The deaths of Michael, Whitney and Prince leave a hole for a generation

(April 21, 2016) On June 25, 2009, I was sitting on a plane departing Detroit when the news arrived. On February 11, 2012, my wife and I were having dinner with friends when the text messages started flying to my telephone. And today I was hiking in the mountains of Colorado, when I was stopped in my tracks by the sad words. That I can remember so exquisitely every detail about when I heard the shocking news of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince – and that so many of my peers can similarly recall their own personal details – says something about the impact that the lives and passing of these three iconic figures had on a generation of music fans. Because it is impossible to look at popular music of the 1980s without spending a long, long time contemplating arguably the three biggest R&B artists of that decade – now all gone tragically and prematurely.

(April 21, 2016) On June 25, 2009, I was sitting on a plane departing Detroit when the news arrived. On February 11, 2012, my wife and I were having dinner with friends when the text messages started flying to my telephone. And today I was hiking in the mountains of Colorado, when I was stopped in my tracks by the sad words. That I can remember so exquisitely every detail about when I heard the shocking news of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince – and that so many of my peers can similarly recall their own personal details – says something about the impact that the lives and passing of these three iconic figures had on a generation of music fans. Because it is impossible to look at popular music of the 1980s without spending a long, long time contemplating arguably the three biggest R&B artists of that decade – now all gone tragically and prematurely.

A generation earlier, the unexpected deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon sent similar shock waves through popular music, leaving a wake of sadness, even despair, for millions. But while those of us born in the 60s and early 70s knew Elvis and Lennon, they were really artists of our older cousins and siblings, and their deaths, while quite sad, didn’t cut to the core of our memories of those important years of our lives – our teens and 20s – when music meant everything. Michael, Whitney and Prince are uniquely at the center of those memories; and the numbing convergence of their far-too-early deaths brings the kind of intensely personal sadness that some of us who grew up in urban areas felt when the schools, churches and neighborhoods of our childhood surrendered to decay and, ultimately, abandonment. It is the unnerving feeling of loss of something that was essential to you at the time in your life when you felt things incredibly deeply.

Frank Sinatra lived to age 82, long enough to take several victory laps. And his most avid fans were able to continue to be joined to his music, through their youthful days, parenting years, and even to middle age and beyond.  Sinatra’s continued larger-than-life presence and relevance was a blessing for the youth who discovered him in the post WWII years, and he remained a musical glue that connected the stages of their lives. Unfortunately, the death of Prince today further severs that connection for a later generation, reminding us all of the fragility of life – even for icons – and of the consistency of change, whether welcome or unwelcome.

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was an old Lebanese verse: “The dog barked and barked, but the caravan moved on.” Again today – as on the days of Whitney’s and Michael’s deaths -- my generation of music fans serves as the barking dog of that proverb, clinging to a musical era of greatness, even as the caravan of time ruthlessly brushes all aside in its constant march toward an unknown destination.

Rest in peace, my musical friends.

By Chris Rizik

 

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