The title is morbid I know, but don’t be dissuaded by its tone. Though brash, I don’t actually intend to investigate the death of my heroes. Rather I am being figurative. Weird I know, but in the words of Kevin Hart: LET ME EXPLAIN.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few blasts from the past. What would have been Michael Jackson’s 57th birthday came and went, new supposed ‘sightings(?)’ of Tupac in Cuba surfaced and previously unseen photos of Amy Winehouse were published by the Daily Mail.
All of these blasts had something in common. The celebrities mentioned are all dead. Yet here we are, years after their death, still talking about them in the wishful, present tense.
Michael Jackson is the best entertainer to have ever lived!
Tupac’s rapping ability is unparalleled…
Imagine watching Amy Winehouse perform live in her prime?
We speak wishfully about what they could have achieved had they been alive, who they were to us, why they were the greatest in their craft.
The good die young is a phrase that gets tossed around when these celebrities’ names come up during conversations. But I wonder, do they really? Or rather, do the good not live long enough to do sufficient wrong?
I remember as a kid, I was told that passing away before 12 meant a fast-track route to Heaven (not verbatim but you get my drift). I’m not sure how true the statement is. But I inferred it to mean that once we reached puberty, we were no longer innocent and thus were accountable for our actions – namely wrongful actions. Heaven was no longer a sure deal beyond a certain age, that’s what the phrase “The good die young” meant to me in those days.
Now don’t get me wrong. This is far from a religious debate. I am merely extrapolating the phrase “The good die young” to analogise how fans approach their heroes. I’ve come to find that since evolving from Sunday School and into the secularism of life, the phrase is still being applied in non-religious contexts. Regardless of one’s faith, there is a clear commonality us humans share when it comes to processing death. Bar conversations about the afterlife, destiny, reincarnation and rebirth – there is a universal fascination with what we feel said person could have been if they were alive. This is where the title of this article comes into play.
Controversy rigged the lives of all of the aforementioned celebrities yet the rose-tinted lenses of hindsight blind us to that. Why? Is it because they are dead? Respect the dead. Don’t speak ill of the dead. I understand that sentiment. And if so, then I can end this blog on this sentiment as justification for the morbid title: Everyone knows dead rappers are the most respected. It’s the age old “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” trope. We use the discographies of these artists to theorise what they could have been had they been alive, hence they become our favourites. But I want to look deeper than that.
A lot of these celebrities are labelled as legends because of their musical talents. Tupac’s rapping ability, Amy’s sultry tone, Michael’s all-around entertaining skills. Some argue that their talents know no bounds, that they are the best musicians of all time in their chosen genres.
So why were they given such a hard time during life? Accusations of molestation, rape and drug and alcohol abuse all conspired to tarnish each celebrity’s image respectively and none was safe from media scrutiny. So why after death do we remove all negative connotations associated with them? Place them on a slightly too-high pedestal with an almost blindingly bright halo. Does death absolve one of their wrongdoings?
Of course not. No-one is immune. The plethora of old white beloved celebrities being outed as abusers even beyond death is evidence of that. And since the celebrities I mentioned are far from being hailed as quintessential national sweethearts (in fact all were considered rebellious innovators), I find it subversive that we hail them so greatly in death whilst tearing them down whilst alive. Especially when we have a whole host of celebrities of today whilst they are alive. What is so whimsically romantic about the rugged and stubborn that we love to immortalise in death but criticise in life?
Those lucky enough to be alive during the primes of these celebrities’ lives can vouch for media circuses that surrounded them when alive; circuses that multiplied to excess when the grievance of death simmered and the media were back to being objectively slanderous. But from the die-hard fans in the respective communities of these musicians, the media becomes an enemy, conspiratorial allegations crop up and allegations against said celebrity are disbarred (cc: Bill Cosby).
A classic example of you vs them.
Now it is easy to conclude that from my line of reasoning, I am suggesting that those who are successful should perhaps be immune to the law or criticism. However that is far from the case. I am merely inclined to analysing the thought process ascribed to the blind cape of the mega fan. I’ve never been that great a fan of someone to not recognise their wrongdoings – however I do understand that everyone is problematic and I can’t hold that against everyone. If our world is so growingly secular, why are we still using religious sentiments to guide us through inevitable life stages like death? *double blinks*
My theory is that such wilful blindness is more circumstantial than independent. Whether it be gangster rap, pop, rock and soul – all of the aforementioned celebrities existed during exciting parts of their musical genres. So why do we nit-pick these celebrities as the best of their genres when they existed among other amazing musicians?
Because they’re dead. And us humans love a martyr.
Maybe it’s psychological but I personally refuse to accept that if Jay-Z were to die tomorrow, that would make Nas any less great. If anything it’s erasure. Selective glorification. Blatant disregard. Call it what you want. All I know is that it is irritating to say the least.
Perhaps it is bred into the nature of humanity or psychology, I’m not sure… but my theory is that our own exceptionalism guides our selective bestowing of martyrdom. When someone dies at a time that we do not desire, we deem it too premature for our liking and the nostalgia of how things used to be clouds our judgment. Sometimes it is not the song or the artist, but the content and how it ascribes to the times and emotions of our life. In fact it almost always does. It’s not the moment, but how the moment made us feel. We are subjective beings. Our perspective is influenced by our circumstance and music merely plays its position as the soundtrack to our lives.
The moment our hero dies, they no longer live to disappoint us and that makes us feel better, no matter how glaring destructively the person was. This relates to celebrities and regular folk alike. This is why we whimsically romanticise the past so greatly.
If all my heroes are dead then they can’t live to ruin my godly perception of them. Besides the inevitable sea of unsubstantiated claims that creep from beyond the grave, said hero can exist wholesomely in my imagination without corruption. When alive, they are defensible, when dead, they are not. Thus we protect, propel and praise their legacy to the highest regard when they have passed away.
So in response to the title of this blog, I can assert that my favouritism for dead heroes over alive ones stems from the fact that dead heroes can exist in the utopia of martyrdom in my head forever.. whereas those who are alive can still mess up.
P.S. None of the celebrities I mentioned are actually my favourite heroes, I was just using them as analogies since they are widely known examples.. lol