Michael Jackson’s death last month was a shock, in that he had not been ill and he was, at 50, still a relatively young man. And yet, in another way, Jackson’s death was not a shock as people in the popular music industry seem to have a different life span from members of the public whom, ironically it seems, we some times term ‘mere mortals’. In the context of the pop music world, Michael Jackson could almost have been considered geriatric. So many young musicians have died in their twenties that there is a group who have been called in rather macabre fashion, ‘The 27 Club’. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, all celebrated their 27th birthdays, but died before they reached 28.
Before Michael Jackson’s death, other rockers who barely reached middle age include Elvis Presley and John Lennon, who died aged 42 and 40 respectively, although let us not forget that Robert Plant is 60, Sir Mick Jagger is 65, Sir Paul McCartney is 67 and Sir Cliff Richard is 68 (born 5 days after John Lennon). The words of The Who’s song ‘My Generation’ could be re-written for Robert Plant, ‘Hope I don’t die before I get a knighthood’.
Of course, the orignal words to that song are, ‘Hope I die before I get old’. While not true for the writers of the song – Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend – this hope was fulfilled for The Who’s Keith Moon, along with all those others whom I have mentioned and many others.
This fascination with early death – seen most recently, perhaps, in Heath Ledger’s passing – is not new. In one of the Homeric hymns, Trophonius and Agamedes built Apollo’s temple at the oracle at Delphi. Having finished the task they were granted their greatest wish, before which they could whatsoever they wanted to do. This they did and on the seventh day they were both found dead. From this story comes the saying, ‘those whom the gods love die young’.
More recently a celebration of early death arose around John Dillinger, a bank robber in Depression-era America. He has become something of a folk-hero so that 75 years after his detah ‘fans’ celebrate the anniversary of his death as ‘John Dillinger Day’, retracing his last walk to the alley whwere he died behind a piper playing ‘Amazing Grace’. As the 75th anniversary approaches, Dillinger is once again in the news with yet another film depicting his life having been released at the cinema.
Anyone who has actually mourned the loss of a perdson who has died ‘before their time’, will have different feelings from those described above. One way of reconciling faith with this sense of loss is by believing that what has happened was God’s will. This is sometimes expressed in the form of a poem:
God's Flower Garden
Sometimes we can't quite understand, our great creator's way.
When he takes a life so young and leaves one old withered and gray
whose life's work seems finished, perhaps is waiting the call.
While that life so young and tender, held so much here for us all.
Then sometimes I get to thinking, perhaps the world down here below
is just a flower garden where God's flowers live and grow.
And perhaps when God is lonely like us, he loves to roam;
in his garden gathering flowers just to beautify his home.
Tho he takes the full bloom flowers, drooped and withered that need his care
still he needs a bud or blossom; to scatter with them, here and there.
So he takes a few choice blossoms just the choicest he can find
and because God needs them up in Heaven must comfort loved ones left behind.
While I respect the views of people who find this helpful, it troubles me that God is seen as taking at a whim a person yet to have reached the end of their life span. Is this really how God operates? I believe that God weeps alongside those who mourn the loss of a young husband, sister, father or daughter.
A similar sense of dissatisfaction with this view can be found here.
While people will continue to be fascinated by the lives and deaths of the famous, the reality is that they are loved as we, the unknowns, are loved and God weeps for them too.