Stairway to Heaven
Plenty of notable musicians died in 2004, but for aesthetes of the grand rock demise, the year lacked the ludicrous death of a wounded young romantic — à la Jeff Buckley’s fatal embrace of the Father of Waters, say, or the inconsolable Elliott Smith’s forlorn evisceration.
Dimebag Darrell’s demise belongs in another category of rock fatality. Still, his murder is the type of tragic end that puts one near the top of the Greil Marcus Rock Death Meter, which we’ve polished off and restored (that is, stolen). Many years ago, renowned rock critic Marcus started scoring rock deaths on three criteria: past contribution (PC), potential future contribution (PFC) and manner of death (MOD). The 2003 winner was Elliott Smith, who scored an impressive 25 out of 30. Did anyone top that in 2004?
Johnny Ramone, right-wing guitarist and founding member of the Ramones, died of prostate cancer at 56.
PC: 8, PFC: 1, MOD: 1. Total: 10.
Valfar, singer in Norwegian death-metal band Windir, froze to death at age 25 while hiking through a snowstorm.
PC: 1, PFC: 1, MOD: 10*. Total: 12.
*Extra point for having recorded an unintentionally prophetic song called “Journey to the End.”
Mac Dre, 34-year-old underground hip-hop legend, was shot by an AK-47-wielding assailant while driving in Kansas City.
PC: 4, PFC: 6, MOD: 2*. Total: 12.
*Style point for getting shot by glamorous weapon.
John Peel, legendary BBC DJ — first to spin U2, the Smiths, Blur and the Sex Pistols — died of a heart attack at age 65.
PC: 7, PFC: 5, MOD: 1. Total: 13.
Ray Charles, one of the greatest American musicians ever, succumbed to liver disease at age 73.
PC: 11*, PFC: 2, MOD: 1. Total: 14.
*Very few careers go to 11. Brother Ray’s was one.
Phil Healy, member of pop-rockers the Knobs, died in a car accident at age 31. While fleeing the scene of a fender-bender, Healy — whose blood-alcohol level was through the roof — ran head-on into a police car, killing himself and a state trooper. The Knobs wrote a song called “If I Die in a Car Crash” and were working on an album called The Knobs Break Up and Die.
PC: 2, PFC: 3, MOD: 10*. Total: 15.
*2004’s Demise of the Year.
Rick James, 56-year-old funkdafied Super Freak, officially died of natural causes, but the toxicology report reads like the first few pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (The man actually used meth while on a pacemaker.)
PC: 8, PFC: 3, MOD: 8*. Total: 19.
*2004 winner of Warren Zevon Award, given to musicians who continue engaging in the very behavior that got them in such sorry health in the first place.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard, 34-year-old Wu-Tang Clan rapper, collapsed and died in a Manhattan recording studio. His heart failed with the help of cocaine and the painkiller Tramadol.
PC: 6, PFC: 6, MOD: 10. Total: 22.
“Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, 38, was shot and killed onstage by a deranged fan. The metal guitarist of Pantera and Damageplan infamy was a hard-partying strip-club co-owner known as “The People’s Rock Star.”
PC: 8*, PFC: 6, MOD: 10. Total: 24.
*Point added for having best rock-and-roll name of all time.