I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time over the last few months. It started when the news broke back in May that Chris Cornell had committed suicide. Cornell was, for those who may not know, the lead guitarist and vocalist for both Soundgarden and Audioslave. He was an incredible guitarist, and solid lyricist, and one of the men who helped found the Seattle based grunge movement of the 90’s alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains. The news sent off the usual waves of Facebook posts, Tweets and Instagram shares by so many expressing grief over the tragic sudden loss.
As the spring turned into summer we learned of another tragic suicide. This time it was Chester Bennington of LInkin Park who took his own life on July 20th. For the millennial generation, this may be the first loss of a musician whose songs became popular during our high school and middle school years. Again a ton of shock and grief was expressed via social media, as the second musician death to suicide occurred within two months of each other. It raises awareness of just how dark the world becomes for so many, wealthy or poor, rich or famous, no matter one’s life circumstance.
As Autumn hit, news of the death of Tom Petty due to a massive heart attack, stunned the music world for a third time in six months. Petty was easily one of the most popular artists of the last four decades. His songs have become iconic, Americana influenced, stories of life and love. In his lifetime he, along with his band The Heartbreakers toured and performed thousands of concerts. In fact, he had just concluded the 40th anniversary tour of his band’s debut.
Loss has now become a theme in the music industry in 2017. It is a unique grief those of us who love these musicians, and the bands they fronted, feel. Not everyone feels it, and those of us who do probably don’t fully understand why either. As I attempted to explain to one of my close friends why so many of us feel a unique sadness about the passing of a beloved musician, I realized something that contributes to it. First off, death as a whole grieves us, period. Death was not a part of God’s original plan for humankind. Before sin entered the world, we were meant to live forever. Our heart’s still grieve when someone dies because of this.
However, it seems for musicians, we feel a specific loss that is slightly different than when an actor or an athlete passes. Here is my thought: musicians are blessed with a unique gift to write something amazing using a musical instrument, and often also compose poetry to go along with that music. They take that instrument and those words and create something with them that is unique and truly all their own. Then, they take that gift and record it onto magnetic tape, preserving not only for themselves, but for all of us to enjoy and be moved by in a unique way within our heart. They share their gift with us all. Most musicians then take their creation and play it in front of thousands of people night in and night out for weeks at a time, once again sharing their gift with anyone willing to listen. Writing music is a gift given to overall few, but selflessly shared with millions who come to appreciate it.
This is why our grief is unique when a musician dies. Our minds and hearts know this means that they have now ceased to be able to selflessly share their gift with us still living in this world. That personal heart connection they offered us through their music is now silenced. No longer will we hear a new guitar lick from Chris Cornell. Never again will we hear a angsty lyric from Chester Bennington and find ourselves resonating with the uncertainty he too wrestles with in life. Tom Petty will never again go on tour to belt out “American Girl” or “Into the Great Wide Open” for us as an audience.
Thankfully, the audio journals and documentaries of their writings left behind in the form of albums are still here for us to enjoy. They were kind enough to share them with us, and preserve them so they will last after we too have passed onto the next world. Any musician could choose to keep their gifts and talents to themselves, but they don’t, they instead share them with us. Oh sure, one can argue that they get paid a lot of money to do so, and that is true, once they have become famous of course. However, it is important to remember every great musician and songwriter was once an unknown who took a risk of sharing their songs with us, risking rejection along the way. We recognize and appreciate those who take that risk, because we all know that deep down, taking a risk is a part of each of our lives, and we find inspiration in those who dare to take such risks, because it motivates and encourages us to have that kind of courage as well.
Loss is a part of life. Death is a part of life. Sadly it is a cycle that wasn’t, as I said earlier, initially originally in God’s plan. When anyone dies, our souls ache in varying degrees, depending of course on how close we were to the person. With musicians, we feel close to them because of the nature of their craft; music resonates in our hearts in a unique way. Therefore when one whose music we particularly enjoyed passes away, we feel it in our soul. So while we may not have known them personally as a friend, their songs touched a similar part of us that a friendship does, and we feel the now vacancy of that part of our soul and heart. Thus, I believe it is right to find a way to mourn that loss. Play their songs as you go about your day. Belt them out at the top of your lungs while driving in the car. Or maybe do the opposite, don’t listen to the songs for a while, and instead listen to other music of alive musicians while you heal. Whatever response you have, it isn’t wrong. So jam out to those tunes you love, or don’t for a while. But give yourself permission to grieve. Music is a gift. The musicians who give us the music are a blessing. Enjoy them while they are here, remember them when they are gone.