One recent afternoon, while ambling through the rock vinyl aisles of Amoeba Berkeley, my eye caught that great Joy Division album cover Unknown Pleasures. Wow, I thought, just how perfect is that cover artwork that was actually taken from an edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy? And how even more perfect is that whole album -- originally released on June 15th, 1979? I could listen to it and everything by Joy Division a million times over and never get tired of hearing it. Even the over-played and over-covered "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (released a month after Curtis' suicide) never ages in my head. Perhaps part of the greatness of all this music is that it is frozen in time, never having to be matched by later releases from a band that came to an abrupt early end after the tragically troubled lead-singer Ian Curtis had literally kicked the bucket -- instantly making him and Joy Division stuff of music legend, to be forever admired and romanticized in pop culture from afar.
But what (let's just imagine) if Ian Kevin Curtis hadn't hung himself back on May 18th, 1980, at the young age of 23? What if instead, he had kept on living and making music with Joy Division (meaning, of course, that there would have been no New Order), cranking out (increasingly weaker and weaker) albums throughout the eighties and up until an ugly break-up in 1997, followed by Ian Curtis completely disappearing for many years up until, let's again pretend, in 2004 when the producers of VH1's Band Reunited track him down. What if they find him old, fat, bald, bitter and living in a bedsit in Birmingham? Then, encouraged by VH1's intervention, he officially pulls himself together, temporarily kicks his age old habit, and tours small clubs with a new Joy Division lineup doing at best average covers of his old songs. Not pretty, eh? Not compared to the perfectly preserved, romantically tragic Ian Curtis that is the pop culture icon today.
Truth is, that dead rock n rollers (and by this I include rappers and young movie stars) are better -- to the music industry -- dead than alive. Yep, to die young (think Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, James Dean, Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, etc, etc) is to be immortalized and perfectly preserved in pop culture for eternity.
Recently Forbes Magazine compiled their list of the most lucrative dead celebrities (meaning those who posthumously generate the most income) and the number one dead-celeb was Nirvana's frontman.
Since 2Pac was shot down in his prime eleven years ago, he has released material at a constant rate as if he were still alive. And speaking of dead Yay Area rappers, let's turn now to the future posthumous career of the late, great Vallejo rap talent Andre Hicks, aka Mac Dre, who was gunned down in Kansas City three years ago. He left behind a huge vault of both released and unreleased tracks, and his future career has not yet been fully realized. My bet is that Mac Dre and the ever-expanding Thizz Nation he left behind will only grow and he will become a (deservedly) bigger and bigger rap star as the years progress -- and more so than even if he were still alive!
--- ---- R.I.P. MAC DRE, you are forever missed! --- ------