The Tragic Side of Rock and Roll

shakespeareBeginning with ‘the day the music died’ and continuing on to the present, rock and roll (and the music biz in general) has experienced more than its fair share of tragedy. Between murder, suicide, drug overdose, plane crashes and death by misadventure rock and roll has been like one gigantic Shakespearean tragedy.

To begin with, there’s the famed 27 club, a group including Jimi Hendrix (asphyxiation), Jim Morrison (supposed heart failure), Janis Joplin (drug overdose), Brian Jones (drowned), Kurt Cobain (suicide) and many others who died of the age of 27. Far too young to be taken away and far too talented to lose, period!

Many of those lost got caught up in the rock and roll lifestyle of 24/7 partying (although anger and insecurity likely also played a role).  This group includes Bonn Scott, Keith Moon and John Bonham.  Scott, lead singer for ACDC choked to death on his own vomit after a night of drinking, as did Bonham, legendary drummer for Led Zeppelin.  Moon, the fanatically talented drummer for The Who, died as a result of an accidental overdose of prescription medication.  He also had alcohol and cocaine in his system when he died.

Plane crashes have claimed a number of lives, including among others Otis Redding (known for Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay), Jim Croce (he had several hits, including Time in a Bottle), three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd (Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant, lead singer, songwriter and heart and soul of the band), and Buddy Holly, J.P. ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson and Richie Valens, who died in that fateful crash on February 3rd, 1959, the day the music died.

Suicide is difficult to understand at the best of times, perhaps more so for those who take their own lives when they seemingly have it all. In addition to Cobain, Brad Delps, lead singer for Boston (perhaps the most unacknowledged singer in rock … he had an amazing voice), Richard Manuel, from The Band, and incredibly enough, two members of the same band, Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger, all died by their own hands.

Like suicide, murder is difficult to comprehend and none more so than that of John Lennon. He was murdered by a psychotic fan outside his apartment building only a few short hours after autographing an album for that same fan, sadly ending ten years of speculation about a Beatles reunion.  Equally tragic, Motown superstar, Marvin Gaye, was murdered by his own father.

Then there is the group who died by misadventure, a large group indeed.  It includes among others, Terry Kath, guitar player for Chicago who accidentally shot himself while playing with a gun, Dennis Wilson, drummer for The Beach Boys, who drowned after a night of drinking, John Entwistle from the Who who died from a cocaine induced heart attack and Randy Rhoads, the lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, who died when the plane he was aboard crashed into a house after a wing clipped Osbourne’s tour bus, the result of the pilot attempting to ‘buzz’ the bus.

Several died under mysterious circumstances, their deaths ruled suicide, heart failure or death by misadventure. In addition to Jim Morrison, this group includes Michael Hutchence of INXS, Bill Haley of Bill Haley and his Comets, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson from Canned Heat.

Finally, there are those whose bodies simply gave out after years of excess, particularly as it relates to the use of prescription medication. Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson top this list, but it also includes Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, Kurt Winter from The Guess Who, John Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas and Karen Carpenter from the Carpenters.

There are a number of reasons why these deaths are considered tragic. Part of the tragedy lies in the fact that so many died at a very young age (many in their twenties) with so much future ahead of them, so many hit songs still to be recorded (The Bee Gees had  written To Love Somebody for Otis Redding, but decided to record it themselves after his death). Part of the tragedy is due to the loss of such unbelievable talent and charisma, quite often under senseless circumstances.  And part of the tragedy stems from the fact that many who died were the architects of their own deaths, be it accidental or intentional, when they were living the life the rest of us can only imagine.

Like a Shakespearean play, life will always have its tragedy and its tragic heroes. If there is a blessing, it is that the music created by rock’s tragic heroes lives on and for that, we can be eternally grateful!

Have an awesomely musical day!

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4 comments on “The Tragic Side of Rock and Roll

  1. To add to your list: The death of Greg Ham from ‘Men At Work’ was thought to be possible suicide as he could not cope with the loss of their appeal in a plagiarism case waged against their hit song “Down Under”. A bizarre case and quite a tragic outcome.

  2. It is amazing to me how many famous musicians have died in plane crashes, which would seem to be a pretty rare occurrence. You can add Patsy Cline and Aaliyah to the list of plane crash deaths. RIP to all those mentioned in this post.

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