Thursday, February 8, 2007

Anna Nicole, Phil Ochs and A. E. Housman

It's always sad when an athlete or movie star or rock star or any kind of celebrity dies in his or her prime. Potentials cut short. Promises unfufilled.

Phil Ochs, a folksinger and singwriter as great as Dylan, in my view, offered the disquieting thought that we the public might derive some satisfaction from the fall of a glamorous, powerful public figure. In his 1960s masterpiece, "The Crucifixion," Ochs said we build people up to stardom, in part for the weird pleasure of seeing them fall. He was talking most about John F. Kennedy, but he also had Marilyn on his mind.

Anna Nicole Smith was no Marilyn Monroe, any more than Madonna or any modern aspirants to her throne. But Anna captured our interest - her reality show and her life became increasingly difficult to distinguish.

And all-news stations are running nonstop with her death tonight, as Ochs might have predicted.

But there's another wordsmith whose observations may have some pertinence to today's events. The poet A. E. Housman, writing early last century, "To An Athlete Dying Young":

"Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears"

Helpful links:

The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman

There but for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs by Michael Schumacher

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