It wasn’t just the music that shaped us… the musicians did too

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Music plays a big part in our lives. So losing the creators of our favourite music can have a profound impact. By Tony Watts OBE

It’s an odd sensation when you turn on the news and hear a familiar track, only to be told, “That was x, who passed away today.” Somehow a piece of your life has been torn away. You may not have known them personally but they provided part of the soundtrack to your life.

So it has not been a great time lately for anyone whose musical heroes strutted their stuff in the 70s… Lemmy, Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson all gone – none exactly “old”. It’s no consolation when people suggest that somewhere in Heaven the greatest line up of all time is being assembled.

Of course many great contributors to the rock and pop canon passed away at a very young age indeed: Moon at 32, Presley at 42, Gaye at 44, Marley at 37, Lennon at 40, Mercury at 45, Stevie Ray Vaughn at 35; and of course a long list at just 27 – Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, Hendrix, Brian Jones…

Their deaths shocked us a different way: they seemed to us mortals to have been plucked from life like the poets of old – too good for this plane, the Gods took them from us. They also reminded us of the fragility of genius.

The new “batch” of leavers are people our age or thereabouts, and so in part their deaths serve as stark reminders of our own mortality… but also throw us back to the time when the world was young, anything was possible and it was their music that – in part – defined us. Great art does that: it unleashes a potent power that can live on, in minds and hearts, for ever.

Bowie will be the big one to many of my generation. I was one of many who aspired to the androgynous look, and resonated to the rebellion in the lyrics – confident that they were harbingers of the social revolution that was surely to come.

Of course the revolution never really happened, but the spirit of what could have been can still be witnessed whenever “Jean Genie” is played and, with a whoop of recognition, 60 somethings take to the dance floor. It may not be pretty, it may not even be entirely safe, but it sure is defiant.

Quite what the lyrics meant, we never really knew: dark, mysterious, they hinted at seductive alternatives… our parents’ generation didn’t like them – which was good enough for us.

There are still many great artists out there who will be mourned when they too go. But their music will live on. I know that despite all outward appearances to the contrary, the music I loved then and still love today won’t make me immortal… but it means I can always be 19.

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