Before Tom Petty gets struck by lightning

Legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti died of pancreatic cancer today in Italy, at the age of 71. I imagine the New York Times will print something worth reading about his life. He was a colorful, generous character, and it will be a vivid read.

This news made a little ripple in my world, mostly because I wondered how my mom, a classically trained music major would react to the news. I am not an avid opera fan, but the life story here is of a great deal more interest, than say, Anna Nicole’s contributions.

Not to speak ill of the dead.

But it’s hard not to, sometimes, when modern media turns celebrity death into a three ring circus, cramming details and coverage down the throats of people who would rather hear some actual news.

The Anna Nicole goop seemed so ludicrous, because no one gave a dingo’s turd about the insipid blonde bombshell the day before she passed away. The phoniness of the coverage, the mawkish spin they put on a woman who wasted her life and her opportunities, it was just hard to take. News organizations today will try to milk drama from a bone.

But what of other celebrities? Like Kurt Vonnegut- his death earlier this year actually meant something to me. I wish I’d focused my attention his direction the day before he died. I was a fan, and while it seems that his passing made him more important than his life, that isn’t the case. Death just forces the focus dramatically toward it’s object. The final siren call of a titan.

Death should, rightfully, involve those people nearest and dearest to the dead person’s ticker. My favorite interview of all time was an ‘in-your-face’ account given by Adam Duritz when he spoke of the passing of John Entwistle, bass guitarist of ‘The Who’ the night before the Counting Crows were slated to open a show for them. Duritz lied when questioned for details, and told fans and media outlets that as far as he knew, all the band members were fine. The reason he gave? “It was nobody’s fucking business except John’s family and friends. Fans think because they love our music that they get a front-row ticket to our lives. They don’t. I’d lie again in the same situation.”

I liked his attitude, particularly because it wasn’t really his news to share; I respect that he kept the other artist’s privacy. But I don’t necessarily agree that celebrities are owed privacy. When artistic endeavor leads to fame, that is kinda personal. A song or a performance can touch people and affect them deeply. Celebrity elite live a certain lifestyle specifically because they appeal to a wide audience, and receive money and services on account of this fan-base. An artist should expect that their fans will feel and respond to them on a personal level.

That’s like, the price of celebrity, y’know?

I really would have liked to have known Kurt Vonnegut.

So I made a list. It’s morbid Thursday, I guess. This list consists of famous people whose death would affect me on more than just a superficial level. I’m jotting them down in advance so as not to join the pathetic proselytizing of stardom, and the pimping of every aspect of a story when a well-known personality kicks the bucket.

Get the pimping and exploiting over with ahead of time, that’s the key. Here goes:

television/movies

Jon Stewart
Micheal J. Fox
Martin Sheen
Any regular actor from The West Wing or Gilmore Girls
Ed Harris
John Cusack
Reese Witherspoon
Meg Ryan
Robin Williams
Bill Murray
Holly Hunter
Robert Downey Jr.
Drew Barrymore

music

Billy Joel
John Williams
Shawn Colvin
Amos Lee
Bonnie Raitt
Adam Duritz
Sheryl Crow
John Mayer
David Gray
Tony Bennett
Tom Petty
Jack Johnson

authors

Roald Dahl
Barbara Kingsolver
David Sedaris
Maurice Sendak
Arundhati Roy
Tom Robbins
Michael Crichton
Polly Horvath
anyone on my blogroll
Benjamin Hoff
Chris Van Allsburg
Gail Carson Levine

So don’t die, any of you; but if you do, make it interesting, ok? We don’t wanna hear that you choked on your dentures. Wrestle an alligator. Go a little loopy and play chicken with a commuter bus. Stand on a beach and dare the lightning.

Do something interesting if it’s time to go. We’ll want to remember your last hurrah fondly.

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12 thoughts on “Before Tom Petty gets struck by lightning

  1. Great list. I was particularly impressed that you included Maurice Sendak.

    Not to worry. I’ll go out in some bizarre and interesting way. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t.

  2. you know, I could make some suggestions about making an interesting exit…

    But yeah, it’s always sad the disproportion of news coverage, especially in regards to dead folks. Pretty much makes me want to stab the mainstream news networks.

  3. Media sickens me, probably because I use to be part of it. I hated writing stories singing the praises of the dead.

    I want to go in an interesting and refined way. I don’t wish to be remembered like Elvis.

  4. You wrote: “But I don’t necessarily agree that celebrities are owed privacy. ”

    My dad and I disagreed once about JD Salinger. He complained of an author seeking fame and fortune than becoming a recluse, as if it were hypocritical.

    I was a little more sympathetic. I read a bio of Salinger once (that actually pretty much flamed him for prefering younger women), but I seem to recall that it mentioned his having sought psychological help or counseling while in the service in Europe after WW2.

    I just think, emotionally, he wasn’t wired for the reality of fame. George Harrison was the same way — he spoke once of the Beatles having had to sacrifice their nervous systems for Beatlemania.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with this post and submit Princess Diana as the ultimate example of what you’re talking about. *Ten* years on and the Daily Mail and Express are *still* going on about it and publishing yet another installment in the “did-they, didn’t-they” conspiracy story. Ten years on and we still get headlines in the papers proclaiming her to be the world’s greatest mom ever. Like, e-Ver.

    People in Blighty will understand what I mean by this. Or they might lynch me for heresy and treason. You never know with some people.

  6. I was going to submit a list but it was too damn long. On another note, every few months or so I am disagreeing with someone about whether someone famous is dead or alive…in the real sense…

  7. Yeah. I liked Vonnegut too. Stevo may remember a friend of ours who knew him IRL. That’s a thing that is enriching about the net. The whole six degrees thing shrinks in a nice way. People are actually closer to the people they have something in common with.

  8. ybonesy- Heh… I caught a ‘safe’ on that one.

    Robin- There’s another post about Maurice in the works. I had the good fortune to land a writing project which was a biography about his life. Very interesting man.

    Dash- Subconsciously, i think i got the idea from you. Your ‘ways I’d like to die’ posts are hilarious, in a morbid kinda way.

    Stevo- you were a reporter? I won’t remember you like Elvis. Promise.

    Molo- I won’t remember you as Woody Allen, either. Your work is funnier than his.

    ombuds- I can see your point of view. Celebrities are flawed just like regular people. I think the mistake made by the masses is they put both celebrities and politicians on a pedestal, expecting an impossible standard from them for being in the public eye. Then there’s a sort of nauseating relish taken (by media particularly) in ripping them to shreds when they detonate from the pressure and the lifestyle. Britney Spears, for instance, has made a lot of mistakes as a parent. But so have I! I’m so thankful I haven’t had a microscope on my every move since the age of 16.

    Ed- Yeah, people seem to have visceral connection to Princess Diana. At least she did something, though I”m sure she’s known for scandal as much as for her good works.

    rtd- lol. that must be comfy.

    aos- I wonder if I accidentally included any corpses on my list.

    handward- Small world, huh? I was fighting with this fellow on a site, and making all sorts of presumptions about him, only to discover that he was a Navy Seal in Baghdad, not a jet-sett playboy who’d had the world handed to him on a platter. I felt kinda bad about my assumptions, and as we got talking, we found out that we went to school in neighboring towns, 15 minutes away from eachother, and we both grew up in the same country area in between.

    Freaky, freaky world.

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