If every person is a point of light, and the world is comprised of millions upon millions, can we really tell when two scintillae are snuffed?
The world watched two particularly bright lights go out this week. Richie Havens, the folk rock singer-songwriter, and Christina Amphlett, lead singer of the Divinyls, took their final bows this past week.
To a certain generation, Havens was the better known of the pair. Born in 1941, Richie Havens was 28 years old when he stepped onto the wooden stage on Max Yasgur's farm, on Aug. 15, to open "the Aquarian Exposition" that became known as Woodstock. He ended up playing for the next three hours, goaded on by the festival's organizers while they waited for more famous acts to arrive. Sometimes, all it takes is three hours to become a star - at least, such was the case with Richie Havens, who had already put out five albums before Woodstock, but whose career took flight after that momentous moment in the spotlights on a dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y.
Christina Amphlett was from a younger generation. Born just a month before Craven, she hit her stride in the mid-1980s, as lead singer of the Australian band, the Divinyls. Most folks in this country only know her for the Divinyls' one big charting hit, 1991's paean to self pleasure, "I Touch Myself," but she and guitarist Mark McEntee, who comprised the heart of the band, had already put out three great albums by the time that song went platinum and peaked at #4 on Billboard's Top 40 chart.
Amphlett's stage presence was huge. She was often described as "a female Mick Jagger," for her leonine power and sexy charisma. And her voice was unmistakable - a yelp, a purr and a hiccup filtered through a shot of single malt whisky. In later years, she found success as an actress, and was especially lauded for her role as Judy Garland in the musical biography of songwriter Peter Allen, "The Boy From Oz." Amphlett was one of the stars when the show first opened in Australia in 1998, but she also reprised her role opposite Hugh Jackman in the 2006 restaging of the musical.
Around the time Richie Havens was playing Old Man Arvin in Todd Haynes' unusual film biography of Bob Dylan, "I'm Not There," Christina Amphlett was publicly admitting for the first time that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Three years later, Havens was still touring at the age of 69. But Amphlett learned in 2010 that she had breast cancer, the treatment of which was dramatically complicated by her MS. She fought it valiantly and continued to record sporadically, but the two diseases eventually stole her from our world.
Meanwhile, Richie Havens kept going, like an Energizer bunny, until finally calling it quits in March of last year, when he declared he would stop touring due to health issues. Practically a year and a month after that announcement, Havens was dead from a heart attack at the age of 72.
Only two lights out, in a world of millions. But it's a dimmer world now.
Notes is funded in part by the Gill Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, a proud supporter of Colorado organizations like Padres y Jovenes Unidos and their work to secure immigrant rights and quality health care for all.
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.