Pondering precious contributions from a late legend
BY JOHN COLLINGE
An endearing modesty belied Keith Emerson’s iconic stature as the man who 50 years ago virtually invented progressive rock behind a keyboard. He earnestly emphasized performance over personage, even in outlandish stage attire or while theatrically throttling his storied Hammond L100 at knifepoint. Offstage he was unassuming—just a regular guy with exceptional ability who made extraordinary music.
Oddly enough, my interviews with Keith seemed to fall short of their potential. He seldom volunteered much beyond basic answers to the most provocative queries and wasn’t terribly eloquent. That surprised and frustrated me, because maestros presumably are elite intellects with plenty to say. Moreover, everyone knows that progressive rock royalty is obliged by unwritten law to wittily pontificate on everything from odd meters to the price of vegetables. “But you are Keith Emerson, King of Electronic Ivories! Regale us with your wisdom, damn you!” Nah. He rather would chat offhand in the rear of the tour bus while picking distractedly through his shave kit.
It’s hard to believe he is gone. Even harder to believe he took his own life, at home near Los Angeles.
With a gun. on Mar. 10, 2016, at age 71, 11 months before he was scheduled to greet adoring fans at sea on prog-rock’s annual Cruise to the Edge.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed suicide as cause of death also listing “heart disease, depression-chronic,” and “alcohol” in Emerson’s case summary (toxicology results are pending). I read the news in disbelief three times before it sank in. It made no sense. It never does when somebody so gifted passes on too early, too suddenly, especially by one’s own hand. The reporter in me wanted to know exactly why this happened. The fan in me hoped not to dwell on it.
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Illustration by Cynthia Blair
Cynthia Blair is a freelance artist and designer
working with the Music Heritage Museum in England,
to preserve the legacy of British music and musicians.
You can view more of her work at:
www.cynthiablair.com and www.artistcynthiablair.com.