“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Benjamin Franklin, 1789
As one grows ever older one has to face the reality that more and more of the people we look up to, admire, love and cherish are going to depart this funny old world. Not that it really matters, but some of these fellow humans we may not have even met, let alone knew on a personal level.
More idols than realities? No, probably about 50/50, actually.
When loss is all around us it’s inevitable we start contemplating our own mortality. Ah, but if we start contemplating our own mortality – so this traditional wisdom goes – we’ll become anxious and depressed. Well, maybe not.
We all have to face it at some point; an event of such enormity that it can make everything else in our lives seem insignificant: death, the end of our existence; our departure from this world.
We live in a culture that denies death. We’re taught that death is something we should shy away from, and try to forget about. But should we care about the only inevitable consequence of our life other than ageing? Should we care about how others remember us?
Unlike, say, a confirmed control freak like David Bowie, who, once he reached 50, became pathologically obsessed with how he would be remembered, Freddie Mercury, his erstwhile Under Pressure duet partner, appeared refreshingly unconcerned with how his legacy would be preserved for future generations, exclaiming with a flick of the wrist, “I don’t give a fuck, dear. I won’t be around to worry about it.”
Sadly, Mercury never got to experience life as a fifty-something.
Neither did Keith Flint.
In a world of relentlessly advancing rates of cancer and thankfully declining HIV and AIDS, it’s a pretty distressing statistic to discover that the most common cause of death in men under 50 is suicide.
Flint, the snarling beguiling face of The Prodigy was 49, the same age as me and born less than three months apart, he in outer London, me slap bang in the centre.
That this was a man, hugely successful in his chosen field, just a few months away from his half-century, and, alas, someone who seemingly lost his battle with depression and possibly wider mental health issues, fills me with abject horror.
Why do these things happen?
Why are they allowed to happen?
As ever, John Lydon, visibly emotional at the death of a friend, absolutely hit the nail on the head: “What you got to understand is we are not looking after each other anymore.”
As societies and families and human interactions get ever more fragmented and displaced out of real time, it feels like the problem is only going to get worse. Loneliness in a ‘free’ society? It’s a killer.
Whatever deep self-loathing Keith was going through, whatever issues he had with himself, I can safely say I know from painful experience that relationships are usually only a temporary salvation. They’re a distraction, an aberration. A little sunlight piercing through those fluffy clouds. And once that person realises the shiny and new partner isn’t the cure to all their ills, the pairing falters and they’re at rock bottom, with new to no light at the end of that long and gloomy tunnel.
Personally, isn’t it telling that I’ve not known of a single female of the species that has died of a drug overdose or by their own hand. Some would say the former is the latter, but we’re not here to judge.
As I wrote when my dear friend Jarad Higgins left us last October, if I’m honest, I’m more than a little angry these men have left us. Not at them per se, but at the people that failed them, the family, the so-called friends, the stupid medical doctors and the whole evil big business pharmaceutical industry. Doctors, Psychiatrists, Therapists…It’s all text book crap with them… Yes they can offer advice, dish out medication – lots of medication – listen to what you have to say (or pretend to listen to what you have to say) but they don’t actually understand how hard it often is.
Being cursed with an addictive self-destructive personality isn’t kept under control by endless pills. Flint obviously used his wild man of music persona and the substance abuse that often goes hand-in-hand, as a release, an escape from the humdrum of a ‘regular’ life.
We are all different, We have our own wildly differing personal stories but we’re often in the same war with our minds. Please, for their sake, don’t let your thoughts or your demons win. Breathe with me.
Keep fighting, do what you have to do but do not ever give up. Don’t ever be afraid to talk to someone… a friend, family member, or even a complete stranger that you know has an empathetic pair of ears.
On a musical side-note: like a hefty chunk of pop purveyors, I loved the throbbing electro-dance-rock fission of the Prodigy during their Fat of the Land period in the mid 1990s; a pulsating, pile-driving high-octane highpoint when artistic and commercial fortunes collided to devastating effect. I met Flint and Maxim very briefly when they came off stage at the Phoenix Festival near Stratford upon Avon, effectively playing a Thursday night support slot to Bowie…and in terms of conversation barely coherent, if I’m honest. Pleasant but distracted.
Phoenix was an English alternative to Glastonbury, and though it was ultimately short-lived, the band’s performance that day remains a timeless favourite. Flint and the boys whip a wild frenzy under the midday sun with stellar performances of yet-unreleased Breathe and the recent incendiary Art of Noise-quoting chart-topper, Firestarter. Watch as Flint and Maxim scream back-to-back around the seven-minute mark and wonder why we don’t have rock stars like this anymore. A quick look through the YouTube comments section of this video, and you’ll see ravers of all ages claiming it as one of the absolute best sets they’ve ever witnessed. Anyway, don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.
But The Dame was so impressed by them he pilfered their entire sound and vision – galloping breakbeat aggression, savage neon-spiked coloured hairdo – the whole shebang. Hmm, now that’s what I call a tribute. Rest in peace Keith, you little Firestarter, you.
Postscript: I caught the band again when they headlined one of a series of shows staged outside Battersea Power Station in December 1997 (Prodigy were exhilarating, Morrissey just pain frustrating). Just last month I had grand plans to catch them when they came to Sydney, but, amazingly, no one I knew wanted to go, so I missed what turned out to be Flint’s penultimate performance. The No Tourists tour ended three nights later on February 5 in Auckland, New Zealand, which, freakily, happens to be where I’m writing this, exactly a month later.
Remembering Jarad Higgins is here
Suicide Prevention Day is here
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, he or she should not be left alone. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] In the USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides free, confidential support for people in crisis or emotional distress, 24/7 year-round. The Lifeline also offers an online chat for people who prefer to reach out online rather than by phone. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Peace.