Question of the Week: Who is your favorite dead rock star?

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February 12, 2009 by A.C. Rhodes

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And why? What did you see in their music and how did their persona have an effect on you?

19 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Who is your favorite dead rock star?

  1. Steven says:

    Elvis. He IS Johnny B. Goode. He had a fall from grace, the most triumphant return in rock and roll history, and a sad and fatal decline. His story is fascinating, and emcompasses everything from race to gender to class. And without him, there is no Bruce Springsteen, who is the central musical figure in my own life of fandom.

  2. Matt says:

    Joe Strummer, hands down. Musically alone, he’s the tops. I still remember being 16 and, after hearing Clash songs here and there for years from junior high on up, I got a copy of The Clash, and listened to it back to back to back to back all afternoon. The sound of the music, the politics, the energy, it was literally the band I’d dreamed about forever. It turned my world upside down.

    As a rock icon kind of figure, I find him fascinating, from the superhuman righteousness and sense of justice he brought beyond the music, to his salt-of-the-earth everyman attitude. That and his disdain for and struggles (both successful and failed) against the temptations of stardom, always made him seem like the perfectly human and flawed rock star anti-hero.

  3. Rich Tupica says:

    NOLAN STRONG. Hands down.

  4. Bill C. says:

    I really miss the Ramones and regret not seeing them when they came to Pittsburgh or Columbus. And D. Boon. He was a cool guy.

  5. Mark Kemp says:

    Just one?
    Shoot, ALL of them who weren’t done making great music are my favorites: Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Duane Allman, Tammi Terrell, Brian Jones, Pete Ham, Gram Parsons, Phil Lynott, Ronnie Van Zant, Phil Ochs, Peter Laughner, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Ian Curtis, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Ray Vaughan, D. Boon, Kurt Cobain, Mia Zapata, Brad Nowell, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls… and I’m sure I’ve missed a few notable ones who still had a few (if not a bunch) more good songs in them.

  6. Fred Mills says:

    1. Joe Strummer – Yeah, I’ll second that emotion. It literally stopped me in my tracks when I heard the news. The bloody-minded, yet often laissez-faire, nature of how he approached musicmaking for one thing, along with the obvious, lasting quality of most of his stuff both with the Clash and solo (particularly the final Mescaleros album). Possibly more relevant, though, was the way he tried to conduct his life, with integrity (lined with just enough ego and confidence to get the job done of course), and as often as possible, with humility and grace. When I sat down with him at Irving Plaza in NYC in October of 2001 for our second interview (the first had been done by phone to England), he was as open a cat as anyone I can think of, generous with his time despite suffering from an obvious sore throat and cold, and also generous to the opening band (he insisted they get a full soundcheck even if meant holding the doors) and to all the kids that wanted to pile into the dressing room afterwards.

    2. Randy California – When I heard he’d drowned while saving his son from being pulled under, I was also stopped in my tracks. The memory still haunts me. He was another guy whose collision of talent, generosity, appreciation for his fans and zenlike approach to life and what it deals ya always inspires me to live up to that standard. To say nothing of the timelessness of so much of his work with Spirit, which was a true integration of musical and lyrical vision, of inward-directing sounds and outward-focusing words. When I interviewed him one Saturday morning, it must have been awfully early for him over in Hawaii, and he didn’t really have to give me more than 15 minutes, but he said no, let’s keep going, I don’t mind, so we did. He sure didn’t have to do that for a dumb rock schmuck wannabe writer like me, but he treated me as if I was as important as somebody from the New York Times.

    I guess the common link between the two is pretty obvious: folks who try to treat others like they themselves would hope to be treated. Sadly, as we all know, the rock world probably has more than its fair share of self-centered, unnecessarily mean-spirited malcontents whose psychic footprints are huge.

    Lucky for us, the likes of Joe and Randy have given the world a solid stock of psychic offsets.

  7. Daniel says:

    There are a lot of musicians to be missed, as others have noted, including Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, etc., but I remain particularly fond of Jeff Buckley, because he was so young and had only just begun his work. Following the release of his album Grace, I saw him in concert in Manhattan, and thought that was a very good, intimate, promising start to a career. I liked his sensitivity and how he used that in his work–especially in his interpretations of ballads, and with his disregard for gender expectations; and I liked his uptempo stuff too. (Some of the songs might have been too much like his models and sometimes his voice was shrill, but greater mastery usually comes with time…)

  8. Mark Kemp says:

    I dunno, Fred, I kind of miss the cranky, self-centered assholes, too. But if we’re talking sweet, sensitive, giving humanitarian types, you gotta add D. Boon to that list. When I was a young newspaper reporter in Burlington, N.C., in the mid-80s, I saw the Minutemen open for R.E.M. in Raleigh. After the show I went to say hello to D., because I had just become a huge fan of them via Double Nickels on the Dime and 3-Way Tie For Last. I remember he put his hand on my shoulder and had this big grin on his face and talked to me like I was a friend, not the annoying, young, blubbering fan that I was. He said they were going over to the Brewery to do an after-show set and told me to come along. I did, and afterward he and Watt spent so much time talking to their fans. They seemed to genuinely enjoy it. There was no ego there. And we weren’t important people who’d be giving them publicity or anything. They were just spieling with us because they really seemed to care about us. That really impacted me.

    Fast-forward about a decade later when I was editor of Option in L.A. By then I’d come to meet and chat with Watt several times here and there. One night we were at a show somewhere and went outside and I told him how much that meeting in Raleigh had meant to me. He got teary-eyed (which he does when talk turns to D.) and said something to the effect of, “That’s just the way D. was.” And I believed him. To me, those guys — and D., in particular — really represented what was good and honest and righteous about that 80s American indie scene. D. and Watt weren’t posing as punks, they were the real deal, way beyond just “punk.” D. Boon had a hell of a lot more music and activism in him. I find myself missing him ever so often still, and I didn’t really know him. I can’t even imagine how much Watt must miss him.

  9. radiomother says:

    Frank Zappa. We could have used him over the last ten years.

  10. gkruz says:

    Keith Richards. Rock died with him.

  11. Mark Stevens says:

    Easy… Grant McLennan.

  12. Bo Wiggly says:

    Lux Interior of the infamous Cramps, because rock and roll never made me smile more than a live show with Lux at the mic stand.

  13. John Lennon was a genius and a SOB. His songs were very important as guidelines in my youth.

  14. R H says:

    Garcia.

  15. Ted Cogswell says:

    Arthur Lee. I remember reading that article in MOJO about the new band that he was working with in Memphis just days before the news came that he was in the hospital. It was heartbreaking how fast it all happened.

  16. spinz says:

    I STRONGLY AGREE WITH # 5, MARK.. I WILL ALSO ADD STEVIE RAY VAUGHN, FRANK ZAPPA, MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD, KEITH MOON AND JOHN ENTWISTLE (BEST RHYTHYM SECTION IN ROCK). MITCH MITCHELL, FELIX PAPPALARDI, JERRY GARCIA, NICKY HOPKINS, JOHN CIPPOLINA, JIM CAPALDI, CHRIS WOOD, KEITH RELF, RANDY CALIFORNIA, ARTHUR LEE, JOHN LENNON, GEORGE HARRISON, JIM MORRISON, ROY ORBISON, DEFINITELY THE MASTER OF THE STRATOCASTER JIMI HENDRIX WHOSE IMPACT INFLUENCED A GENERATION OF GUITARISTS AND IMPACT IS STILL BEING FELT AND DISCOVERED TODAY.

  17. SPINZ says:

    LATE, UNDER-RATED TEMPERMENTAL BUT LYRICLY TALENTED INNOVATIVE GENIUS, I’LL ADD BRIAN MCLAIN. ELVIS WAS THE KING,AND BUDDY HOLLY, AND EDDIE COCHRAN KICKED IT FURTHER…

  18. Chris says:

    This is an interesting thread to me, where I actually collect obituaries and have a few of the more recent people mentioned here. First, though, it should be noted that while Keith Richards and Sly Stone have for years looked like they were dead, they are in fact (at this moment anyway) still among us. Now, shoot, I don’t know where to begin my list as my taste in music runs the gamut but certainly the “oldies” and doo wop era lost a ton of great people. A couple of people who passed in the last few years that I wanted to see include Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers, Gene Pitney (I had planned on seeing him down in CT later that same year he passed) and the Ramones among many others I just can’t think of right now. I would have loved to been alive during the Beatles heyday, seen Jim Croce or Harry Chapin or Bobby Darin or Sam Cooke or Jimi Hendrix or Roy Orbison (wow what a voice) or Dusty Springfield. I remember in Boston just five years ago last month I saw Ronnie Spector from the Ronettes open for Frankie Valli (whose voice has sadly not held up over the years); now, her sister Estelle Bennett just passed away earlier this year. Too bad her life went to the crapper (literally) as she even lived on the streets for a while there. The list could go on and on and while I was younger I couldn’t even stand hearing Elvis songs, my now more mature wiring loves his music and wishes he was one still among us. Jackie Wilson and Rick Nelson, Buddy Holly and who knows what the hell kinda career little Richie Valens would have had if not for the fateful night the “music died,” thank you Don McLean (no, he’s still around!). One person I got to see just a few years before he died was John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas; which only made me wish I was a bit older so I could have seen Cass too. Since that time, we have lost Denny Doherty, and that only leaves Michelle; how excited would I be to have even seen Janis Joplin with her powerful voice and songs that just drew you in; just a couple of quick recent people that I liked and then I’m done. First would be Mike Hutchence from INXS (I know they have a new lead singer now), but their stuff from the early days will always be my favorites and then there’s the Who and Pink Floyd that have lost members as well as Blind Melon and Def Leppard. See, that’s the problem with an open-ended query like this: it leaves too many possibilities, but it also brings together people that just love music.

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