^ In light of his Billboard performance, Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video seems oddly prophetic.Look, I get it. There are so many musicians out there who I admire and love and would have fought tooth and nail for the opportunity to see live. From the likes of George Harrison to Peter Steele, it pains me a little that I’ll never get to see those charismatic musicians do their thing in the flesh. But I’ve made my peace with it, as have countless other music fans. Music at its best is the expression of an individual or a group and it seems a little wrong for that creativity to be reproduced without them. Unfortunately, death is part of the process of life.
Disturbingly, a trend over the last few years has seen the dead perform live; not necromanced from their graves with rotted flesh and evil intent a la a Stephen King novel (I still have nightmares about reading 'Pet Sematary'), but rather poorly formed as digital zombies where the only element of decay is that of musical integrity. It started with Tupac, who grotesquely appeared like a rejected character model from a low budget video game, and it’s now happened with Michael Jackson, looking more artificially shiny than ever.
Of course, it’s most likely a ploy to tie in with the deceased King of Pop’s upcoming Xscape. But posthumous releases are one thing – I can understand releasing and even completing unfinished recordings, so that a musician lives on in some recorded form (even if it is sometimes done with all the grace and tact of a hippo attempting ballet). Bringing people back as holograms for a live show though? Do you know what that says to me? That says people are expendable and replaceable; that their creative contributions to the world, their performances, their personality and any sense of personal autonomy and agency are secondary to the whims of the entertainment industry and making a cheap buck; that once you die, your image, your very being and your persona can be whittled down to a video projection and rolled out on stage like some kind of twisted parlour performance; that you’ll live on as nothing more than an artificial visual, with the memory of you shaped by nothing but the decisions of faceless businesses.
Where does this kind of thing stop though? Alice Cooper, probably one of the all-time greatest rock acts in my eyes (...ears?), tours the world frequently and, at the ripe old age of 65, is showing no signs of stopping. His shows are amongst the most entertaining things I’ve ever experienced. Yes, of course I pine to have seen the original AC band in their ‘70s prime, but it’s still amazing to witness the man who came through it all and is still absolutely smashing it. And yet, a few years ago, a hologram performance of the original Alice Cooper group was put on at Battersea Power Station. Of course, original guitarist Glen Buxton has long passed away, but every other person in that group was still alive. Sure, a reunion wasn’t really on the cards, but there was something utterly macabre about the virtually created spectres of their youth putting on a live performance. Crucially, half the point of the classic Alice Cooper show was the unruly atmosphere and animosity of performance; the scathing interaction between the villainous band and the audience. That would be utterly lost by having the show delivered by glorified projections. Replicating anyone’s performance, dead or alive, completely destroys the live element. Nothing is down to chance, everything is predetermined and fixed. And without that, what’s the point?
It's beyond simply dwelling on the past – it’s fetishising it for profit and, moreover in the case of the deceased, it’s theft of identities once held by corporeal beings. You can’t simply make a hologram of someone and call that 'live' - the performance always lies in the individual, it varies depending on external factors on the night and, more than anything, it’s a representation of that human being at that very moment. It’s not video footage and CG trickery slapped together for an awards show.
Death is not something I'm too frightened by. But one thing that does grip me with terror is the idea of someone misrepresenting me or speaking on my behalf when I'm unable to do so myself. And if I, someone who runs relatively little risk of anyone misrepresenting them in the public eye following their death, am irked by that, I can't imagine how dead musicians would feel if they knew that one day their corpses will be reanimated by a collective of digital-savvy Frankensteins, all in the interest of trying to find a way to fill the gaps between ad breaks.