2016: the year the music died... and it’s only April

It’s only April and already 2016 is a terrible year for music.

That’s not to slight Kendrick Lamar, Sturgill Simpson, Beyonce or some unknown creator working in a basement to turn the sounds in their head into a file for everyone to hear and enjoy.

But any year that silences the voices behind ‘Sign O’ The Times’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Shining Star’, And ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’ can’t qualify as anything other than awful.

Prince’s stunning death adds to a tragic roll call that already included David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Maurice White, and Merle Haggard. Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister beat the calendar’s turn to 2016 by a couple of days, Natalie Cole by mere hours.

“Running out of living musical heroes, those we measure everything against, emulate, know we won’t surpass but inspire us to try,” Carrie Brownstein, actress and Sleater-Kinney singer, tweeted.

While the circumstances behind Prince’s death remain unclear, most others were mundane, independent of rock ‘n’ roll excess. Cancer. Diabetes. Intestinal disease. Pneumonia. Parkinson’s Disease. Bowie and Frey kept their conditions private, so few outside family saw them coming.

Merle Haggard was 79, not cheated of life, and White of Earth, Wind and Fire suffered a slow decline before dying at 74. Yet others were too young — 69 for Bowie, 67 for Frey, 45 for Malik Taylor, the founder of A Tribe Called Quest known as Phife Dawg.

And 57 for Prince, without any apparent signs of slowing down.

All of the deaths hit like a punch to the stomach. Their careers were long enough to create impressive legacies, not long enough to keep adding accomplishments. We weren’t through with them, nor they with us.

Bowie’s last album came simultaneously with his death, the song and video for ‘Lazarus’ full of self-awareness and humor. He was bringing his music to Broadway. Retirement held no interest, and neither did repeatedly churning out copies of songs he made when young and reckless.

The Eagles, a band whose carcass Frey once left by the side of the road, was back together and an ongoing creative force before he died. The band that once brought country influences into rock ‘n’ roll was bringing rock ‘n’ roll to country in its later years, appealing to a new marketplace whose stars sounded like they grew up on Eagles songs.

Even if he took it a little easier, Haggard was still working in his final years and brought his music to younger generations at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee.

Nothing could stop Prince, could it? The man was indefatigable in concert, a whirlwind who drilled his bands until they met his exacting standards. He released four albums in the last 18 months, and just announced he was writing his autobiography. He was in the midst of a “Piano and a Microphone” tour, which was just as it sounded — a rare chance to see an artist strip down his best songs to their essence. It was a must-have ticket.

During some of those shows, he sat at the piano to sing “Heroes” in honor of Bowie.

“We had a tough year already,” veteran Grammy Awards producer Ken Ehrlich said on Thursday. “It’s really our generation now. We’d hear about past stars dying because of our parents. This time it’s our greats.”

More on this topic

Prescription drugs 'found with Prince at death scene'Prescription drugs 'found with Prince at death scene'

Prince said he was doing perfect, says long-time lawyerPrince said he was doing perfect, says long-time lawyer

Prince was 'full of energy' in days leading up to his deathPrince was 'full of energy' in days leading up to his death

No reason to believe Prince died by suicide, say US policeNo reason to believe Prince died by suicide, say US police


AS Joaquin Phoenix rose to the podium to collect his Academy Award for Best Actor, ears were peeled as the actor made his speech about inequality and our disconnect with the natural world.Paul McLauchlan: Leading men lead the way on Oscars red carpet

The new season blood oranges have arrived, they’ve been trickling into the shops ever since Christmas — such joy. I long for their delightful fresh taste after the rich food of the festive season.Darina Allen: Blood Oranges have a delightfully fresh taste after the rich food of winter

She’s the Cork singer dubbed the next Kate Bush, shortlisted by Universal, the world’s biggest record label, as their artist to watch in 2020. This will be the year of Lyra, writes Ed PowerLyra: Meet the new Kate Bush - and she's from Cork

For relationships to endure, we need to be loving not just on Valentine’s Day but all year round, a Buddhist teacher tells Marjorie BrennanOpen hearts: The Buddhist approach to love and loving

More From The Irish Examiner