As the darkness grows around us and we shuffle off this mortal coil, the pressure must be on to think of something memorable to sum up your life.
“Christ, was that it?” must somehow seem a little inadequate to your loved ones, and so it is to the world of popular music we look to inspire us. Littered with tragically early deaths, robbing the world of some astonishing young talents, popular music is filled with more heartache than the average school disco. But what of their true legacy, the last release that fans cradled as they read the tear-filled obituaries and awaited the obligatory re-issue series? Clashmusic.com takes a look at the last words of some of music’s finest figures.
...Curtis lifted up the stones in his heart to find the insects that crawled underneath
Bon Scott (AC/DC)
While hardly a lyrical genius by any means, Scott’s bawdy humour and down to earth charm made him heavy rock’s ultimate frontman. A notorious party animal, Scott sadly departed this earth in 1980 after yet another heavy night of drinking. Australian icons AC/DC had just released their stunning album ‘Highway To Hell’, featuring a salute to the hugely popular TV show ‘Mork And Mindy’. Which is how Scott managed to leave his fans the final message: ‘Nanoo, nanoo, shazbot’.
Ian Curtis (Joy Division)
Post-punk’s prophet of urban alientation, closet Tory Ian Curtis is remembered as one of rock’s finest lyricists. His dense poetry verged from the apocalyptic to the kitchen sink as Curtis lifted up the stones in his heart to find the insects that crawled underneath. The last song Joy Division worked on together was ‘Ceremony’, which ends with the lines “Watching love grow, forever / Letting me know forever”.
Best known for the anthem of eternal stag nights ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, legendary rocker was hard on his luck when he recorded the single ‘Nineteen’. An anthem to hard living youth, Lynott was already reaping the results of his many years of drug abuse. With visits to the hospital becoming more frequent, touring was kept to a minimum. Dying tragically young in 1986, the final words many of his fans would have heard are “I’m bad, I’m nineteen”.
Amongst the almost exclusively male world of 60s rock, Janis Joplin stuck out like a sore thumb. Recalling a blues-woman lineage that stretches back to Memphis Minnie and a hundred other hidden pioneers, her voice still ranks as one of popular music’s most powerful instruments. Consumed by the heroin epidemic that would carry away so many of the bright lights of her generation, Joplin’s posthumous ‘Pearl’ LP would go on to become her most successful. Its final words would be the ode to living fast, “get it while you can.”
The ultimate guitar hero Hendrix combined chittlin’ circuit performance skills with some serious chops and mystical imagination. Always in tune with another dimension anyway, Hendrix left this world as the 70s opened. The final release in his lifetime would be ‘Stepping Stone’ – a song that blended references to 60s pop with Eastern philosophy. The message? Time moves on.
Growing up in an atmosphere of strict non-conformity in the American alternative scene, Kurt Cobain would never reconcile his new-found fame with his roots in Seattle’s DIY rock scene. His death in 1994 would rob the world of one of its most tender young voices, a man who articulate his pain and self-doubt in a way that millions could recognise. Nirvana’s final album ‘In Utero’ is commonly judged to be their best, although it was apparently originally titled ‘I Hate Myself And I Want To Die’. It ends, however, with ‘All Apologies’ and the singer seemingly at peace with himself, chanting ‘All in all is all we all are’.
Lennon had just entered a rich songwriting phase
In many ways a British counterpart to Cobain, but without the success, Edwards disappeared in 1995 leaving behind him some stunning rock poetry and a devastated cult following. News that his bandmates in Manic Street Preachers are set to record his lost lyrics shows the esteem he is still held in. The last album he saw to completion ‘The Holy Bible’ is, to put it mildly, a difficult listen. It finishes with the free-speech anthem ‘PCP’ and its message of ‘unconditional love and hate, pass, the prozac, designer amnesiac’.
Scott La Rock (Boogie Down Productions)
A true pioneer, Scott La Rock emerged from the streets of New York to craft the pioneering hip hop of Boogie Down Productions. The group’s debut album ‘Criminal Minded’ was blistering collage of samples which, despite the name, was the product of a group that advocated non-violence. A true tragedy then when lynch-pin Scott La Rock was senselessly murdered soon after the album’s release. Fittingly, he takes the lead on the final track, the lovably daft ‘Super Hoe’ and its legacy of ‘super sperm’. Sometimes the art doesn’t quite match the life.
One of the truly heartbreaking tales of American music, jazz legend Billie Holliday was arrested for drug possession as she laying dying, and had police guards at the door of her hospital room. Her husky tones and stunningly emotive delivery marked her out as a true original, a woman who lived it like she sang it. With an extensive (and variable) discography, her last major recording is perhaps her best. 1958’s ‘Lady In Satin’ ends with a tear-stained rendition of ‘Ill Be Around’. “I’ll be around when she’s gone”, she sings, as her music begins a life without her.
A potent symbol of the peace movement, John Lennon was gunned down outside his home in New York in 1980, his wife by his side. After some years of drifting no the fringes of the music world, Lennon had just entered a rich songwriting phase and was preparing to take centre stage again. On the night he was shot Lennon had just finished recording the song ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ with Yoko Ono, which finishes:
I may cry someday
But the tears will dry whichever way
And when our hearts return to ashes
It’ll be just a story, it’ll be just a story