Not to be mean-hearted to the grieving or entirely self-serving, but I’ve discovered an upside when I hear about artists’ deaths.
Recently, the American novelist Russell Banks died. Some years back I read one of his novels, The Sweet Hereafter, and found it compelling and intelligent. When I heard of his death, I remembered that his novel, Affliction, was sitting on my bookshelf. I don’t know where I picked it up or how long I’d had it, but I immediately started reading the book and couldn’t put it down. If Mr. Banks hadn’t died, I might never have gotten around to Affliction.
Same with David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills & Nash. How long has it been since I’ve listened to his music? I’d forgotten the beautiful harmonies of “Wooden Ships.” And the timing of his demise couldn’t have been better for me. I’d been thinking it was time for a haircut, but then I listened to “Almost Cut My Hair” and now I have to keep letting my freak flag fly.
When Christine McVie died in November, I listened to those gauzy Fleetwood Mac melodies “Over My Head” and “You Make Loving Fun” and her cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” What a voice.
I’d forgotten that Jeff Beck got his start with the Yardbirds and I discovered he recorded an incredible guitar instrumental of that old favorite, “Over the Rainbow.”
The news of Angela Lansbury’s death got me to watch her creepy, terrifying performance in The Manchurian Candidate and her role as a sneaky, envious maid in Gaslight.
Sometimes an artist dies who I’d not heard of but learned about reading their obit. I might never have seen the powerful murals of Noni Olabisi or the abstract paintings of the Korean artist Kim Byung-Ki.
I don’t wish death upon anyone—artist or not. But for all you talented writers, musicians, painters, and actors who have died, you’ve done something good for me and I appreciate you for it. Maybe I can return the favor and someone, upon hearing the news of my death, will read one of my books and appreciate the experience. Someday, hopefully not for many years.