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Chuck Brown is one example of a musical life well-lived.
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By Jonas Beals
FOR THE FIRST 20 weeks of my life, I shared a fictional universe with "Star Wars" character Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was ceremoniously struck down by Darth Vader on May 25, 1977.
Elvis Presley struck himself down 12 weeks later, giving me 32 blissfully unaware weeks to share the Earth with The King. He proved Kenobi's dying words--that, in death, he would "become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
Such is the plight of the artist. The public doesn't know what they have till it's gone.
The last few weeks have been great for the rock star mortality rate. Beastie Boy Adam "MCA" Yauch died May 4. Stax bassist Donald Dunn died May 13. Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go, passed on May 16. Banjo great and "Andy Griffith Show" regular Doug Dillard died May 16. Disco queen Donna Summer fell to cancer May 17. Robin Gibb followed his brothers Andy and Maurice to the other side May 20.
Each of those people had an outsized impact on his or her particular genre. Most obviously, Brown invented his style of music, but the others were almost as seminal in rap, soul, progressive bluegrass and disco.
Were the past three weeks a fluke, or will this become the rule as waves of major rock stars brush against the limits of life expectancy?
Not every rock star is Elvis or Jimi Hendrix, but we can probably expect a steady stream of early rock and R&B stars to make news as they succumb to the insistent march of time.
Don't let those milestones pass without listening to their music. With so much easy online access to songs and old performances, it only makes sense to mark the occasions of loss with some education and appreciation sessions--especially for the artists you aren't familiar with. They are all pieces of the foundation that today rests on.
In terms of rock 'n' roll lives, Neil Young is probably right: It's better to burn out than it is to rust, at least for posthumous status and record sales. From Buddy Holly to Aliyah, the deceased rock stars we think about most are the ones lost to an early death, when their potential was great and their fame was burning bright.
JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Fredericksburg Jazz Collective at the Kenmore Inn. The first in a series of jazz shows featuring fantastic local players. Thursday at 7 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Yonder Mountain String Band at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond. The jam band of bluegrass continues to pump out high-octane pickin' parties. Thursday at 5:30 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Telephone Road" by Steve Earle. A fantastic small-town country song by a master of the form. From the outstanding album "El Corazon."