"If the air could speak to us/ Of what it's like to go/ To be a part of everything/ And always in the flow/ What a life would mean/ To you or I/ So easy as she goes by"
Reading of Brittany Murphy's death at 32, reportedly surrounded by multiple bottles of legal prescription drugs, I thought back to the fall of 1970, sitting in the Yale Commons and reading about the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It was so long ago that I can't even remember who died first, just the numbness I felt and still feel.
As everything is doomed to come around again, we now read that Brittany Murphy was tied to a Joplin biopic in 1999, that was never realized, and that whole new generation of pop culture fans is tweeting each other about Brittany's demise. But a few months ago, it was Michael Jackson, and before that Dash Snow or Heath Ledger. More importantly, there are those who go too soon who are not famous, and, if you live as long as I have, there is a brother, and, just last week, an old girlfriend from the ‘70s.
My father always said that "death is part of life" and indeed, people die every second, and, again, there is John Donne's "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." But, I think there is something more. I think we pay too high a price for our art and our entertainment. That price is the indulgence of the rich and the powerful in funding, branding and determining what is funneled into our eyes and brains. It could be the $300 million blown on a hypertrophied video game called Avatar or the tens of millions spent on the next Hirst or Koons.
Bonnie Fuller, the pixieish editor of US Weekly and other indulgences, recently opined in an interview that women gobble up stories about celebrities because they see their own lives reflected therein. I think that is patronizing, because it is the culture which force-feeds people, unable to filter the stuff away.
I don't want to pick on Mera Rubell, who can be a sweetheart, but she leaves herself wide open in last Sunday's Washington Post, where, in a long feature, she tours the galleries of the oft-ignored art scene in our nation's capital, dispensing bromides and pity, regretting the Darwinian struggle of the mass of unknown artists to keep body and soul and work together. Somehow I have the feeling the struggle would be lot easier without people like her and the cultural pyramid which we shoulder to support the wealthy few.
Trying to please the power players, to compete against other entertainers and to maintain what one has leads to a landscape of Brittany Murphys and the Damien Hirsts who gleefully celebrate that there is no escape. It is not death that we need to escape, folks, but the elites who gnaw at our very bones.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).