Life after Death

Dave Iannacone

This past Monday marked the ninth anniversary of the passing of TLC rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Despite not being a particularly monumental anniversary, it did get me thinking a bit. TLC is one of the most famous and biggest selling girl groups of all time, even though they were only around as a threesome for less than 10 years. Their legacy will no doubt carry on for a long time because of the great music they made, but it is completely plausible that Left Eye’s untimely death helped immortalize them. In a way, this rule applies to many acts.

Looking back on all of the artists who died young or at the peak of their career, a good majority of them are widely considered legends; for example, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., and Kurt Cobain (just to name a few). Obviously, all of these musicians are widely remembered today for the great music they made during their short careers. However, I really have to wonder if their passing really made a difference. It’s really a fair question to ask if, say Nirvana would be held in such high regards as the band is now had Kurt Cobain not ended his life. Would Jimi Hendrix still be considered the greatest guitarist ever? Would 2Pac and Biggie be the legends they are today?

Obviously, it’s easy to say yes to all of those questions. However, as another example, would Aaliyah be remembered the way she is? Sure, she had a good number of hits under her belt, but she seemingly wasn’t on the road to an immortal legacy before her tragic plane crash. After comparing her to many of her ill-fated peers, though, I came to the conclusion that untimely death more just speeds up the “legend” process than anything else. John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson were already legends, but were immediately set on a high pedestal when they passed. From another perspective, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix had such loyal fan bases and critical praise that their music was able to become that much more impactful when they died. Even Otis Redding had the biggest hit of his career, “(Sittin’ On the) Dock of the Bay,” posthumously.

So while Left Eye’s death may have helped TLC become one of those “classic groups,” it’s probably safe to say that they would’ve gotten there eventually anyway. Sometimes having a relatively small body of music can only help (see Hendrix). Instead of burning out and ruining everything great, stopping early can eliminate that risk completely. Maybe dying early is just the publicity stunt an artist needs. Look at how Michael Jackson practically got his slate wiped clean and was immediately re-crowned as the King of Pop (and beyond!) So while no one should ever wish death on another, for some really great artists, this was probably the best deal they ever got.