There are always lessons to be learned from the dead.
Anyone who has listened to Craven's show on KAFM knows he has a thing for obituaries. "The Mutant Pop Obituaries" have been presented almost every Friday morning at approximately 9 a.m. since 2007, and the idea is to pay musical tribute to some of the artists and celebrities who have shuffled off this mortal coil during the past few weeks.
For instance, today, we'll be honoring Kathi McDonald, who sang on classic albums by the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker; Marc Swayze, who delighted children as an artist in the popular "Captain Marvel" comic books published during the 1940s; John Clive, the actor who provided John Lennon's voice in the animated motion picture, "Yellow Submarine"; B.B. Cunningham Jr., who sang on a hit called "Let It All Hang Out" with the Hombres in 1967; Gary Collins, the good-looking TV actor who not only hosted the Miss America pageant, but who was married to a Miss America as well; and several other respect-worthy figures from the world of pop and folk culture.
Craven's not alone in his interest in obituaries. Popular websites are devoted to the subject, and books and essays have been written on it. So what is it about death notices that fascinate some folks? Is it a morbid obsession with mortality? A prurient, voyeuristic curiosity? Or something very different?
Speaking for myself, I can tell you I have been fascinated by obituaries since I was a child. To me, there is something compelling about summarizing a life in words. Both the ancient tenets of Buddhism and the latest lore of neuroscience suggest that this ineffable "thing" I call my "personality," my "essence" - my very "Craven-ness" - is an illusion. And yet, most of us spend our entire lives telling ourselves and others the stories which, when repeated often enough, then become WHO WE ARE.
Some people are trapped by the stories they tell. They are the souls who feel caught by circumstance, by cruel life, by the relentless weight of causality, and who live lives of hopeless inevitability. Others are ennobled by their stories. It is those people whose lives often continue to reverberate beyond the passing of their corporeal bodies, in the telling and retelling of their stories by their loved ones, by their friends and students and co-workers and fans who find meaning for their own lives in the tales of the dead.
In this light, the Mutant Pop Obituaries are intended as a celebration, not a mourning. The people to whom we pay tribute have achieved something great. They have made wonderful music... or vividly enacted characters in motion pictures or on television... or woven drama and amusement into drawings on the printed page. Their stories are worth repeating, not so much for what they tell us about them, but for what they say about the potentiality in all of us to make a difference.
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, promoting heart health in cooperation with the American Heart Association.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.