I’ve been thinking a lot about death of late. A friend sadly passed away on Sunday night after a long battle with illness, while in the musical world the death of Alex Chilton, frontman of Big Star, last week cast something of a shadow over SXSW – not least because he was due to play with his reformed band on Saturday night at the festival. The remainder of the band decided to go-ahead with the show, with a number of big alt-rock names assisting on vocals as something of a sweet tribute. And these events, not to mention the recent suicide of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, resulted in this week’s Tuesday Ten being about how the death of a member affects bands.
It doesn’t always result in the end of a band, instead sometimes spurring bands onto even greater heights, and some might cynically say that in some cases death results in being the best advertising they could ever have. So, this week, I’m looking at bands that have lost one or more members to death, and what happened after the event. I’m missing Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers and AC/DC from the list, by the way, as I’m sure most of you who read this will have a good idea already about the stories behind them. You may well know some of these ten, too, anyway, but here we go.
As usual there is a shared, collaborative Spotify playlist to accompany this, this week featuring – where possible – songs from before and after the events noted (and a bonus in the form of one of the finest Sparklehorse moments, too).
frontman/singer Andrew Wood died in 1990, band disbanded and surviving members involved in Temple of The Dog and Pearl Jam, amongst others
If you hear MLB’s output without knowing what surviving members of the band eventually went on to do, you’d be forgiven for not immediately picking up on the links to grunge. Singer Andrew Wood was the core of the band, and his flamboyant style helped to shape an intriguing band who were in thrall to classic rock of the past, but at the same time dragging them into the present – that of the very tail-end of the eighties, though. Following Wood’s untimely death from a heroin overdose at the age of just twenty-four, two other members of the band (Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard) went on to form Pearl Jam via being involved in the recording of Temple of the Dog as a tribute to him (it’s almost as good as MLB, too), there are links to another of the Seattle grunge titans in Soundgarden, too – oh, and Alice In Chains’ finest three minutes (Would?) was dedicated to him. He left a hell of a legacy, all told.
singer Layne Staley died in 2002, band eventually reformed with new singer
Speaking of which, actually: it would perhaps be amiss not to mention the darkest of all the grunge crop, who like their peers were dark and moody, and wrote deep, heavy songs that got a lot of mainstream attention. But perhaps more than any of their peers other than the short life of Nirvana in the spotlight, the myriad demons were aired in song time and again. Most of Dirt, not to mention the eponymous album that followed it, were preoccupied with the perils of addiction, drugs and self-loathing that were always rather too real for comfort. Sadly it was no great surprise that after a good few years of inactivity when singer Layne Staley succumbed to his heroin addiction in 2002, but what was a surprise was the majestic comeback that knocked us all for six last year. A new vocalist it might have been, but the power, darkness and soul of the old band was still there, and managing to move forward while still noting the presence of their dead friend.
frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, surviving members formed New Order
Hardly an untold story, but it still merits mention here. Ian Curtis of course struggled with depression, his epilepsy and perhaps just life in general for the entire short existence of band, at least in part unwittingly shaping post-punk and some elements of goth music along the way, before his suicide in the spring of 1980 cut the band’s rapid progress short. Of course, Love Will Tear Us Apart became a massive posthumous hit, and the surviving members of the band became New Order, accelerated the move into more electronic realms, and proved to be just as much of an influence on the burgeoning house and electro scenes.
MC Carl Crack died in 2001, Alec Empire and Nic Endo reformed band in 2010
A band that exploded both thematically and sonically onto the mid-90s scene in a fireball of techno-punk and anti- fascist fury, the fact that the band didn’t last all that long in their first incarnation was never too much of a surprise – they were so intense it was a surprise they lasted as long as they did, frankly – but the death of MC Carl Crack in 2001 (related to his longstanding drug addiction) appeared to dash any possibility of the band reuniting, ever. It’s taken nearly ten years for Alec Empire to consider the idea, seemingly – in the meantime Alec Empire’s work has moved ever closer to the electro-mainstream, and losing my attention in the process – and the band have resurfaced this year with a new MC for new material and live shows this year. Interestingly, the brutal new single Activate sees them picking up where they left off, although it appears Hanin Elias isn’t involved (even if said new single certainly sounded like she was).
guitarist Bryan Ottoson died in 2005, band disbanded four years later without releasing another studio album
There was much in the way of hope for this band when they burst onto the scene at the turn of the millenium. A grimy, viciously heavy industrial metal outfit in the vein of the Ministry of old, they looked a much more palatable alternative to the vapid nu-metal that dominated the metallic side of things at the time. Unfortunately – despite being a fantastic live band, as they proved supporting Rammstein in 2002 – they followed a similar, drug-addled path to Ministry and never really fulfilled their potential. Their second album The Feeding was not a patch on The War of Art, and when it became clear that a good number of the band had serious substance abuse problems, their continued existence as a band, never mind attempting to capture the power of their debut, seemed in serious doubt. The death of Bryan Ottoson on tour from a prescription drug overdose only seemed to make that rather clearer, but the band only disbanded four years later when it became clear that singer Martin Cock was “no longer interested in being in a band” – and quite how the band survived as long as they did remains something that will always amaze me.
keyboardist Rob Collins died in 1996, band continued to this day
I’ve not listened to new material by this band for some years now, as they long-since moved to a style that no longer interests me. But back in the ’90s, they were a great band, providing album-after-album of well-crafted, keyboard/organ-drenched indie-rock – and Rob Collins’ work on said keyboard and organ was certainly the linchpin of their sound. So when he died in a car crash, just as they were completing work on their fifth album, there were musings as to whether the band could continue. Continue they did, and the album that he didn’t survive to hear completed (Tellin’ Stories) turned out to be the best album of their career by a country mile. And yes, I was going to include the defiant One To Another as the track on the Spotify playlist, but really it has to be Area 51, an instrumental from Tellin’ Stories that features Rob Collins at the peak of his powers. I do sometimes wonder whether the band would have taken their current direction if Rob Collins had been alive, though…
drummer Jon Lee committed suicide in 2002, band continued
Back in the mid-90s, Feeder were another small alt-rock band with a devoted fanbase (and cracking singles like the long-forgotten Tangerine), and their rise to the mainstream was pretty slow, by all accounts – it took the somewhat inane and polished single Buck Rogers to get them the breakthrough they deserved. Sadly not all of the band coped with their new found fame, as drummer Jon Lee committed suicide in early 2002. The band have continued since, though, and indeed their following album Comfort In Sound was another big hit. First single from it, the storming, anthemic Come Back Around was a fitting tribute to their absent drummer, although in my view they’ve not come close to matching it since.
keyboardist Dwayne Goettel died in 1995, band initially disbanded and then reformed later
The complicated, messy gestation of the last (at the time) Skinny Puppy album was made all the more complex by the death of Dwayne Goettel from (yet another, in this list) heroin overdose. The album saw release the following year, and was darker and more impenetrable than they had ever been – which, let’s be honest, was some feat. Like other bands in this list, it was entirely unsurprising to see the other surviving members, cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre, disband and work on their own projects, only reforming for one extraordinary show in Dresden in 2000. They reunited fully in 2003, and returned with The Greater Wrong Of The Right in 2004 – a fantastic album that was accompanied by a brilliant tour that I was fortunate enough to see in London that year (and is still one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen). The quality since reformation hasn’t always been at that level – and indeed it could be argued that the staggering intensity of the pre-split Puppy isn’t there any more – but I’m still intrigued by what they have to offer and am keenly awaiting In Solvent See whenever it finally arrives.
guitarist Øystein Aarseth, otherwise known as Euronymous, murdered by Varg Vikernes in 1993, band continued with various lineups
By some distance the murkiest events in this list occurred involving this band. Euronymous’ death wasn’t the first to affect the band – first vocalist Dead committed suicide in 1991, but it was perhaps the murder of Euronymous by fellow Black Metal musician Varg Vikernes that is the most notorious. A good overview of what went on in the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the early nineties can be found on the relevant wiki page, although a far more detailed look is in the brilliant Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground. Anyway, the resulting media hysteria around the murder and other crimes committed at the time proved to be pretty good publicity for Mayhem and other bands in the “scene”, and a little surprisingly, in some respects, Mayhem have continued (with the odd break) to this day, as one of the keepers of the flame of “true” black metal, even though they have taken some interesting deviations into other realms genres along the way.
guitarist Dimebag Darrell murdered onstage in 2004
The eventual demise of Pantera – mainly due to tensions between Phil Anselmo and other members of the band following his well-documented substance abuse problems – was never surprising, and it was equally unsurprising that a guitarist of Dimebag’s calibre had quickly formed another band as an outlet for his work. The one bit that was surprising, I guess, was that Dimebag was the one who died first – in circumstances that made headlines around the world. I’ve no doubt that in these musical times of diminishing returns, if Dimebag hadn’t died, that Pantera would have reformed by now to wide acclaim, although it would have required him and Anselmo to have settled the bad blood that existed as Pantera disintegrated. One good thing out of it, though, was that it maybe saved Anselmo from himself (as this extraordinary video message proved).