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Are musicians exploited in death?

October 12th, 2009
01:35 PM ET

LONDON, England - Like sex and drugs, death has always played a crucial part in the cliched iconography of rock and roll.[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/10/12/michael.jackson.song/art.this.is.it.afp.gi.jpg caption="Michael Jackson's "This Is It" film opens in cinemas later this month."]

From the fatal accidents that killed Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran in 1959 and 1960, through the 60s excess epitomized by Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and on to Elvis Presley’s bloated demise, John Lennon’s shocking murder, the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain, the tit-for-tat killings of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG and the premature deaths of stars such as Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, the music industry has always indulged the romanticized notion of the tragic performer cut down in their prime.

In purely economic terms though, the old mantra that “death sells records” has never been more true. Kurt Cobain may have been haunted by Nirvana’s commercial succcess while he was alive but in death the grunge icon has become a bigger-selling star even than Elvis Presley.

Michael Jackson’s death four months ago prompted an immediate surge in sales of his back catalogue as well as an instant memorabilia industry in tickets and merchandise already sold for his anticipated shows in London.

Now the release of a new song, “This Is It,” tagged onto a greatest hits collection, means those with a financial interest in Jackson’s musical estate are set for another bumper payday.

Similarly, this weekend’s death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, aged just 33, will undoubtedly prompt resurgent interest in both the Irish boy band’s back catalogue and, with tragic irony, their comeback plans.

Are rock and pop stars exploited in death as some claim? Or are repackaged greatest hits and posthumous compilations of previously-unreleased material fitting tributes serving the needs of loyal fans?

Let us know what you think in the comments box below and we’ll feature a selection in Monday’s show.

Filed under:  General
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Chad

    Apparently, a lot of these musicians have unreleased stuff. For example: The Beatles. Is anyone going to caring about them when everything is finally revealed?

    October 12, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  2. Nike Adewuyi

    I personally think people add undue sentiments to certain issues. maybe we should take a trip to the morgue and realize that people die every minute, so what's the overrated emotions all about (like we really appreciated these people when they were alive). A lot of us criticized them when they were alive, so why act "nice". I guess it all boils down to the saying; You'll never miss something till it's gone. You need sales?? Wait till you die.......You'll be certified 10 times Platinum!!!!!

    October 12, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  3. Bii Cosmas

    Human beings seem predisposed to creating myths around outstanding people and we seem to look for better meanings to works of such artist as the case of myths that surround the deaths of this artist but its still exploitation of the dead.

    October 12, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  4. pj ronyag

    Boring. Is there a new thought in this article? Need more research more detail.

    October 12, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  5. Robert Vanucci

    Michael Jackson was not "cut down in [his] prime..."

    He was 50 years old and hadn't done anything in years.

    Contrast this to the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia who was just a few years older than Jackson when he died, and was still a powerful force in music, playing to over a million audience members per year.

    October 12, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  6. Joe Hanshin

    I have more sympathy for the unrecognized and still living musicians that are exploited every day.

    October 12, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  7. Randy in Calgary

    It's probably natural to remember and want to hold onto a memory or something tangible when a person dies. There is grieving steps, and sometimes it is for those we never met, spoke to or even really know how they lived in person. The attachment to entertainers or artists at times is just befuddling. I think the producers, lawyers and major entertainment companies just see a death as an opportunity to pull the heartstrings for more revenue. Much can be said about the media hyping everthing as well...

    October 12, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  8. Rudolph.A.Furtado

    Musicians are the entertainment icons of the World and hence when they die young, the "Iconic Status" remains a mystery.Would Michael.J.Jackson have been as mysterious dead as an old man than at age 50! The 21st century has eroded the word "PRIVACY", and hence most private lives of the rich, famous and infamous are up for grabs at the tabloids, building a "magical mystical life" of these stars. A sudden death bursts this "Magical mystical bubble" and creates a dead icon. Did any of the tabloids ever speculate that Michael.J.Jackson was a hypochondriac drug addict, requiring hospital assistance for a simple routine habit of sleeping? Thats mystique.

    October 13, 2009 at 2:11 am | Reply
  9. Akison

    I do think the death associated with many of the rock stars & famous non rock star celebrities such as John Belushi and so on not only had nothing to do with drugs perhaps few of them were victims of homicide of some sort with hidden agendas having to do with power and greed of few who knows who.
    I was in my teens when Sex,Drug&Rock and roll were somehow promoted as a hip way to live and we all thought it was cool and lived it to its fullest , i personally must have tried anything from Pot($10.00 a Leeds than) to Roarer's and many other so called drugs because i wanted to have tried them all at least once to finally Cocaine H and speed ball etc, i should have been death 10 times over.I believe. Hendrix , Lennon , Micheal Jackson and many others were murdered for some hidden causes or agendas , Micheal and Lennon had a lot to contribute to the worlds awareness so many others .I ain't saying no more but i don't believe some crazy dude came from Hawaii to New York to stalk Lennon who was just getting started on a production of some perhaps controversial album as he was just back from a solo sailing trip to just shoot him and get a life sentence to live in a country club for insanity.

    October 13, 2009 at 2:53 am | Reply
  10. Elyssa

    I never owned a Michael Jackson album while he was alive. I won't go out and buy him now. I can say that I enjoy every Jackson song I hear, now that he's gone. The nostalgia for top pop songs I heard in the 80s has meaning. Unfortunately, there are people who are posthumous fans. Only buying the work and memorabilia now that the artists work must be complete. We can honor the accomplishments of the dead, but there is a tendency to forget their human short comings. Surely we shouldn't harp on the problems of those who cannot defend themselves, but let's not grant sainthood to someone who was a great artist, an amazing pop icon but very much lived with human failures.

    October 13, 2009 at 3:37 am | Reply

    I wouldn't use the word exploited in this situation. They chose to live a public life so they can take whatever blame there is. Michael Jackson is the most loved pop star in the world ever. His death was tragic and unexpected which made the press and fans go wild. He will forever make money that will be passed down to who was in his will. His album will continue to sell along with his new movie coming out. Millions of dollars are being made and he isn't even alive. Maybe being exploited isn't so bad afterall.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Reply

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