Which Texas Musicians Would Get Page 1 New York Times Obits?
Like it or not, death is an inevitable part of the news cycle. A big part of the news cycle, most of the time. Look at Tony Scott, Phyllis Diller and... wait, what time is it now?
Photo by Marc Brubaker Please don't scare us like that, Willie.
Rocks Off is not trying to be flippant at all here, because we had our own brush with the reaper less than a year ago: A heart attack at age 36. Yes, 36. Of anything that can go down on your permanent record, that's certainly not one we expected.
We did not see any kind of bright light, tunnel or angels, or gain any kind of insight into what happens on the other side, but we did gain an immediate and shocking appreciation of just how much we had been taking for granted, and how much of what happened was our own responsibility. All of that ended the second we woke up in the hospital.
One eye-opening byproduct of almost dying is that you get to be an eyewitness to the ripples your death would cause among your family and friends, in your workplace, in your community. It might be heartwarming if it weren't so damned uncomfortable. But then, in a way you simply couldn't before, you start to understand why death is such a big deal... to everyone.
But no one lives in a vacuum, and some deaths cause more ripples than others. In modern American culture, a front-page New York Times obituary is about the biggest status symbol there is, a signal that your life really mattered -- not just to your loved ones, but to the entire world. Even a bylined inside obituary in the national edition is more than most of us will even get.
In April, Arthur Brisbane, the Times' Public Editor, wrote a column that helped to shed some light on how the paper chooses who gets the lofty Times treatment and who doesn't. "Times obituaries go not to the conventionally virtuous but to the famous, the influential, the offbeat and to others whose lives, through writerly intervention, can be alchemized into newsprint literature," he wrote.
He went on to quote the paper's actual obituary editor, Bill McDonald, who said "death is just the news peg... it's the lives that make it interesting." (What a bizarre job "obituary editor" must be, by the way.)
We don't know if it was this past weekend's Willie Nelson health scare that brought it on (we suspect so), but Sunday evening, Hair Balls editor Richard Connelly asked us which Texas musicians we thought would merit a front-page Times obit. We came up with a couple right off the bat; the rest were much harder.
By the Gray Lady's own benchmark, just about every Texas musician who ever drew breath deserves at least an inside obit. Rocks Off decided to rank which ones could get bumped up all the way to the top.