After an artist dies where does the line lie when it comes to commemoration vs cash in?
After someone dies, especially at a young age then those who knew them will want to celebrate their life. If that person is a celebrity then those celebrations and tributes will be largely in the public eye as fans also mourn. When Chris Cornell died there were a huge number of tributes from artists on tour including Linkin Park, Guns N’ Roses, U2, Ann Wilson, Stone Sour, Living Colour, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Megadeth, Metallica, Aerosmith and way too many others to mention. Likewise when Chester Bennington died suddenly, bands covered Linkin Park songs or dedicated their own to him. The massive Linkin Park & Friends tribute gig paid tribute to Chester while also raising money for the mental health branch of Linkin Park’s Music For Relief charity.
As time goes on, that person’s friends and family still remember that person fondly even when fans have moved on. Case in point is that Cliff Burton is still very much a part of Metallica including their relationships with bassists Jason Newstead and Rob Trujillo. One song was written in memory of Burton, To Live Is To Die, from …And Justice For All which was made up of riffs Burton had written for the album, hence the song clocking in nearly 10 minutes, or 11 minutes for the full uncut version. The song was instrumental bar spoken words written by a German poet, wasn’t played live for over 20 years but fans knew what the song was about and knew the gravity it carried.
In all these cases they were obvious tributes that were earnestly and honestly meant but what about the tributes that come with a price tag?
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda released a three track EP 6 months after Chester’s death that was well received as it was clearly a form of therapy for him. The songs focused on the sudden loss of his friend and the first agonising steps that come next. Shinoda’s words seemed truly heartfelt when he said:
“The past six months have been a rollercoaster. Amidst the chaos, I’ve started to feel an intense gratitude – for your tributes and messages of support, for the career you have allowed me to have, and for the simple opportunity to create. Today, I’m sharing three songs I wrote and produced, with visuals that I filmed, painted, and edited myself. At its core, grief is a personal, intimate experience. As such, this is not Linkin Park, nor is it Fort Minor–it’s just me. Art has always been the place I go when I need to sort through the complexity and confusion of the road ahead. I don’t know where this path goes, but I’m grateful I get to share it with you.“
2 months after the EP’s release a solo album was announced that would include the first three songs along with 12 new tracks. The album received mixed reviews as it was a solo album with a fair bit of input from other musicians, notably members of Linkin Park, but it wasn’t a heartfelt tribute as the EP was, it was now a full blown solo project complete with awful lyrics like,
Lift off like Virgin Galactic
My Richard’s too Branson to fuck with you bastards
Very legendary that’s some matter-of-fact shit
You’re the opposite of stars, like rats spelled backwards
The album was a reminder that Linkin Park were a tremendous band for their first few years but grew weaker as time went on, and now we’re missing the biggest part of what made them special. Since then Shinoda has appeared at a number of festivals including Reading, where his talk about Chester to the audience followed by a performance of In The End became a viral video. It’s clear that Shinoda has been deeply affected by Bennington’s suicide but the album felt a little like a record label trying to capitalise on Shinoda’s heartfelt EP by trying to quickly push him as a breakout star.
Linkin Park will be continuing, presumably with a new singer, but thankfully Shinoda has ruled out a Chester Bennington ‘hologram’. There’s something somewhat sick about seeing Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson and Ronnie James Dio appearing on stage after their respective deaths. When “Jackson” performed Slave to the Rhythm at the Billboard Music Awards in 2014, it gained the nickname of Slave to Sony Music and gathered a horrified reaction from many musicians and performers. While Tupac’s return to stage had been authorised and approved of by his mother, Jackson’s appearance wasn’t even him – it was an impersonator, just like it was an impersonator on three unreleased tracks that were released after his death. As the real Michael Jackson said, “Just because you read it in a magazine or see it on a TV screen don’t make it factual.”
Dio has also received the hologram treatment and while Simon Wright of Dio’s band may say, “We’re doing it for his fans, and Wendy is involved, so it’s basically a way to celebrate Ronnie” it’s hard to see it as anything but a cash in.
Those terms “celebrate” and “for his fans” reared their heads again in the press release for Chris Cornell’s new compilation album that is released in November. Featuring a song that Cornell hadn’t completed and a slew of unreleased live material, the compilation contains 64 songs and will cost his fans £44.99. While I’m sure Cornell’s fans appreciated the unreleased song When Bad Does Good, it’s hard to argue that a £44.99 product is “for fans” rather than a nice Christmas bonus for Universal Music executives. If you want to do something “for fans” then you do what Kid Rock did in slashing ticket prices and giving front row tickets away as free upgrades to stop scalping.
While Afeni Shakur, Wendy Dio, Mike Shinoda and Vicky Cornell may all have signed off on holograms and albums, that’s absolutely fine. Their loved ones would want their legacy to provide an income for them. If I die and my family can make money by putting my image on toilet roll or sawdust for pet cages then I’m glad that I can provide for them after my days. The sad thing is that for every dollar that Vicky receives for the Chris Cornell boxset there’s someone else making a lot more out of it.