It gets tiring writing about the ongoing chaos in this country whether related to COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protestors, the CHOP in Seattle, or any other bizarre thing that has made 2020 unforgettable. Lately, I have been going down the music rabbit hole. I became fascinated with the lifespans of musicians. According to this study done by THE TELEGRAPH in the U.K., musicians average lifespan is 20 – 25 years less than an average citizen. Thinking about the history of rock n’ roll, it is not difficult to see why. Every generation has had its share of rock stars dying way too young whether it was the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens plane crash “The Day the Music Died” in 1959, the unnatural deaths of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin (And many others in the 1970s) to the recent deaths of various Generation X musicians (More on this later), the touring, hard living, and fame that music brings seems to lead to an extremely shortened lifespan.
I am going to list the Top 10 deaths of Generation X musicians (Hard core rap, grunge, and alternative) that has affected me during my lifetime. To qualify, the artist had to have been born between 1964-1980 (Qualifying him as Gen X) and been famous enough to be remembered by mass culture (Whitney Houston being born in 1963 does not qualify). Even though deaths of individuals like David Bowie, John Lennon and Mark Hollis may have affected me more than some of these musicians, their birthdates disqualify them for this list. Even limiting myself to these birth years, the number of musicians that have died is truly astonishing. Let me begin the list.
There actually are more than 10. So, I will list a few that did not make my list but are nonetheless just as tragic.
LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPES from the R & B band TLC: 1971 – 2002 (Died in a plane crash)
SHANNON HOON, lead singer of the band BLIND MELON: 1967 - 1995 (Overdosed on cocaine)
JAM MASTER JAY AKA JASON MIZELL of the rap group RUN DMC: 1965 – 2002 (Murdered)
DOLORES O’RIORDAN of the band THE CRANBERRIES: 1971 – 2018 (Drowned due to alcohol intoxication)
Now, we will get to my list of 11 (Two names are blended together because their deaths have been linked by circumstances and history). With my rankings, this is based on how these deaths impacted me personally. Your personal list maybe completely different. Let me know how you would rank this or include anyone that I have forgotten. Here we go!
10) CHRIS CORNELL of the bands SOUNDGARDEN and AUDIOSLAVE: 1964 – 2017 (Suicide) – Of the long list of alternative and grunge bands that have lost lead singers, Chris Cornell was probably the best lead singer in terms of his range and vocal talents. Both bands that he fronted were not personal favorites of mine and this includes his collaboration with Eddie Vedder with TEMPLE OF THE DOG. Like so many people of my generation, he battled depression and it eventually overwhelmed him.
9) OL’ DIRTY BASTARD AKA RUSSELL JONES of the rap group WU TANG CLAN: 1968 – 2004 (Overdose on Multiple Drugs) – ODB as he was nicknamed innovated rap for me. He had such a unique style and also was one of the founding members of the rap collective WU TANG CLAN. Russell had problems with drugs and the law throughout his life and unfortunately, he was not able to defeat his personal demons. I recommend buying all the albums he did with the WU TANG CLAN and his solo work. All of it is amazing (All three of his solo albums got nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammys).
8) TUPAC SHAKUR 1971 – 1996 & NOTORIOUS B.I.G. 1972 – 1997 (Both Murdered) – Unfortunately, both these men are tied together in history due to the ill-fated East Coast/West Coast hip hop rivalry. Before their deaths, I was more interested in the NOTORIOUS B.I.G. due to his casual rap style and interesting rhythms in his songs. Because I was busy doing my film major, I knew Tupac more from his acting in films than his rap songs. In fact, I still believe to this day that Tupac would have been an Academy Award winning actor if he had survived this era. Every film I saw him in, he just had the presence of a star. Only later after his death did I come around to the importance of his music. Whatever occurred that caused both of these men to die early, it is a true historical tragedy.
7) BRADLEY NOWELL lead singer of the ska band SUBLIME 1968 – 1996 (Overdosed on Heroin) – Bradley is an interesting story because before his death, the band was not that well known. They had a radio hit on KROQ with ‘Date Rape’ in 1991. I happened to see them live twice and Bradley and the band were not particularly good. Whether they were high or not interested, the two concerts I attended with SUBLIME were mediocre. Musically, the band was not innovative. But, the lyrics in songs like ‘Doin’ Time’, ‘Bad Fish’, April 29, 1992’, ‘Wrong Way’ and ‘Santeria’ is the reason he will be remembered (A theme we will be returning too with our next death). Unfortunately for him, he did not live to see his music become iconic as it can be heard on almost any rock n roll radio station if you listen for about an hour.
6) CHESTER BENNINGTON lead singer of the rap rock band LINKIN PARK 1976 – 2017 (Suicide) – This was another individual who grew on me over time. Again, from a musical perspective, the band never stood out to me. But what made LINKIN PARK memorable were Chester’s lyrics. With every song, you can feel how personal this music was for him. After his death, I went on a LINKIN PARK binge and knowing that he had died, the music really hit me much harder than it should have. Like so many people of my generation, he could not defeat his personal demons.
5) SCOTT WEILAND lead singer of the rock group STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, VELVET REVOLVER and THE WILDABOUTS 1967 – 2015 (Overdosed on multiple drugs) – Like Chris Cornell, no matter how much I often criticized bands that Scott participated in (VELVET REVOLVER especially), you can not deny this man’s talent. “Big Empty”, “Wicked Garden”, “Creep”, “Sex Type Thing” and one of my favorite songs of all time “Sour Girl” were stone cold classics. His style of singing and passion for his music can be clearly heard in these songs. I only saw STONE TEMPLE PILOTS one time and they were decent. They were unfortunately overwhelmed by the headliners of that evening, THE RED-HOT CHILI PEPPERS. Even though my opinion on Scott and his bands may have been different during that time due to the tremendous amount of great music that was out, I have evolved to appreciate the amazing talent that he was.
4) EAZY E AKA ERIC WRIGHT solo rapper and member of the rap group N.W.A 1964 – 1995 (Complications of AIDS) – My friends all know it. My children know it. I want the world to know it. I adored Eazy-E. He was my favorite rapper in NWA. His one album, Eazy-Duz-It is one of my favorite rap albums of all time. He had such a unique voice and style. Unfortunately, his much-promoted promiscuity caught up to him and ended his life sooner than it should. He is one of my favorite “What If” stories. I think he could have been more of a legend than he is now.
3) LAYNE STALEY lead singer of the band ALICE IN CHAINS 1967 – 2002 (Overdoes on a Speedball) – Without a doubt, the most powerful and distinctive voice that came out of the grunge era. ALICE IN CHAINS became one of my favorite bands after the release of their EP Jar of Flies which is one of my favorite albums of all time. Their music continues to affect me in emotional ways twenty-five years on. The only reason they are a little lower is that I saw them at Lollapalooza 1993. They were fantastic. But Primus came out after them and they completely blew me away. I never got another opportunity to see them live again. But like all these other people previously mentioned, his voice will live on for all eternity.
2) KURT COBAIN lead singer of the band NIRVANA 1967 – 1994 (Suicide) – If I am honest, if I do this list in another ten years, Kurt maybe further down. But he remains at Number 2 due to my memory of his death which is still clear to me 26 years later. I fell hard for Nirvana. Even though I find myself listening to them less than I did in the 1990s and 2000s, I have come around to appreciate some of the band’s deeper cuts like “Something in the Way”, “On a Plain” and “Serve the Servants.” Their performance on MTV Unplugged is still the best one of all time especially since they decided to do six covers in their fourteen-song set. Kurt’s cultural impact may have dissipated a little bit, but he deserves his spot among the rock n roll gods right next to Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley.
1) ADAM YAUCH rapper and musician of the band THE BEASTIE BOYS 1964 – 2012 (Cancer) – Of all the deaths listed here, Adam Yauch is the only one to have died of natural causes. When he died, this death hit me hard (Like David Bowie’s would four years later). I own all THE BEASTIE BOYS video collections, EPs, LPs, anthologies, etc. No band had more of an impact on my childhood than they did. I recently completed the novel written by his two surviving bandmates, Mike D (Michael Diamond) and AdRock (Adam Horowitz) which was a loving tribute to the foundational emotional rock he was for the other two members. He was dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism (With lots of charity work) and was the most talented musician of the trio. Losing THE BEASTIE BOYS (Especially after they put out a wonderful final album called “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” which blended so well with their eclectic punk rock EPS and instrumental album “The Mix-Up”) emotionally devastated me. RIP Adam! You are greatly missed.
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