THE average American dies aged 75.8 years.
Obviously they’re crackpots, and obviously they’re American. Plus, they prove that, amongst other ungodly sins, fundamentalist hysteria doesn’t know its sums (no soul survivors or octogenarian bluesmen who went via natural causes or old age here). A big source of numerical cheer for these God-squad nutsos are all those musos who took their own lives. But the Dial-The-Truth Ministries are not alone in their grim, hand-rubbing satisfaction derived from rock’n’roll suicides. Like a tabloid picture editor hovering over a public figure’s - or a public figure’s baby’s - funeral, the rest of us can be just as culpable.
I would hesitate to say that anyone found Stuart Adamson’s death "exciting", but the fact that he hung himself in a hotel in Hawaii meant the coverage of his death was widespread, sensational and intrusive. People had to know why he’d done it. Suddenly his private demons were all over the place, his personal, familial battles common knowledge. But the subtext remained: here was another rock’n’roller who had been destroyed by things of his own making, ie, success. Plus, the man was forgotten as his life and work now came gilded with the rosy glow of myth. He’s joined Cobain and Hutchence in the sky - hallelujah! Forget the pain to those who knew him, check out, with added poignancy, the back catalogue of this tragic rocker.
His memory was thrice damned, if you (don’t) like.
In life, Jon Lee from Feeder was "just" the drummer in a relatively faceless band who had enjoyed moderate success. In death, the comments of an investigating police officer in Miami where he lived have been widely reported: Lee hung himself in his garage "to get back" at his wife, with whom he had been arguing. His wife was compelled to issue a statement in response to these reports.
Today sees his funeral in Wales. It’s an "open" affair, with fans encouraged to attend. Again, as the spirit of George Carman found out this week, a life lived in public offers someone no protection in death.
So it goes, whether it’s Zac Foley from EMF (vomiting before dying in Camden earlier this month; toxicology report to come) or Richey Edwards (six years next month since he vanished; on the cover of Mojo right now, cutting his arm open for all to see for all eternity).
Five years ago next week, Billy MacKenzie took an overdose in a shed by his dad’s house in Auchterhouse near the fields where he walked his beloved whippets. With no hotel or exotic clime, the end-image we’re left with is a different one: tragedy, but tinged with a sense of oddness, pathos, and bemusement. ("Auchterhouse? A shed? How could a pop star die like that?").
I have to admit, that’s how I viewed the (p)operatic singer’s death, having judged it from the widespread but reductive coverage. It was only on reading Dundonian journalist Tom Doyle’s elegant biography of MacKenzie that I gleaned a fuller understanding of the pain plaguing MacKenzie. If only all public deaths enjoyed such appropriate public eulogies, their own Dial-The-Truth ministry.