Damn, but 2016 is getting to be greedy. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, and then yesterday, Sharon Jones.
Now, none of that – and this holds true for many of the deaths of prominent musicians this year – was a surprise. Cohen and Russell were known to be in ill health and were getting up there in years, and Jones’ travails with pancreatic cancer were well known. (As most likely know, that’s a particularly nasty cancer, hard to diagnose and to counter; it took the Texas Gal’s father about a dozen years ago.)
But still, as the musicians of one’s life regularly exit stage sinister, one pauses. As I wrote last January, when David Bowie died:
[W]hen the folks who provided the music of our formative years leave us, part of the background of our lives is taken away, too. And we begin to feel like an actor on a stage would likely feel if the scenery, the props and the furniture began to disappear one item at a time: confused, unmoored and maybe a little bit alone.
The “formative years” part doesn’t truly fit for Sharon Jones, of course, as her recordings all were released this century, but it feels as if it does, and I think that’s because the music that she and the Dap-Kings laid down sounded and – more importantly – felt like the soul and R&B music that I heard from the radios of my youth. As to Cohen, many of his songs, if not his own performances, came out of nearby speakers during my high school and college days, offered by voices as disparate as those of Joe Cocker and Judy Collins.
Then there was Leon Russell: His joyous barroom piano stylings, his idiosyncratic voice and delivery, his shepherding of the Tulsa Sound, and his sardonic persona all made him one of my favorites during my college days. That favorites room was a crowded place even then, but after hearing his work with Joe Cocker, with Bob Dylan and especially with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh, I wedged him in.
My regard for the three is evident on the shelves, both physical and digital: I have, I think, all of Sharon Jones’ CDs; all of my Leon Russell LPs will survive the ongoing winnowing, and I have much more of his music in mp3 form; there’s less of Leonard Cohen’s music here – a few albums in digital form, one CD and one LP – but most of the time, I’d rather hear other folks doing his songs, and there are a lot of Cohen covers available here.
Of the three deaths, I guess Russell’s hits me hardest, but given the seemingly continuous series of blows this year, every one of them hurts. And the metaphoric stage setting I mentioned above just got a little more spare this week, as it has on a seemingly regular basis all year long.
I managed to throw a brief tribute to Russell into Cabaret De Lune last Sunday: During an interlude that called for about forty seconds of piano, I tossed in about twelve bars of “Superstar,” the tune Russell co-wrote with Bonnie Bramlett. And tomorrow, at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, we musicians will be performing Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (and leading the congregation in the chorus). I’ll be adding harmonica to the mix.
As for Sharon Jones, all I can do is salute her in this inadequate space. Here’s the aptly titled “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” It’s from Jones and the Dap-Kings’ 2014 album Give The People What They Want, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.