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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Tragic Heroes

    Is it better to die young or live a long life in music? The logical answer is to live a long life and have a long career, but it is not that simple.

    Artist who die early in their careers have an advantage in this argument. The Rolling Stones are dinosaurs, and their catalog of music is very extensive. Scrutinizing over the band’s music is easier because it can be sectioned into portions. Music written by the Stones early on is much different that records made later in their career. These same statements and arguments can be made any artist with long careers – Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Metallica, Sonic Youth, Motorhead, Pearl Jam, etc.

    On the other hand, there are are artists who die causing their careers to ending early and their careers abruptly. The retrospective advantage that these artists have is the fact that their music is finite. Mother Lovebone, the precursor to Pearl Jam, made one record before lead singer Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin and died. Wood, though his career was very short, is considered one of the greatest front men of the grunge ear.

    This lack of material to analyze is the advantage of the tragic. I coin this idea the Tragic Slap Effect. When an artist breaks onto the spotlight they are like anyone else, but if they die soon after, they are sometimes personified to the level of gods. Kurt Cobain is of course the best example of this.

    Cobain died at 27. His music career spanned less than 10 years long. In those 10 years though Cobain became a household figure and was considered front man of the entire grunge movement. After his death in 1994 he was looked at as a visionary and guiding influence on all popular rock music after.

    Was Cobain really all that influential in terms of music though? No.

    This is where the Tragic Slap Effect comes into effect. When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” started making rounds on MTV and Nevermind flew up the Billboard charts, it was as if the public just got bitch-slapped by Cobain, Nirvana and the every other band from Seattle.

    No one was ready for grunge, but everyone was getting tired of seeing Bret Michaels sashaying in tight jeans all across the MTV airwaves. But still Cobain’s influence is not as great as many people make it out to be.

    Other bands from the Seattle grunge scene are more influential in terms of killing off the big haired morons of the eighties and starting the worldwide movement towards “alternative.” Mudhoney, another band from Seattle grunge movement, is much more influential due to an earlier start to their career as well as setting precedent in recording styles and song structures. Though the band is still together today, they are and never will be as popular as Nirvana is or was, but were one of the biggest influences on mainstream bands in the grunge movement.

    Maybe Nirvana’s immense popularity in the early and mid 90s was due to Cobain’s looks or accessibility. Never the less the fame, which he tried to avoid, got the better of him and he ended his life in 1994. Whatever the reason Cobain killed himself and became viewed as a rock messiah and martyr.

    Nine years after Cobain’s death another popular artist killed himself while in his genre’s spotlight. Elliott Smith committed suicide in 2003 at the height of his indie-folk career and was also an example of the TSE.

    Smith is not widely influential, but the music he wrote in the short amount of time that he was recorded albums was great. He only recorded six full-length records, but is still considered a great loss to the indie community.

    In music history there are countless examples of people who were great who died too early. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Randy Rhodes of Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Richie Valens and the list goes on.

    Death is the inevitable fate for everyone on this rock that hurtles through space, but in terms of music and the legacy a musician will leave behind, dying early is better for your estate.

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