Death and Dominos

Death and Dominos

Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter.

Duke Vencentio, Measure for Measure, 3.1

Yesterday, on what would have been Janis Joplin’s 80th birthday, I was shooting the breeze with bluesman Johnny Holliday at Chico Feo and asked him if he’d ever heard of Steve James, the superb blues guitarist who died earlier this month.

Johnny Holliday

Johnny hadn’t, so I sang Steve’s praises, mentioning his partnership with Del Ray, a ukulele virtuoso. Johnny asked how old Steve was when he passed, and I replied 72.

“Well, that’s a good age to die,” the thirty-something said, and I agreed, but mentioned I’d just turned seventy.

A sheepish look, a nod of the head. “You don’t look seventy,” he graciously said, and I responded with a thank you, attributing my supposed well-preserved wreckage to clean living and the fedoras that hide my freckled bald scalp.

After I made my way home, climbed the stairs to my drafty garret, and logged on my computer, I learned that David Crosby had just bitten the dust at the beyond ripe old age of 81, he who had been addicted to cocaine and heroin but who nevertheless had managed to outlive the author of the best-selling book The Complete Guide to Running,Jim Fixx, who succumbed to a heart attack while jogging at the age of 52.

I will have to say that David Crosby looked worse for the wear, as does his one-time collaborator Joni Mitchell. Jeff Beck, on the other hand, who died suddenly five days ago, looked pretty damned good, though unlike David and Joni he dyed his hair.[1]

Anyway, these iconic rock stars of yore seem to be on a death roll, falling like dominos, painfully reminding the “me generation,” i.e., m-m–my generation, that all good, bad, and indifferent things must come to an end.  

A host of others are waiting in the wings, Rod Stewart (78), Pete Townsend (78), Eric Clapton (75), Tina Turner (85), Paul McCartney (80), Ringo Starr (82), Keith Richards (79), Mick Jagger (79), Robert Plant (75), Willie Nelson (89), Joan Baez (82), and the man himself, Bob Dylan (81).

Bob’s demise will likely warrant a screaming above the fold front page headline in the New York Times and Washington Post.

By the way, I say Dylan live last spring, and the show was terrific, the songs new, the interplay with bandmates a thing of beauty.

Anyway, back to the subject. This is counterintuitive, but it seems as if rock musicians, at least famous rock musicians, enjoy longevity, outpacing the general life expectancy of 71.6 – 73.2.  Maybe the secret is avoiding those overdoses they’re prone to in their 20s and, of course, avoiding the helicopter and plane crashes that seem to take out so many.

And on that upbeat note, I’ll leave you to take my blood pressure and cholesterol meds.


Del Rey and Steve James

[1] Maybe Mick Jagger should give up the ol’ hair dye. Once you hit the big 8-0, dark hair looks weird, sort of creepy, according to me, a fashion aficionado.

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