Is it possible that a full year has already passed since the death of BBC disc jockey John Peel? Or that twelve years have now passed since the death of Vincent Price? True on both counts, as hard as that may be to believe.
Being American, I didn't grow up listening to John Peel of course, but I've been able to collect a number of his broadcasts from different eras and have the greatest respect for what he achieved. Music needs an outlet where it can be judged on its integrity or quality, free of commercial considerations, and Peel gave it this, just as he brought young bands of promise to wider exposure. Nowadays, more than ever, young people need short cuts to what is good and dependable barometers like Peel are harder than ever to come by. Knowing the difference Peel had made in countless careers by virtue of a good and incorruptible ear, I felt terribly moved when I saw, on a broadband video, his coffin being raised and carried out of his memorial service as The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" (his favorite song, and one of mine) was played. And now I can't hear Feargal Sharkey's raspy voice without getting a big lump in my throat. (BTW, if you love rock or pop music and don't own a copy of The Very Best of The Undertones, it's money bloody well spent.) The great concern that is raised by the passing of a giant like Peel is "Who will carry the torch for him now?" -- or does the privilege and position that he carved out for himself vanish along with him? I don't know what the BBC has been doing to fill his void, if anything, but I hope someone there can come to fill his void eventually... it's not a mantle to be earned overnight.
Vincent Price's death touched me even more directly because we had been in communication in the months just prior to it. Because I had written an essay called "The Importance of Being Vincent" for the 11th issue of Video Watchdog, which Vincent had liked, I was invited to participate in a 1993 segment of A&E's BIOGRAPHY that was being dedicated to his life and career -- as was my friend and colleague David Del Valle, in whose apartment we taped our on-camera interviews. Vincent, who had sent a very sweet handwritten acknowledgement of our special issue dedicated to his career, got to see the program before it was aired and sent me another personal thank you note on a card adorned with a water color of a manatee. As it happens, he passed away just a few days before the program aired -- making those of us who were involved all the more grateful he had seen it early. The program received some criticism for focusing solely on Price's horror career, notably from Price's biographer (and my chum) Lucy Chase Williams, but the show had been designed with a Halloween week broadcast date in mind. At any rate, it was eventually withdrawn from broadcast (because some clips had not been properly licensed, as I understand it) and replaced with a more all-encompassing career overview featuring Lucy and others. I like both shows and don't think one is particularly better than the other, but I do think the one David and I did together is more fun... plus it gave us boasting rights to say that we had co-starred in something with Diana Rigg, Roddy McDowall, Joanna Gleason (who told some wonderful stories), John Waters, Joan Rivers, and of course, Vincent. I'm sorry there's no way for people to see it anymore.
It's never a pleasure to eulogize people, but there is satisfaction in encapsulating the life of someone you admire, respect or love in a way that you feel captures their arc and essence. I've asked myself why this is so, and I think it has something to do with appreciating when we are privileged to see someone else's life whole, as it were. After all, books and movies have spoiled us into thinking that we're entitled to proper endings, whether they are happy or tragic or merely sad or non-committal. In fact, we have no birthright to proper endings. We may well exit this world without knowing how our own stories end -- or those of our significant others, should we predecease them. And therein lies the satisfaction and reassurance of a well-turned eulogy: it's evidence that a life well-lived can have the power and impact and design of art. And where there is Art, there is usually an Artist.
Both of these gentlemen led such lives, and ours were made all the richer by their endeavor.