Today marks the day the music died, so in tribute, we’ve selected a few of the grandest last performances of genius, prior to them shuffling off this mortal coil.
The last performance has a sort of enduring romance to it – that last soliloquised epithet before the final curtain. It’s a societal construct that takes a form upon itself, and thusly forgives much, the moment itself gaining greater respect as a mortal footnote to an artist’s catalogue. Our interest in our mortality is well charted, and if that is soundtracked by genius, the final moment of creativity is the highest watermark we all cling to.
Today is a date of historical significance, widely referred to as “The day the music died”, as on February 3, 1959, a plane crash robbed the world of three of its brightest-shining rock and roll performers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson, aka “The Big Bopper”.
Understanding it’s simply not okay to neg out the generally “posi vibez” (hah!) of TBS Towers, what else are we to do? Well, we let our morbid curiosity bolster our spirits in some twisted way and looked back at the final performances of some of our most beloved and most missed of musicians passed.
Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1977)
I’m quite preoccupied with the final form of Elvis. A man who became his obsessions. Be it drugs, booze or…sandwich…the cuts that fell him were numerous, and entirely relatable. Well, as relatable as one could be to a man whose bathroom (and later plinth) had a galaxy of colour televisions (another personal goal o’ mine). Nevertheless, Elvis squeezing himself into whatever his Vegas look was supposed to be one last time in 1977 strikes a deep rockabilly chord with me, because it was the humanisation of the King. After all, if we’re honest, we’re all a lot more “Fat Elvis” in our daily lives than the “Elvis who raised the pulse of a nation with a twitch of his hips” way back when in ’56. Lordy.
So, we come to 1977, the final curtain.
Voice gone, memory faded, tears running down his vast cheek as he attempts to mask his painful truth with haphazard humour (3:11). The audience laughs with him, but it seems to be that laugh you offer when you’ve just witnessed someone being taken by a train. An impulse, because you’re unsure what to do.
Nevertheless, it serves as an elegant bookend to his career.
Brutal. Enduring. Endearing.
Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma (2006)
Onto another astronomically talented, stout gentleman with habits of the flesh and a voice that could spin this complex watery orb off its pointless axis. I speak of the man known as “The Maestro”. Also “Luciano”. A tower of brilliance, Luciano Pavarotti had a marvellous gift of endless passion, which enabled him to turn music that you couldn’t understand into collectively agreed genius. Example: Funiculi Funicula is about riding a train up a mountain; Recitar! is about murdering your unfaithful wife; ‘O Sole Mio is about the sun.
Now, as harsh as it may be to say…Pavarotti was, kind of, merely a bloke who did covers. But, his power hurtled a prosaic ditty from 1898 into our numb clueless faces. He made us understand that we didn’t need to understand music. And he made opera trendy. Pazzo.
Which brings me neatly to his last performance, serving as one last career upstage, this time to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, when beyond everything, battling that prick of a disease, he climbed into his vast chest, and for the final time…Nessun Dorma.
Gah. My stupid heart. Incidentally, it is rumoured that Luciano was too ill to perform the aria live, so yes, it’s possibly a lip sync. But, voice or no, the power remains, the passion evaporating off his impossibly broad shoulders, scattering into the violently glacial air above Turin. I view this video as Luciano’s funeral. He would quietly go a year later, at home in Modena, but for Lucianone, he’d prefer to do the opposite – the look upon his face at 2:26 gave it away for me; breaking character, gazing upon the final audience prior to that final stanza.
If it’s a lip sync, it’s the most moving fake I’ve ever seen, the goosebumps are real. The mark, and conclusion of a great performer.
That’s how you do it, Mariah.
Freddie Mercury – The Show Must Go On (1991)
A digestif of a story, superbly dripped in the treacle of irony, finished by the chocolate dusting of enduring anecdote. In 1991, our Fred was sadly tentacled by the complications of a virus that had ran long and unchecked through his elastic, fading body. The bombastic, strutting, moustachioed demigod of Wembley was no more; in his place, the remnants of lasting memory and desperately clinging tissue. This most epic of epic Queen tracks was written by Mercury’s band-bae, guitarist Brian May, as a tribute to Mercury who chose to battle the disease by continuing to perform. When it came time to record the track, May humbly approached the ailing frontman saying “Fred, I don’t know if this is going to be possible to sing”. Mercury, vodka in hand, responded, “I’ll fucking do it, darling”, and left us with this:
He was gone a month later.