Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 78 ( George Michael - one more tragic end in an unending tale )

Jottings : Slice of life - 78 ( George Michael - one more tragic end in an unending tale )
George Michael died on Christmas day. He was found, once again, like many legendary, popular singers and performers of modern western pantheon, lying in bed, dead, apparently from a massive cardiac arrest. Like others, his death was “deemed normal” without any conclusive evidence of how he died. Probably, we will never know. But what puzzles me is this strange notion of creative genius we have cultivated over the last half century or so. We tend to bestow immortality on artists who die or kill themselves in mysterious ways. Perhaps, we believe, it is part of their genius to die so tragically, early and controversially. After all, normal death is only for mere mortals. And for supposedly maverick artists like George Michael’s of this world, Modern icons of music, death should be unique and abnormal. How else do we distinguish between mundane and divine? Strange!!! Somehow, we have been indoctrinated to believe that artists who die prematurely of wild, profilgate, reckless living do so because their art is too much for them to bear, that their’s is an overflowing genius which no mortal body cannot contain for long- hence unnatural death is to be their artistic salvation, or some would say redemption. In my opinion, nothing can be more convoluted than this adulation we shower on those who simply cannot handle life without the glare of lights, the shower of praises or the incessant hordes of crying and wailing devotees, who would rip open their shirts to show their love , and accept a sweat laden jacket of their hero as token of their genius. Music really doesn't play any role here.
That is the reason I was so happy when Bob Dylan was given the Nobel prize. Here is a man, an artist, who has maintained his equanimity, creative balance, his principles and integrity over forty or more long years of fame and glory. He send his emissary, a close friend to read his speech in Stockholm and collect the prize on his behalf. Not for him the fame under the glare of footlight. His solace lies in the creative seclusion of writing and singing music, even if its power and energy have diminished over the years. A true musician never evaluates his work. To him every note he composes, a syllable he sings is pure art. There is no explicit need for a doting audience to scaffold his creative fountain. For many others, there is constant need to be in the limelight; do anything it takes to keep their name alive. Flaunt civic rules, drugs or scuffle with law, broken relationships and resulting depressions - anything to keep the interest of their audience alive. Many a time sacrificing their very art, gift in the process.
Speaking of George Michael, Contrary to what many may think, I believe he was more of a crooner than a singer. His voice would be an excellent accompaniment in the background while doing something serious, but his voice per se was never compelling enough to take the foreground and make you want to hear - which is what real vocal talent is all about. Lets put this way : He never exhibited his full-bodied voice. It was always soft, prancing from one phrase to another lending a weak prop to some wonderful instrumental orchestration. The secret of his success was his musical troop and the support they lent him. And of course, who can forget the fact he gained popularity in an era when Musical videos were beginning to direct the fate of young artists. A particularly bad song would quickly scramble up the charts because it had a captivating video, backed by financial muscle of MTV and other channels. Those of us who were in our teens during the mid and late eighties will recollect what I am talking about. George Michael did make beautiful, classy videos. The "Freedom" song which found four of the most gorgeous ladies in the modeling business lip syncing, pouting, bathing and cat walking while Michael - with his baby face, hazel green eyes, and toned muscles twisting, turning and hanging on curtain bars showing off his rippling masculinity around and underneath his arms - whispering his words intermittently, or the Funky number, which was really visually funky with Linda Evangelista delightfully moving around the screen in skin hugging wear - were brilliantly conceived. His videos revolutionized the way Pop music was packaged; its effect reverberate even today.
“Jesus to a child” along with “careless whisper” will remain his best artistic work. These two compositions may be the defining moments of his brief musical journey. In them, he bought together words, vocals, emotions and instrumentation into one symphonic whole, like never before or after. Whenever one thinks of George Michael, only both these songs readily come to mind. At least, to me.
Starting with Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy , Prince and God know how many more singers and performers will die a tragic death in the name of art and artistic sensibilities. I wonder !! I would rather respect those who live through failures and reinvent themselves constantly ( though often resulting mediocre work after their peak), but nevertheless finding joy in life and living than giving it up in desperation, weakness and recklessness.
As a ending note to this essay, though little misplaced in this context, I would like to pay my tribute to a Giant of Indian Music, Dr Balamurali Krishna, who died few months ago at 86. A child prodigy, with ups and downs in his singing career, yet retained his joy, mastery and passion for music till his last day. Like Bob Dylan and others , he silently nourished his art, and the fragrance of artists such as them will spread around imperceptibly affecting lives of many budding artists for generations to come. Their fame is not based on their life style, but on the purity of their art. And there lies a crucial differentiator between artistic mortality and immortality.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

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