All the stars in the sky — even old rock stars — eventually fall from the heavens.
That seems to be going on a lot lately. First it was David Bowie, legendary space rocker, who died at age 69. Then Glenn Fry, one of the co-founders of the Eagles, passed away at age 67.
Their deaths led to a stream of stories and posts on-line from people who, like me, listened to them when we were growing up. Somehow, people seemed to think that ground control would never actually say a final goodbye to Major Tom.
Bowie and Fry weren’t the only old rockers to check out in recent months. Cory Wells, part of the group Three Dog Night, died late last year at age 71. Before that there was Chris Squires, bass player for the group Yes. Then there were a variety of lesser-known musicians, such as Cynthia Robinson from Sly and the Family Stone, who died at age 69.
I guess if I were an old rock star, I’d start worrying when I hit about age 65.
I was never a big Bowie or Eagles guy — my tastes ran more toward Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, maybe the Moody Blues. But there’s something disturbing when a part of your youth — whether it be a musician or the baseball or basketball player you pretended to be in the back yard or some other childhood hero — ends up in the obituaries.
It turns out famous people don’t have an advantage when it comes to life and death. Actually, when it comes to rock stars, it appears to be a disadvantage, kind of like being a linebacker in the NFL or someone who handles radioactive materials with his bare hands for a living.
A number of rock stars died young and became instant legends — Jimi Hendricks, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Pet Ham (Badfinger), Alan Wilson (Canned Heat), Brian Jones (Rolling Stones). Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all died at age 27, which when you think about it is pretty strange. Then there were all the stars who literally fell out of the sky and died in plane crashes: Ricky Nelson, Otis Redding, John Denver, Jim Croce, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ronnie Van Sant and friends from the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, and on “the day the music died,” Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson.
And, of course, there is John Lennon.
Being a rock star is dangerous business.
Like anyone who dies young, their deaths seemed to have an extra impact. But now we seem to be entering an era when the rock stars who managed to survive their youth are playing their final tunes with increasing frequency.
I’m not sure why that makes such a big impression on us. We’re all headed in the same direction and it’s not like the life of a rock star is any more valuable than the guy next door. It’s not that we’re losing their creativity – the music is all there for us to hear any time and most old rockers are long past their best musical days.
Here’s what I think: we remember these people like they were when we all were young. Watching them drop off the stage reminds us of our own mortality. We were all young once, and it seemed like not so long ago. Blink an eye, play that song again and suddenly we’re all 60 years old.
When I was a kid two of my heroes were Frank Robinson and Oscar Robinson. When I hit apples in my back yard with my bat, I was Frank winning the World Series. When I shot free throws, I was the Big O dropping 40 points on the Celtics.
Frank Robinson is now 80 years old. Oscar is 77. But you know what? In my mind they will always look like they did back in the 1960s. By the same token, I remember my parents not as they looked in the final years of their lives, but how they looked when I was a boy.
As for old rock stars, well, most of them notoriously don’t age very well and we shouldn’t be surprised when another one of them sings goodbye. But every time they do, it brings back memories of a “Space Oddity” or a “Desperado” and for a few minutes we’re all young again — but only for a few minutes.
Stars fall, others replace them, and as we watch them we’re reminded that we, too, have our own songs to sing and our own stories to tell.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]