That summer day the heavens opened and Mother Nature cried tears of sorrow as one of her favourite sons no longer walked the Earth. That was how it felt to a 14 year old in August 1977. The night before my mother had told me that Elvis Presley had died, it had been on the news just a moment before and I had not long gone to bed. A room festooned with posters of a man now part of history instead of making it. Elvis was 42 and to a teenager that sounded old, to a man of 53 it seems desperately young. “Why couldn’t someone else have died?” my stepfather proclaimed, “Someone old, like Bing Crosby.” Within a few months a heart attack on a golf course took the crooner to join Elvis and in between Marc Bolan crashed into a tree.
That was the last time it felt like so many people died, but now it would appear that the Grim Reaper has spent time sharpening his scythe. Tomorrow (April 23rd) is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death; I wonder if it was felt the same as the news we heard yesterday that Prince had died as well. The Bard was 52 when his life ended, Prince Rogers Nelson was 57; I am between the two. When Elvis died my life stretched before me, now I know I am closer to my death than I am to my birth and that is even if I achieve my lifelong dream of living to 100 and being healthy and wealthy. It is this that strikes home with the annihilation of my youth. Lemmy began it all, then Bowie and the other night I saw Alan Rickman’s final film performance in the excellent Eye in the Sky. Every week now brings news as the scythe cuts down another.
At 14 I wondered about my future, now I know it is mine to make. The bucket list is written, the dreamboard made, the 90 day goals planned and each day I awake to achieve a little more; to add a little more to a life already interesting, but I can’t bear the thought of being in the position of being 90 and looking back and asking ‘what if?’ When someone famous dies we mourn for them, but we also mourn for ourselves. As clearly as I remember that rainy day in 1977 so I also remember the joy of the music, the television, the concerts, the loves and the failures of the years. Prince, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and so many others who gave me the soundtrack of my youth. Tony Curtis, the Two Ronnies, Ed Bishop and Gerry Anderson made me laugh and dream through the power of television and for every movie I have ever seen that inspired me when I left the darkened cocoon of cinema, my closeted home, my theatre of dreams.
Some will be sad that Victoria Wood passed away this week, some will cry with the doves, but we know that really it is for us we mourn the most, that our lives tick away towards the inevitable. To reframe, it is exactly this that should help us rejoice in life. Success begins in the moment you open your eyes after the sleep of the dead to rejoin the land of the living, to begin your day and for a few minutes party like it’s 1999. Continue that party, as best you can, through the ups, the downs, the fun and the sadness; it would seem that our time here is relatively short, the music we leave behind will remind others why were here.