VILI BRANYIK · orig. MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2016
Every time I hear about a famous person dying, inevitably, someone pipes up and says, “Why do they matter? People die every day.” I can practically hear it in my head (I’m not the one saying it, of course). If you are one of the people who says that, first off, how jaded are you? And second, blow it out your ass.
Let’s entertain this thought – every day, thousands of people die for whatever different cause; natural, accidental, murder, overdose, whatever. Every day, thousands of people leave the world as we know it and in their wake, there is sadness. It may be family, or a friend, or someone that they knew in passing, or someone that they saw a lot in their daily life. Point is, there’s a lot of sadness in the world at any given point, and it doesn’t just stem from death. On the opposite side of all of that, thousands of people are born every day, and that (mostly) brings joy.
So what’s the point here? Well, when a famous person dies, particularly an artist of some sort, their death ripples through a fanbase. Now a lot of people in a fanbase haven’t actually met the person that they’re a fan of; and even then, those experiences vary based on the fan and the person that they idolize. That matters less than why an artist is idolized in the first place.
Art is expression, and an artist, someone who is renowned in their craft and their art, has the ability to illustrate a facet of life, no matter the size, in a way that people normally can’t and in a way that allows an audience to connect with an artist. I have to add that caveat to the beginning of this part of the rant because it’s very easy to confuse an artist and an asshole with a guitar. Essentially, an artist is a voice, or a motion, or a song, that people need to get out in to the world but don’t know how to do so, and for that, they idolize a person because they unknowingly understand and rationalize something that someone else doesn’t. They make people who are alone in some regard feel otherwise.
It’s not lost on me that some people don’t get that. There are billions of people in the world and the thought that a hemisphere of a planet will weep at the death of someone they’ve never met is mind-boggling, but that’s a testament to the impact they made in what they did. You may not like a particular artist, but when there’s expressed sorrow in response to a death, it can give you a bit of perspective on the kind of person that people at least thought they were like and very few actually knew.
This little rant, of course, comes off of the deaths of both David Bowie and Lemmy, two artists who represented different genres and ideals but that didn’t take away from the kind of impact that they had with their peers and their fans. David Bowie is an iconic glam rocker and pop singer; an eccentric artist who was very nonchalant about his contribution to his art, but knew he wanted to be something great, and he eventually was. Lemmy was a rock and metal idol who acted as a different type of father figure alongside of his contemporaries, namely Dio. He was someone who was comfortable in his own skin and inspired that same confidence in the people that idolized him or would come to do so.
There are scores of dead artists whose work still permeates different parts of society. We still read Shakespeare, Poe, Joyce, Hemmingway, and Orwell, and we still listen to the Beatles, and Mozart (not so much), and Elvis. You get the idea. I could quote fistfuls of different writers on the concept of art (thinking of Kurt Vonnegut, mainly), but there’s one from one of my favorite writers who died in the last year.
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world fade away.” –Terry Pratchett
That’s something else that a lot of people don’t understand about an artist, and not in a way that a pretentious artist says, “Nobody understands my work.” (Those guys are usually just bitter that they never hit it as big as they wanted to. Again, assholes with horns.)
If you devote yourself to an art or a craft, then you go on doing what you do, making art, collecting something for it, struggling with it at some point, being gratified by it at other points, and will eventually die without knowing the full impact you made with what it was that you did. The death of an artist is a reminder to all of us that while we will die, what we made doesn’t and that the people who enjoyed what we did will keep it alive.