Ok. I’m an optimist by nature. But let’s just admit it. 2016 was one kick in the dick after another. In a year marked by death and destruction, Donald Trump is alive and well.
This will largely be remembered as a time of unspeakable sadness.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve become numb to the constant tributing and montaging. David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, George Michael…
Every departure—those both sudden and expected—punctuated a year otherwise defined by a bloody Civil War in Syria, the reigniting of Cold War tensions with Russia, America’s shameful election and its cultural embrace of fear and hatred, and alarming record high temperatures across the globe.
I know what you’re thinking. Who invited this sourpuss to the New Year’s party?
My apologies. But it’s hard not to believe our civilization is simply running its course, that our best interstellar visitors are returning from whence they came before the shit fully hits the fan. (I give you Princess Leia as Exhibit “A”). Obviously, the number of luminaries who departed us is long and disturbing. This was, to be sure, popular music’s most tragic year, blighted by almost constant and irretrievable loss. It’s been nearly a year and I still can’t believe that I have to raise my newborn baby girl in a world without David Bowie.
But the list of those departed is actually so expansive as to defy belief. I decided to put together a little playlist in memory of those we lost and it turned out to be so much longer than I had anticipated. Stated simply, this list is 66 goddamn songs long. That’s one fucked up year, man.
Among the lesser publicized but no less lamentable departures in 2016, we lost two former members of the Jefferson Airplane, 2/3rds of Emerson Lake and Palmer, two ’90s hip-hop veterans, a bevy of 70s soul-funkers, a handful of jazz legends, a man widely regarded as the 5th Beatle, the guy that played bass on nearly every hit that Motown churned out, the guy that basically invented the ska genre, and, just for good measure, the guy who produced Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” If ever there was an appropriate year-ending theme song, that would be it.
So as you raise a glass to the year ahead, spill a little on the curb for those we lost. Here’s a dose of the morose as 2016 draws mercifully to a close, lest we forget those who shan’t be joining us in 2017:
- Alan Vega: Lead singer of electropunk band Suicide
- Peter Burns: Gender-bending lead singer of Dead or Alive
- Paul Kantner: Guitarist for Jefferson Airplane
- Signe Andersen: Original lead singer for Jefferson Airplane
- Dan Hicks: of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks
- Maurice White: Lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire
- Marshall “Rock” Jones: Last surviving member of the Ohio Players
- Mic Gilette: Trumpet player for Tower of Power
- Phife Dawg: Leader of Tribe Called Quest
- Bernie Worrell: Keys for Parliament-Funkadelic
- Eddie Harsch: Keys for the Black Crowes
- Gary Loizzo: Lead singer of the American Breed
- Aaron Huffman: Bassist for Harvey Danger
- Keith Emerson and Greg Lake: 2/3rds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer
- George Martin: Beatles producer
- Blowfly: X-rated funkster/rapper
- Bobby Hutcherson: Legendary jazz vibraphonist
- Bobby Vee: 1960s teen idol
- Buckwheat Zydeco: Legendary New Orleans accordionist
- Frank Sinatra, Jr.: Junior Crooner
- Gato Barbieri: Legendary jazz saxophonist
- Guy Clark: Texas Country singer
- Lonnie Mack: Blues rocker
- James Jamerson: Motown bassist, Funk Brother
- Jean-jacques Perrey: Electro-pop pioneer
- Leon Russell: Piano rocker
- Leon Haywood: Soul funk singer
- Mose Allison: Pioneering R&B pianist
- Dale Griffin: Mott the Hoople drummer
- Attrell ‘Prince Be’ Cordes: P.M. Dawn’s rapper
- Prince Buster: Godfather of Ska
- Pete Zorn: Steeleye Span multi-instrumentalist
- Ralph Stanley: Bluegrass legend
- Rob Wasserman: Ratdog bassist
- Scotty Moore: Elvis Presley’s guitarist
- Sir Mack Rice: blues singer who wrote “Mustang Sally”
- Vanity: Prince-produced R&B singer
- Thunderclap Newman: Lead singer/namesake of Thunderclap Newman
- Rick Parfitt: Lead singer of Status Quo
- Nicholas Caldwell: Lead singer of the Whispers
- Fred Hellerman: The last surviving member of folk group The Weavers
- Sandy Pearlman: Blue Oyster Cult producer
And just so we’re clear, this isn’t everybody. As the playlist hereafter suggests, the list of music casualties cuts even deeper than you realize. I know all of this is quite morbid, but as the cliche goes, mourn not that we lost them. Celebrate that we knew them.
Oh, and congratulations to Keith Richards for surviving yet another rotation ‘round the sun. We don’t know how you do it, but keep it up. We need you now more than ever.