Tis the season of giving, and that's why I'm filling this slowest part of the year with stolen ideas. Way back in 1979, then-IVillage VoiceI rock crit Greil Marcus found his panties tied in a knot over persistent and unearned use of the word "survivor" (sixties survivor, soul survivor, the band Survivor) in the rock press, and decided to fight linguistic atrocity with blasphemy. If everyone was going to be so damned interested in survivors (most of whom hadn't done much beyond maintaining their vital signs), then Marcus was going to consider those who hadn't survived. He compiled a list of rock-and-roll notables who had died in the 1970s, ranked their deaths Billboard-style -- awarding points for past contribution (PC), future contribution had they not died (FC), and manner of death (M) -- and computed a total score.
Since Marcus's- writing, the rock world has changed in significant ways. So many influences have seeped into rock that it's no longer possible to be as strict as Marcus was in determining just what constitutes a rock death. Thus, the following list contains jazz and blues musicians whose rock influence, while present, may have been marginal.
Also, in grading the manner of death, Marcus awarded his lowest scores to the most common and cliched causes. Heroin overdoses counted for practically nil, while natural causes earned higher points for originality. Since 1979, though, rock has cleaned itself (or at least its image) up considerably, and the classic vomit-choking OD is now the exception rather than the rule. That's why, for this 1993 chart, I've reversed the criterion, awarding higher points to classic rock deaths such as suicide, drugs and automobile or plane accidents. Natural deaths may contribute to the dignity of the deceased, but they don't add much to the rock-and-roll mythology.
Past contribution (PC) and future contribution (FC) scores are, then as now, highly subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt. Jazz keyboardist Sun Ra's solid PC score reflects largely upon the fascination that he, alone among jazz players, seemed to hold for rock critics and esoterica buffs, whereas Doug Hopkins' lowly score -- even though his band went on to have a serious rock-radio hit -- reflects his inability to stay with the program. Dizzy Gillespie gets relatively high PC marks for actually being in many rock players' record collections. Early deaths have been scored generously as to future contribution.
"Survivor" may have all but disappeared from the lexicon, and good riddance, but blasphemy remains. Musicians still die, and there's no reason to stop treating them in death as in life -- with scorecards.
s in Marcus's original chart, rock deaths are rated in ascending order, but only for suspense.
PC -- Past contribution
FC -- Future contribution
M -- manner of death
Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest
Sun Ra, 79, May 30, jazz innovator and time traveler, stroke.
PC: 4 M: 1
FC: 1 Total: 6
Dizzy Gillespie, 75, June 5, co-creator of be-bop and father of modern jazz, pancreatic cancer.
PC: 6 M: 1
FC: 1 Total: 8
Arthur Alexander, 53, June 9, singer/songwriter ("Anna," "You Better Move On," Lonely Just Like Me), heart and kidney failure.
PC: 5 M: 1
FC: 3 Total: 9
John Campbell, 41, June 13, blues guitar wizard (One Believer, Howlin' Mercy), heart failure.
PC: 3 M: 3*
FC: 4 Total: 10
* M points added for being such a death-obsessed ghoul in the first place.
Albert Collins, 61, November 24, blues guitarist extraordinaire, lung cancer.
PC: 7 M: 1
FC: 3 Total: 11
Mick Ronson, 46, April 30, guitarist (David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review), and producer (MorrisseyÕs IYour Arsenal), liver cancer.
PC: 7 M: 1
FC: 4 Total: 12
Doug Hopkins, 32, December 5, ex-Gin Blossoms songwriter and guitarist (New Miserable Experience), apparent suicide.
PC: 2 M: 9
FC: 1 Total: 12
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Frank Zappa, 52, December 4, musician and composer (Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Joe's Garage), prostate cancer.
PC: 10 M: 1
FC: 4 Total: 15
River Phoenix, 23, October 31, actor and member, with sister Rain, of rock band Aleka's Attic, acute multiple drug intoxication.
PC: 1 M: 10*
FC: 5 Total: 16
* M points added for death on Halloween.