With the recent and unfortunate death of recording artist and superstar Prince, the world was both shocked and saddened at the news of his passing. Prince left a stellar body of work and his efforts as a producer and discoverer of new talent was also well known. He was certainly one of the better guitarist of this or any other recent generation. His legions of fans, saddened by his death, also ask themselves the question, “what if?” What might have he accomplished had he not been taken before his time?
Despite leaving an incredible body of work, Mozart died at age thirty-five. His incredible talent was taken from his world far before it should have. On February 3, 1959, a plane with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all three. While all their deaths were certainly tragic, it was Holly that was best known. What started as a four-man combo of two guitars, bass and drums, aka, “The Crickets” became, with Holly in the role of recording engineer, full orchestral arrangements. One only can imagine what Holly might have created had he lived – not to mention The Big Bopper and Richie Valens.
In the 1970’s two of my favorite artists died well before their time. Jim Croce was, and is one of my favorites. He died at age thirty. I am still somewhat saddened when I see the picture of his son A.J., not even a two-year-old toddler at the time, on the album sleeve of his “Greatest Hits” album.
Harry Chapin was a gifted storyteller and a tireless entertainer. I saw him in the student center when I was in college. He and his brother Tom came in, set up their gear, and played music for three solid hours. When finished, they packed up their gear, loaded it up, and left to drive to the next town for the same thing the next night. Chapin toured relentlessly, often playing small towns and venues, just like my college student center. I doubt there were more than fifty people there that night. Even forty years later I remember it like it was yesterday. His efforts toward ending world hunger brought him not only national recognition but also the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded posthumously by Congress. And I miss them both, wondering what might have been.
It almost sees like being taken before one’s time is, at least, one price to pay for musical genius. Whoever the artist, whatever the generation, regardless of the genre, musical style or type, the loss of a beloved entertainer can often be traumatic. We mourn their loss for not only their families, but also for personal reasons. We mourn their loss because we feel somehow robbed, like a lifetime of music was stolen from us and we know we’ll never get it back. This sadly seems to be a reoccurring musical tragedy – one that has happened throughout generations of musical artists. Perhaps worst of all, this unfortunate circumstance will probably continue into the future.
One of Jim Croce’s best known songs is “Time In A Bottle.” It was written for his son A. J. who never had the joy of knowing his Dad. In that song there is this line from the refrain: “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” How very prophetic.