27. Bravery in singers

Posted on 08/02/2017


27. Bravery in singers

It is worth considering this topic: bravery. Most people would see successful singers as pretty lucky and not consider the extent to which some of them have to go through great pain to achieve their success. I am sure some have died on stage: Edith Piaf certainly said she wished to, but did not manage it.

The man credited as the founder of Country Music: Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, had suffered from tuberculosis (in the 1920’s an incurable killer) for some years before he became famous. But he did b become famous and soldiered on singing and recording till his death. He died aged 35 in 1933 and had been performing for only 6 years before his death.

Rodgers famous songs included Waiting for a Train, Blue Yodel (T for Texas) and several others still sung. But his TB Blues is the one I want to mention here. I heard it as a child in a version by Ramblin Jack Elliot. It contains the following lines:

”cause my body rattles/like a train on that old S/P./

I’ve got the TB blues/..I can’t eat a bite…/

I’ve been fightin’ like a lion/looks like I’m going to lose/

Some say tonic is fine/I take good whisky for mine/

There’s a grim humour in his words. He carried on singing and recording till he dropped, to try to leave his wife and young family with some money to keep them going. Quietly heroic.

Also heroic was Kathleen Ferrier, famous for her singing of ‘Blow the wind southerly’. She died at the age of 41 after a fall on stage brought on by bone cancer: she showed no sign of the pain as she left the stage after breaking her hip.

‘Hit me with your rhythm stick’ was made famous by Ian Dury and the Blockheads in the late 1970’s. The song is sexually allusive and amusing. Dury himself suffered from polio as a child and was substantially disabled. He wrote a song called ‘Spasticus Autiscus’ to deride a ‘Year of the Disabled’, shows lyrics include:

‘So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin
          And thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in
          So long have I been languished on the shelf
          I must give all proceedings to myself’

The French singer Alain Bashung carried on singing with terminal cancer until his death in 2009. He said that it was better than sitting at home watching TV, once he had been diagnosed as terminally ill. Indeed he said that the enthusiastic and loving reception he received at concerts made him feel almost immortal. He carried on performing until a few weeks before his death, like Dury. David Bowie issued an album on the weekend he died, in a bravura display of bravery (he had just recorded it). Both Bashung and Dury, though carried on performing until only a few weeks before their deaths. Bravery in keeping going in all those cases.


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