People worship celebrities. In ancient times, their tabloid legends were told and retold through costumed dancing and drumbeats around tribal fires. As history progressed, great temples of stone, marble, and glass were erected to house their sensational images. Today these glistening personas seep into our imaginations through photographs, radios, newspapers, televisions, and more recently, ubiquitous computer screens. Even when their bodies pass away, dead stars linger like ancestral spirits in a digital afterlife. If they die young enough, they might live forever.
Naturally, the question arises: Why dead rock stars? After all, tons of great music is made by artists who live long and healthy lives. Why not write about them? Shouldn’t we celebrate life instead of death? Look, I didn’t pick dead stars as a topic of interest. You did.
People fall to their knees to please a living legend, but they will follow a dead rock star to his grave. The Western World revels in a perpetual obituary. Christian civilization was built on the holy bones of martyrs. It is only natural that our post-Christian culture would ride the shock waves of dying stars. As John Lennon said in his last print interview, “What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero… so forget ‘em, forget ‘em.”
Well, John, forget ‘em if you want—thanks to Mark David Chapman, they will remember you forever. After all, that quote was pulled from a Rolling Stone cover story published thirty years after your death.
Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum eius.
The martyrologies of the ancient Church were calendars marking the feast days of tragic saints, generally on the dates that they died. For each deathday liturgy, the priest would draw moral lessons from the martyr’s brutal story. Nothing much has changed since then. Am I being morbid by feeding this tradition? Maybe a wee bit. Insensitive? Well, I’m not trying to be. Sacrilegious?
Celebrity spin is the iconography of our civil religion—the pop cult of popular culture. Children are raised on it. Funerals hum with its soundtrack. Its clamor is inescapable. How could I not write about it?
I could conceivably do an article on a dead musician every day of the year, but that would be as tiresome for the reader as it would be tiring for me. So I have chosen the massive stars—the supernovas—and intend to publish an article on their anniversaries throughout the year. Perhaps you will join me through the progression of this Rock Star Martyrology.
Here’s to a long and healthy life!
– Joseph Allen