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Number One Band in Heaven

Posted: 02/03/2012 23:00

Whenever a famous singer or musician dies it's only a matter of time - occasionally even before the price of the artist's back catalogue has been jacked up on iTunes - until someone is marvelling at the thought of the dead star rocking out as part of some celestial supergroup in the afterlife.

At this year's Grammy Awards, Mitch Winehouse, father of Amy, paid tribute to Etta James, Whitney Houston and his own late daughter. "There's a beautiful girl band up in Heaven," he eulogised.

The passing of MC5 bassist Michael Davis inspired numerous online commenters to remark how he'd now be "kicking out the jams" in the hereafter. And the death of Monkees singer Davy Jones prompted some great tabloid-esque headlines - "This Monkee's Gone To Heaven" and "Now I'm A Bereaver" among them - as well as predictable speculation about how he's now shaking his maracas and cooing alongside Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and all the other fallen rockers inside the pearly gates.

I've long been curious how this heavenly jam band malarkey might work. Could it be how cartoonists might imagine it - with each deceased musician on their own cloud noodling away in perfect harmony while angels frolic in the background and a grandfatherly God rocks in his chair and taps his foot in rhythmic appreciation? Perhaps there's a relaxed coffee shop/open mic night kinda vibe. Maybe it's more like the stage-worrying, shoulder-to-shoulder ego-fest that was the Live Aid finale. Or, (ahem) heaven forbid, the ghastliness that is Last Night of the Proms.

Concerns over the size and intimacy of the venue aside, coming up with your own lineup of dead pop stars is a fun game to play. You can while away hours in the pub inventing imaginative and creative band rosters. It's like a fantasy football for hipster bores and music snobs with a Roman Abramovich complex. An opportunity to be a starmaker or boy band puppetmaster like Simon Cowell, Simon Napier-Bell, Malcolm McLaren or Bernie Rhodes.

But, let's face it, great as the drunken idea of matching Ian Curtis, Karen Carpenter, Sid Vicious, Randy Rhoads and Liberace might seem, it'd never work, would it? How many 'supergroups' ever have? Granted there's Them Crooked Vultures, Fantomas (though that's really stretching the meaning of the word 'super') and Temple of the Dog (who only really qualify in retrospect.)

You could also make a decent argument for Dead Weather, A Perfect Circle, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Foo Fighters but most of these were/are pretty much one proper famous person and a bunch of relative no marks. And now the case for the prosecution: Cream, Blind Faith, Humble Pie, Bad Company, ELP, Asia, The Firm, Damn Yankees, Zwan, Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, Chickenfoot. M'lud, I rest my case.

And what of bands which have a nearly complete complement of corpses in their lineups? The Jimi Hendrix Experience is the only act that springs to mind whose members could all be up in this rock and roll heaven - do they get to have a residency somewhere? Are the crucial three-quarters of the Ramones just kicking around on some paradisiacal street corner until one of their erstwhile drummers joins them in the spiritual realm? What's happening with Lynyrd Skynyrd? Can Bob Marley and Peter Tosh get decent weed while they wait on Bunny Wailer? Do the assorted members of the '27 Club' all hang out together? Has Kurt Cobain realised that there are worse things than being rich and famous, even with a poorly tummy and erratic wife? Or is he just curled up in a fetal ball in the corner, rocking back and forth and muttering about how much he hates himself and wants to live?

How about The Beatles? It's not hard to imagine John and George (perhaps back under the protective gaze of Brian Epstein) jamming together on old rock and roll classics, smoking cigarettes and sharing jokes at Paul McCartney's expense while secretly longing for him to join them soon because Stu Sutcliffe's Jesus and Mary Chain-esque, back turned to the audience style posing (and musical inability) is beginning to seriously. Piss. Them. Off - 50 years and he still can't play the bass line to Long Tall Sally?

And what will happen should Pete Best, rather than Ringo Starr, be the first of their former drummers to shuffle off this mortal coil for that great drum throne in the sky? Will they invite him to sit back in with them? It's probably been the absolute worst for Best to have spent the past half century being reminded every bloody day of how he missed out on fame and riches as a lovable moptop but getting replaced again by Ringo - and this time for eternity - would suck even harder than Octopus' Garden.

Still there's always a chance - should any of that religious mumbo jumbo turn out to be true (and all those placard-carrying mentalists who've picketed everyone from Elvis and The Beatles to Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga be proven right) - that all our beloved musicians are in hell anyway. If the devil has the best tunes then he's bound to have all the best musicians too. In which case, to quote the immortal words of failed vomit-swallower Bon Scott (singer in my own fantasy dead rock star band), perhaps Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be.

 

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