2016: In Memoriam

When David Bowie died of liver cancer eight days into the New Year (and two days after the release of his astonishing Blackstar), it was an awfully prescient indication of 2016’s relentlessly downward direction. When news came of Prince’s passing in April — a sudden and surprising event given that the Purple One had seemed his usual vital self the same week as his death, tooling around Minneapolis on his bicycle and shopping on Record Store Day — it felt like a kick in the teeth. How bad could this year get? As it turned out, it could get a lot worse…

By December, the list of the departed would range from boomer rock titans (Eagles’ Glenn Frey; Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner; Leon Russell; both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake) to soul and R&B greats (Sharon Jones, Billy Paul, Natalie Cole, Maurice White) to heroes of the underground (Suicide’s Alan Vega, French electronic-music godfather Jean-Jacques Perrey, house-music pioneer Colonel Abrams) to many more gone way too soon (Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, hardcore-era Beastie Boys guitarist John Berry). While Merle Haggard passed away peacefully in his tour bus, tragic car crashes would claim both Atlanta rapper Shawty Lo and the rising British band Viola Beach. Hell, we even lost Blowfly, dammit, though if it’s any consolation, the hereafter just got a whole lot filthier with the addition of the NC-17-rated R&B showman.

Perhaps he’ll find a new friend in Leonard Cohen, another songwriter who prided himself on having a certain expertise on carnal matters. Though his loss was keenly felt in November (especially since the news hit two days after the election), Cohen was just as considerate as Bowie in ensuring he left us with one final masterwork. Sublime tracks from Blackstar and You Want It Darker are part of this collection of songs by singers, songwriters and musicians who’ve been sadly silenced by the fate that’s waiting for the rest of us, too.