When I got word about the death of Motown pianist Joe Hunter over the weekend, I really wanted to pull out my copy of Standing in the Shadows of Motown and watch the film again. If you've seen the film, Hunter is one of the most prominently displayed musicians and he shares plenty of great stories. But I got to wondering about something I've wondered about for years: why do we feel compelled to immediately buy (or dust off) something by an artist when he/she passes away?
I distinctly remember wanting to pick up whatever Nirvana records I didn't already own when I heard about Kurt Cobain's death. When people like Jerry Garcia and John Denver died, copies of their CDs (which were collecting dust on the shelf) flew out of record stores. It's like death is great publicity. Still, why the sudden urge?
When it comes to grieving about friends and family passing away, I usually think about the memories I have of them. I don't feel really compelled to look at documents like home movies or pictures right away. I think about what these people meant to me and still mean to me. Yet when it comes to somebody I've only really known through records, live performances or movies, I revert back to the source. It's like death serves as a reason why to celebrate the documentation of these people. And I'm not knocking this.
I guess I could chalk this up to the relationships I have with friends and family over a musician or an actor. I didn't know Joe Hunter as someone I sat on the family couch and played cards with. I only really knew him via a documentary I've cherished for years and the Q&A I sat in on after the film screened at the Deep Ellum film festival. Is this just a natural way of grieving for people we knew more through music or film rather than personally?