In the last few months we’ve lost David Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Gordon Lightfoot, and Tina Turner: singers I grew up with, although Belafonte (born in 1927) was a durable star from my parents’ generation.
At 71, I’m at an age where I should expect these losses: the singers and groups I listened to as a teenager and as a young woman were often about ten years older than I was. You do the arithmetic. I’m doing it more and more often.
But sometimes the loss was not age-related: some folks in my approximate cohort died young:
- Overdose: Janis Joplin at 27
- Heart failure: Mama Cass at 33; Jim Morrison at 27 (a determination unencumbered by an autopsy)
- Plane crash: Jim Croce at 30
- Smoke inhalation on a plane: Stan Rogers at 33
This coming Friday–2023 Jun 02–is the 40th anniversary of Stan’s death. I still remember my shock when I heard the news. Was he the last person to die in North America in an airplane fire that didn’t crash the jet? Maybe.
But last or not, he was gone and at an obscenely early age. If he had lived (and overcome his struggles with drugs, documented with loving regret by his brother, Garnet) what life would he have lived? What music would he have created? What Canadian stories would he have celebrated in song?
For me, the deaths this year of the singers of my youth make me reflect on the lasting legacy of so many artists. Stan’s death 40 years ago makes me reflect both on his lasting legacy and on the wasted potential. For me, every such event, every such anniversary, is a source of both gratitude for what was and of regret for what was not.
Still, there are many ways to waste potential: untimely death-by-accident is just one of the more dramatic. These events can also be an inspiration to live my own life to something approximating its full potential and, where I have the chance, to help others to do the same.