What happens when you die on the same day as John Lennon: the artists whose death was overshadowed by another | ICON

What happens when you die on the same day as John Lennon: the artists whose death was overshadowed by another | ICON
What happens when you die on the same day as John Lennon: the artists whose death was overshadowed by another | ICON

In that world of rock fans where authenticity matters so much, knowing more songs than anyone else, being more purist than others and boasting about knowing a group from its beginnings, “before they became commercial”, few events shake the mind more. hornet’s nest than the death of a great star. There is the one who exaggerates his closeness to the deceased and overreacts his sadness, the one who had always been passionate about his music but had never mentioned it and there is no shortage of those who accuse the rest of being upstarts. Also, on the other hand, the one who humbly approaches from genuine curiosity to discover the legacy of that so lamented and so relevant musician whom he had never had the opportunity to listen to. It is, to stay with something positive, the good part of when an artist dies: his work is disseminated, his songs (or excerpts from his books, or scenes from his films) are shared to honor him, attention is renewed towards his work and Sometimes it even becomes more popular.

There are those who, however, do not even enjoy those minutes of fame. post mortem nor does he have the opportunity to pick off upstarts in injury time. On April 8, 1994, the body of Kurt Cobain, leader of Nirvana, was found, who had committed suicide three days before by shooting himself in the head. His death at the age of 27, like other figures such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison, and the elements of tragedy – the sadness of a very famous guy with terrible demons that tortured him, the niche for sensationalism that was his marriage to Courtney Love and his drug-addicted fatherhood, the urban legends that originated instantly – surrounded him with a mythical halo that still lasts with full force: commemorations for the 30 years of his death have not been lacking in the main cultural headlines, as no They did it on previous round anniversaries, and Nirvana (their songs and their t-shirts) are just as present or more than three decades ago. The same cannot be said of the British Lee Brilleaux, singer of Dr. Feelgood, who died of lymphoma at the age of 41 on April 7, 1994, one day before Cobain’s death was reported.

Magazine Uncut – whose issue this April has on the cover an interview with the survivors of Nirvana, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic – lamented a few years ago, on the occasion of the publication of Brilleaux’s biography, that his death became “a note footnote, something that was only briefly mentioned” because it coincided with “the drama that was unfolding in Seattle.” In 2015, Guardian He went further and drew an antagonism: “To the guys of a certain era who played in pubs, he is what Cobain was to Generation X. Seen today, Brilleaux is the anti-Cobain. His attitude was always that of a hard worker, a cartoon version of a hard-drinking old Canvey Island worker, compared to the sardonic and selfless aura that Cobain created and on which the culture was fed. slacker”.

Lee Brilleaux in 1970.David Redfern (Redferns)
Kurt Cobain in New York in 1990.KMazur (WireImage)

Bizarre comparisons aside, Brilleaux was for more than twenty years the vocalist of a band that some called “the equivalent of John the Baptist” among the prophets of punk. Dr. Feelgood, founded in 1971, represented, in the progressive context, the return to the roots of rock, to primitive sounds and simple structures, which lit the fuse for the explosion of British punk. Topics like Roxette (his greatest success), She Does It Right, Going Back Home or versions like that of Boom Boom, by John Lee Hooker, made up an energetic and intense songbook, with a staging that was no less impressive. The director Julien Temple, who dedicated the documentary to them Oil City Confidential (2009), he was surprised: “They were the biggest band in England for 18 months and it’s like they never existed.”

In the film, guitarist Wilko Johnson (who died in 2022 and who, in the headlines of many obituaries, was earlier identified as an actor in a few episodes of Game of Thrones than as a member of Dr. Feelgood) declared: “In rock & roll, things are as important as they are perceived and today Dr. Feelgood is not perceived at all.” For those who did perceive the group – which is still active without any original members – in its golden incarnation of the seventies, having met it then or having rescued its performances on YouTube, the aggressive image of Dr. Feelgood is memorable: a virtuoso guitarist, Johnson, performing an accelerated and intense blues and looking menacingly at the audience with bulging eyes, along with a singer, Brilleaux, always sweating profusely and doing push-ups live in a suit full of lamps.

Josele Santiago, leader of Los Enemigos, does not hesitate to describe Dr. Feelgood as a “fundamental band” in their formative years. “It was thanks to his covers that I discovered the music I love, a wide range from blues to soul of the [compañía discográfica] Stax, passing through New Orleans. I understood the power of simplicity, of feeling and of passion, of respect for the roots,” he tells ICON. “She was able to hitchhike me to France just to see them.” Asked how he experienced Brilleaux’s death in 1994, he remembers that he found out “in the bar downstairs” at his house. “Lee Brilleaux’s voice and his no less prodigious harmonica were perfect for this type of music. The symbiosis with the very Martian [guitarra] Wilko Telecaster, a forceful and concise rhythmic base like few others and his attitude, at the same time humble and arrogant, was also perfect to drive the audience crazy.”

However, Santiago believes that “even if Cobain had not died, there would not have been much comment about Lee.” “I am aware, how can I not be, that it is not very likely that Dr. Feelgood will be considered in a rock encyclopedia and that Nirvana cannot be missing,” he reasons. “I don’t know, Cobain changed the lives of many people and the way they understand music. Lee was a great singer, frontman and harmonica player, but he was a rocker and it was only intended to entertain. They cannot be compared at the level of significance. “Kurt was an artist and Lee was a craftsman.”

One step away from glory

If the black masses of the Satanists are based on the parody and subversion of Christian symbols, early punk also had a lot of mocking opposition to rock: ugly and nihilistic people who allowed themselves the luxury of occupying stages and giving concerts. openly unpleasant in front of a feverish audience, in the midst of an unintelligible hubbub of instruments. Among them, Jan Paul Beahm, singer of Germs, had a plan to become his messiah. Under the stage name Darby Crash, at the age of 17 he took five years to form a music band and commit suicide at the peak of success. With Germs, he managed to attract the attention of the specialized press and fans of the genre: they were the most attractive and scandalous group on the Los Angeles punk scene, and they were also, visibly, the one that caught the attention of director Penelope Spheeris the most. when he made the emblematic documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (1981).

Darby Crash in San Francisco in 1978.Ruby Ray (Getty Images)
John Lennon in New York in 1977.Vinnie Zuffante (Getty Images)

After breaking up the band, at age 22, Crash made a death pact with his girlfriend, Casey Cola, to inject $400 worth of heroin and die like legends. At the last minute, it is not clear whether out of love or egomania, the vocalist decided to give his partner a non-lethal amount so that only he would die. The ground was fertile for the Germs leader to posthumously consummate his final insult and be promoted to rock martyr. But a symbol of that hegemonic culture against which he rebelled was the one who, ironically, truncated what he had designed. The day Darby Crash chose to die was December 7, 1980. A few hours later, John Lennon was murdered at the entrance to the Dakota building in New York, where he lived, and the time for afterlife propaganda that Crash hoped to obtain dwindled. significantly. Kurt Cobain, who did achieve that legendary status after taking his own life, was a self-confessed admirer of Germs and hired his guitarist Pat Smear as a backing musician in Nirvana.

Far from the terrain between mournful and frivolous of the great rock tragedies, the writers Aldous Huxley, author of A happy world (1932), and CS Lewis, father of the saga The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56), did not enjoy much space in the news of the day either: on November 22, 1963, it was difficult to talk about anything else beyond a historical event of the 20th century such as the assassination of the president of the United States, John Kennedy, in Dallas. Another former tenant of the White House, Ronald Reagan, overshadowed June 5, 2004 with his death and the State commemorations of the death days later of another relevant figure from his time, Ray Charles. “In line at the post office, someone asked why the flag was at half-mast. I responded that it was because of Ray Charles. “Ray was, from my point of view, a better American than Ronald,” recalled a prolific Quora user in a debate about, precisely, more and less relevant deaths.

Michael Jackson, in Rotterdam in 1992.GARCIA (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Farrah Fawcett in Los Angeles in 1977.International Photos (Getty Images)

On June 25, 2009, when the death of Michael Jackson unleashed a media storm with several fronts (the lights and shadows of the deceased, the mysteries about his life, the investigation into the responsibility of his doctor in the poisoning that caused his arrest cardiac), many did not learn of the death of actress Farrah Fawcett, which occurred shortly before the singer’s. The news should not have even reached the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which in March 2010 did not even include her in the Oscar tribute to the deceased of the year, unlike the interpreter of Thriller, which did appear. Just as Cobain’s death consolidated the idea of ​​the 27 Club, journalist Christopher Bonanos, of the New York Magazineproposed for the death of the star Charlie’s Angels another concept: that of the “Eclipsed Famous Deaths Club”. As a paradigmatic example, he cited Groucho Marx, who died the same week in August 1977 as Elvis Presley, which evidently reduced his presence on television and magazines. For a comedian who boasted of having come “from nothing to absolute misery,” that ending was possibly the most consequential.

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