Why wait till New Year’s Eve when everybody will be out anyway? I’ve already done my ‘review of the year’ for what it’s worth, stuck together when this blog marked twelve months online at the beginning of December; it was when compiling it that I realised Lemmy actually passed away during the dying days of 2015, despite the fact that every roll-call of the Grim Reaper’s chosen ones in 2016 seems to have included the Motorhead frontman. Somebody please sort this out. It’s getting bloody annoying now.
Mind you, it’s no real surprise Lemmy keeps getting lumped in with the astonishing catalogue of pop cultural kings and queens that have bitten the dust this year; the body count has been so extensive that it seems hard to conceive of anyone who mattered passing away in a year that wasn’t 2016. Since the last post just over a week ago, notable names like George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Rick Parfitt have joined the Choir Invisible; all three suffered from largely self-inflicted health problems in recent years as a result of youthful excesses, though the demise of the ex-Wham heart-throb still felt like a surprise.
Too old and the wrong sex to be a Wham fan in the 1980s, I nevertheless liked the exuberance of their debut hit, ‘Young Guns (Go for It)’ in 1982, and ‘Wham Rap’, their first release (which became a top ten hit when reissued in 1983), anticipated everything Paul Weller was poised to attempt with The Style Council albeit without the po-faced preaching that marred the Jam man’s second chart project. Too poppy for me at the time, the rest of Wham’s output wasn’t something I cared for much, and when Michael capitalised on the 1984 solo success of ‘Careless Whisper’, his decision to offload the spare part that was Andrew Ridgeley saw his reinvention as a Serious Artist. His timing, coming as it did in the wake of Live Aid and the swift decline of the lightweight pop he and his contemporaries had been pedalling during the first half of the 80s, was spot on.
This persona, which carried him through to the beginning of the 90s, portrayed him as a rather pompous individual yearning to produce Art and acting as though he already held a season ticket for the pantheon of The Greats. As his work-rate slowed down in the early 90s (partly due to a court battle with his record company), it took until 1996 before the release of what was perhaps his finest album, ‘Older’. Though overall both lyrically and musically melancholy, he seemed to have achieved a balance between his poppy instincts and his desire to be recognised as an Artist; one of its singles, ‘Fastlove’, was luminously funky, though its sorry story of casual sex was hardly celebratory. But it was the promo video for ‘Outside’ in 1998, whereby a public convenience is transformed into a kitsch disco full of gay cops, that showed Michael had a sense of humour, coming hot on the heels of his arrest for importuning and final belated emergence from the closet.
His last few years included one more album of new material, a string of singles that combined social commentary with his distinctive flair for toe-tapping grooves, and several non-musical incidents involving illicit substances when at the wheel of his car as well as further adventures in public conveniences. It was often easy to forget what George Michael was actually famous for. His death on Christmas Day aged just 53 was accompanied by the usual initial online sensational speculation before being superseded by refreshing revelations of his quiet generosity, something he relented from using as a marketing tool in contrast with many of his ilk. He rarely seems to have been a happy man, but it would appear he managed to make others happy, which isn’t a bad legacy to leave behind.
Rick Parfitt had a good fifteen year chart start on George Michael; as rhythm guitarist with one of the UK Top 40’s institutions in the 70s and 80s, Francis Rossi’s Status Quo sidekick occasionally took microphone duties, though his role was usually as contributor to the band’s no-frills approach to hard rock, one containing enough memorable melodies to make them ‘Top of the Pops’ regulars for three decades. Although Status Quo began to take on cabaret qualities from around the time original bassist Alan Lancaster departed in 1984, their best work demonstrated a rare ability to successfully walk the line between Metal and Pop, an achievement few others (with the possible exception of Thin Lizzy) managed in the 70s.
Parfitt’s prodigious cocaine and vodka intake at the height of the Quo’s success left its mark on his body; he endured a quadruple heart bypass operation in 1997, though it took further heart attacks before he adopted a more sober lifestyle. Alas, his one-time residency in the fast lane finally caught up with him the day before George Michael’s body was discovered, and 2016’s litany of musical casualties had acquired another recruit. When Parfitt’s death was announced late on Christmas Eve, the day had begun with news that actress Carrie Fisher had been admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack; for a few hours, it seemed she would be next on the hit-list, though she hung on for a couple of days before the inevitable.
Although not a musical figure, Fisher’s role as Princess Leia in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise made her a pop culture icon on a pop music scale, something she eventually (not to say reluctantly) came to terms with. A product of showbiz parents in the shape of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher’s acting career had an impressive start when she played a spoiled Hollywood brat alongside Warren Beatty in 1975’s ‘Shampoo’, yet it was being cast in the first instalment of George Lucas’s space opera series that branded her in the public eye thereafter. Returning to the role of Leia in the two initial ‘Star Wars’ sequels, the part and the phenomenon overshadowed her other work, though the success of her semi-autobiographical book and screenplay, ‘Postcards from the Edge’, won her plaudits by highlighting the same dedication to drug use that similarly afflicted the two other names to predecease her over the festive period.
In recent years, Fisher became noticeably resigned to the fact she would never escape Princess Leia and ironically her final acting performance was as the same character in the next yet-to-be-released episode. As with both George Michael and Rick Parfitt, she came across in interviews as a likeable person in possession of a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour; whether or not one will miss this trio depends on where you stand as regards their work, but the world will seem a less colourful place without them – and don’t we need colour right now?
© The Editor