I write this column with difficulty, for my heart is heavy, and my mind distracted. This week has been nothing short of a tragedy for the music world.
Two legends have been taken from us, just seven days apart, and we are all reeling. It’s impossible to reflect on the combined loss the death of these two legends from such vastly different spectrums of music has caused.
Michael Jackson’s death on Thursday night has caused the kind of worldwide shock and paralysis I haven’t seen since when Princess Diana died when I was sixteen years old. There’s hardly a single person in the world with access to a radio or television that hasn’t been impacted by his presence in music over the last forty years. What child of the 80s didn’t attempt the moonwalk? What lady wasn’t charmed by the adorable, youngest member of The Jackson 5? What would pop music sound like without Thriller having been released? Would MTV have survived without “Billy Jean” taking the world by storm?
Whatever tragedies and speculation unfolded in the media in later years, nothing can change the fact that Michael was one of the most influential artists pop culture has ever known.
Last week, the great sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan passed away. As a classical Indian musician I was obviously deeply
affected by his passing. But it runs deeper than that. From way back in the 1930s, my father and he were guru-bhais, studying music together under Khansahib’s father, the legendary Baba Allaudin Khan. For many years they were brothers-in-law through my father’s first marriage. Together, they pioneered a method of playing classical duets that had never been seen before, and has been widely imitated ever since. In many ways, my father and he were considered the twin pillars of the Maihar gharana of music, and they were only two years apart in age. So as you can imagine, Khansahib’s death has hit my father very hard, and I have been affected in turn. I flew to San Francisco over the weekend to be at Khansahib’s funeral, and while it was a beautiful service, and I was grateful to be present, it was also incredibly sad.
Then, four days after returning, this tragic news! How can it be? The truth is, although I’m sad, I’m also trying to find it in myself to be glad for both these men. In the last few years of his life, Khansahib suffered a lot from his physical ailments. And though at the young age of 50, Michael’s death came as a shock to us all, I think we all have an idea of the ways in which he suffered emotionally at the end of his life. All we can do is feel glad that they’re both now at peace, and feel grateful that we were alive in their time, to benefit from their genius and experience their glorious music. In loving tribute.