Music News

Why Does the Death of a Musician Hit Us So Hard?

John Lennon was shot on a Monday night. I called a friend of mine–the hardest of hardcore Lennon fans I’ve ever met–to see how he was doing.

“I can’t talk,” he said. “I just…” And he hung up. I didn’t see him at university for the next three days. Another Beatles fan I knew couldn’t get out of bed for almost a week.

When Joey Ramone died, it hurt. I’d met him a couple of times and talked to him on the phone about some projects. I still get sad when I think about his last years. Then when Bowie died–well, it was like a punch to the head for me. I still can’t believe he’s gone.

Why can the death of a musician cause so much grief? One person said “It’s because they created something that helped us feel. It’s not that we knew them, but because their music helped us know ourselves.”

It’s only going to get worse. In the last six months, we’ve lost Weiland, Lemmy, Bowie, Frey, Kantner, Emerson, Sir George Martin and a bunch more. Many music fans have never known life without these people. And many more of our heroes are of–as my insurance industry friend says–“actuarial age.”

Let’s go to Diffuser:

What we’re experiencing is the passing of an entire generation of true artists – men and women who worked within the medium of music the way a sculptor works in marble. Can you imagine a world not influenced by the Beatles and Bowie? One without shimmering brass sections, psychedelic guitars and dense keyboard solos? Would anything remain but computer-generated beats and Auto-Tune?  Is there even anyone active in popular music right now who could begin to write the score for a string section? What about a Top 40 band that can approach the sublime harmonies that the unjustly maligned Eagles deliver on “Seven Bridges Road“? Will any rocker ever again reach the rarified air of critical acclaim and universal mainstream appeal that Bowie and the Beatles reached?

This alone provides ample reason to grieve when social media lights up with the tragic news that another pioneer has left us. But I suspect that the death of musical craftsmanship constitutes a small fraction of why we mourn these losses.


Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38510 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Why Does the Death of a Musician Hit Us So Hard?

  • I heard about Lennon from Howard Cosell. I was listening live when you delivered the breaking (still unconfirmed) news about Kurt. Does it feel any different when taking the news, compared to breaking the news?


Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.