By Cindy Phillips posted May 2, 2012
If you picked up superstitions or old wives tales from your parents or grandparents, you may believe that some life events happen in threes – one of them being death. I am holding my breath right now after the announcement of Dick Clark’s passing, followed the next day by Levon Helm. As the Righteous Brothers sang in Rock and Roll heaven, “well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Levon just took it up a notch and now Dick can emcee the concerts.
We Boomers certainly lost plenty of music idols over the years, many of them at a young age. We shook our heads when we lost Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, but it didn’t necessarily come as a shock. Reckless lifestyles often lead to untimely deaths. Tragic passings, like John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Harry Chapin, sting hard because of circumstances that were out of anyone’s control. Don McLean was moved to write American Pie, haunted by the airplane crash that ended the young lives of Buddy Holly, Rickie Valens and The Big Bopper. You would be hard-pressed to find a Boomer who doesn’t know all the lyrics – right now you’re humming the tune and a little voice inside your head is driving your Chevy to the levee.
But the deaths of music idols that seem to be happening on a more than regular basis these days are the most haunting of all because they are our age. Each death is a reality check of our own mortality, and each one takes another little piece of my heart.
When we were young, we all dreamed of someday being a Mouskateer. We were mesmerized in front of the television, wishing we could be there along with Annette, Cubby and Bobby. We longed to wear our Mickey Mouse ears and a white shirt with our name emblazoned across the chest. We just knew we could sing and dance as well, if not better, than those other kids.
But as we entered the “tween” stage, our goals became loftier and more age appropriate. We wanted to be on American Bandstand. We would have traded our soul to be on that stage dancing to songs like Teen Angel or Mack the Knife. We would have given up the key to our diary to be hob-nobbing with heart throbs like Johnny Rivers, Smokey Robinson and Fabian. We would have traded our Noxema and pink curlers to sit on the bleachers and be asked a question by Dick Clark himself.
I never had a brush with greatness where Dick Clark was concerned, but I do have a treasured memory of Levon Helm. Levon’s bout with throat cancer in the early 90’s left behind a mountain of medical bills. The idea of the Midnight Ramble was hatched to raise money for paying off the debt. Concerts were held in The Barn at Levon’s home in Woodstock, NY (which, contrary to popular belief, is not where Woodstock was held.)
On October 16, 2010, a dozen of my closest friends from college plunked down a tidy sum to attend a Midnight Ramble. Talk about money well spent. Morning Jacket opened the evening, followed by a musical performance so powerful and moving, I am not sure it can ever be equaled (except possibly by the 40th Anniversary of The Moondogs).
The Barn is a cozy, wood-beamed building that houses a recording studio. Attendance is limited to about 300 people, so as you can imagine, there is not a bad seat in the house. You truly get the sense of being in the artist’s living room, hanging with his closest friends while they jam. The news of Levon Helm’s passing made me feel quite blessed that I was able to experience his music at its best, in a venue that was unsurpassed.
Each time a musician from our era passes, it takes a little piece of our heart, invokes a treasured memory and sets us off on a rock and roll frenzy playing every song we associate with the fallen star. How many Whitney Houston songs did you hear within the first few weeks after her passing?
Want to test yourself? What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read the names of these rock and rollers who have crossed over within the past ten years?
Davy Jones – Monday night show and The Last Train to Clarksville
Don Cornelius – Saturday mornings and the crooning of Soooooul Traaaaaiiiin.
Clarence Clemmons – Bruce Springsteen singing Rosalita
Johnny Maestro – The Worst That Could Happen
Mary Travers – Leavin’ On a Jet Plane; Puff the Magic Dragon
Dan Fogelberg – Same Old Lang Syne
Ike Turner – ummm, Tina was smart to get rid of him
Denny Doherty – Ah, hope he and Mama Cass reunited
James Brown – I Feel Good
Wilson Pickett – Land of a Thousand Dances
Rick James – Super Freak
Bobby Hatfield – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Robert Palmer – girls in black dresses and red lipstick
Johnny Cash – So many songs, where do you begin?
Barry White – pure soul
Maurice Gibb – Stayin’ Alive
John Phillips – whoa, three-quarters of the Mamas and Papas are gone!
Treasure those memories, live life to the fullest and play that funky music whenever you can. You never know when heaven’s band is going to get a new member.
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