed "heads" and Love was granted full custody with Cobain getting visitation rights. Nirvana broke up at about the same time as Cobain's marriage, and his solo career never really materialized, with Cobain going in and out of "retirement" at least four times. In his new reality show, Cobain lives in a furniture-less Seattle mansion with 15 flannel-clad twenty-somethings, trying to create a band that will usher in the "next big" musical fad...a grunge-influenced boy band. He has also been pursuing a lawsuit against the makers of Guitar Hero for NOT including more of his songs on the video game. In a brief filed in Federal Court, Cobain's lawyer stated, "Just because my client wants to be left alone and wants people to think he doesn't exist anymore, doesn't mean he isn't entitled to make millions by being recognized as an important icon in American music. Even if they don't use his music in their game, they owe him money because, after all, he IS Kurt Cobain." In 2005 he also came out of "retirement" for a celebrity boxing match against "that punk" Scott Stapp. The fight was stopped when it became clear that both opponents were more interested in slapping then punching.

Elvis Presley, the "King," actually did die in 1977 at the age of 42 while sitting on his "throne." Sometimes, folks, the truth is better than fiction. You just can't make some things up...

Hope you enjoyed all that. Pretty much my attempt to say that, had they lived, the above rock "superstars" might not have fared well. What about others? There's always John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. I figure that band would have broken up eventually and would have had several reunions by now. Not sure where they would have gone musically, though. I kind of like Led Zep frozen in time. I think if Duane Allman had lived, the Allman Brothers would be pretty much where they are today, working hard to walk the tightrope between being taken seriously and being a parody of themselves. I think Lynyrd Skynyrd would have continued in that same vein had all the members survived.

Those whom I think would still be taken seriously and would still be making relevant music include Bob Marley, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley. I think the latter three would have eventually received the fame they were due as the indie music scene has grown and embraced these types of artists. I think the same might have happened to Gram Parsons and his career might have paralleled that of Neil Young, mostly great music with a few less than stellar moments. And of course those who self-destructed might only have lived a bit longer, only to self-destruct later on down the road. And what about rappers like Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur? You could also speculate about the fates of other celebs like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi, or even Bruce Lee. The list goes on...

Any others I've missed? Care to share your own speculative fiction on any of the above? Agree or disagree on my assessments? Let me know! And speculate to your heart's content. And's all in fun!


Anonymous said...

Michael Hutchence would still have been writing great lyrics, a return to Shabooh Shabah, rathat than more Suicide Blonde.

Justin K. said...

Excellent. Glad the idea fell into the hands of someone motivated. I agree with you for the most part. Really, as I was reading this I realized how hard it is to separate these people from their deaths. I mean, without his demons, would Elliot Smith really have been Elliot Smith? Sadly, I don't think so.

I might disagree on Jeff Buckley. I think he showed flashes of being a great talent, but I'm not sure he would have put it together.