Following the death of a beloved musician, particularly one who died suddenly and “too soon,” it is fascinating to observe the celebrity’s “afterlife on earth.” In what ways does the person maintain an “active presence” in our culture? How much “buzz” is being generated by the media and fans online, including statements starting with “if only” and “what if”? How large are the memorials being created at physical sites connected with the person’s life, and how quickly do virtual memorial sites materialize online? One can quickly get a sense of how lively the celebrity’s “cultural reincarnation” will be based on the entrepreneurial value of the deceased—the level of iTunes sales or the sheer volume of commemorative items on eBay, including the change in the cost of an autograph. Forbes magazine releases their list of “Top Earning Dead Celebrities” each October, five of whom, in the last list, were musicians in 2011.
Tribute concerts frequently occur. The creative use of technology has also allowed for the “digital resurrection” of some artists to occur. In 1992, Natalie Cole digitally resurrected the voice of her deceased father to record a duet that was truly “Unforgettable.” She followed this with an album of duets in 2009 which once again brought him back from the grave (read article). In April of 2012, an album of music— Enamorada De Ti—by Selena, who died in 1995, was released, including a “new” duet with Selena Gomez. According to an editorial review for the album on Amazon.com, “This recording shows fans and the rest of the world how Selena would sound today. She would be a 40 year old woman with a solid career, collaborating with the hottest artists and continuing to break ground. Selena's legacy lives on and is shown on this new album.”
Since April of 2012, there have been two highly publicized examples of “technological reincarnation” that have utilized visual rather than audio technology to allow a musician to perform “live” posthumously. On April 15th, rapper Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, “performed” at the Coachella music festival. Although this phenomenon was frequently described as a hologram, the technology is more accurately described as an optical illusion also known as Pepper’s ghost—a stage magician’s trick that is definitely not new (read article). On May 14th, Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, “performed” at the 10th anniversary of the West End musical “We Will Rock You.” Reactions to the “resurrection” of these music legends have been mixed and can be found on the comment sections of the previously linked articles.
In his article, Amos Barshad noted that this use of technology, “reuniting a band with its deceased member,” “would appear to be the logical first step for this brave new world of ghost concerts.” This fascinating type of “digital immortality” has certainly pumped new life into my task of documenting the cultural reincarnation of my favorite deceased musicians. Now that these musicians can perform “live” posthumously, who would you like to see on tour?
Carla Sofka is co-editor of Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe. For more information on this book, click here.