It’s been sagely said of parents: “When you live to bury a child, you’ve lived too long!”
Losing your child to an early death has to be one of life’s greater tragedies. But lately what’s all this about children all dying at age 27? Like in the case of pop/rock singers Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and now Amy Winehouse?
Perhaps Nostradamus aficionados or professional music critics will have a special take on these cut-down-at-their- prime phenomena. More likely, yesterday’s generation and today’s will simply agree to disagree about these passings. Youth will see them as tortured artists finding it hard to survive in a bourgeois world. Whereas the bourgeois world will see them as social misfits who burned out because of too much too soon.
Differing post-mortems aside, every before-their-time death is one death too many. Still, these clashing reactions are one sure way to distinguish today’s America with an earlier one. Today sees fast fortune and fame as there for the taking; not for the waiting [as in “when your turn comes”]. Also, today sees exuberance and excess as the highest form of art; no longer the patient demands of time and training [“If you’ve got it…flaunt it!”]
The flaunters may answer back that Mozart and Gershwin both died at 36. “It’s not just our drug generation that burns out fast in the music world. Look to your own!” And to be sure, that’s true. However, what’s also true is the irony that in this era when life spans have been so extended, so many of the fast-set seem to devour their span much too fast.
In the 1947 Bogart movie KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, the pretty-boy defendant in the trial smirks: “I want to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse…” In a fast-forward living age, a lot do. Then at their wake there is always the same whispered sadness: “But they had so much to live for…”
Indeed they did. Which is why we the mourners may want to spend more time finding out just what that is.
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