Are you not entertained?
I wasn’t shocked when I heard he had died. I can’t say it didn’t floor me, because it did, but it was one of those slow-motion punches you see coming, filling your vision, that you are powerless to avoid. Doesn’t stop the impact of it, but at the same time, you can’t say you weren’t expecting it.
You could see it coming from sometime between the second and third albums, from sometime between the bracing cynicism and contempt of that baby swimming after that dollar on a hook becoming lacerating, self-loathing, corrosive, fully nilistic. You could see it in performances people described as raw, and anguished, as a howl, as pain. You could see it coming.
Some of us – myself included – turned away. That third album was too much for me (see also: The Holy Bible, the same beast, the same sense of a car crash in slow-motion). But I understand those who continued watching. I had the same pangs. I have the same stirrings as I listen to him howl his way through “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” on the Unplugged album. A sick fascination for watching a man working out his demons under a spotlight. Or trying, and failing, to work out his demons.
At what point do we – and I mean all of us, all the time, not just in certain circumstances, not just with certain artists, but all of us, all of the time – at what point do we admit our collusion as a culture in the endless stream of celebrities fucking themselves up for us, on camera, in print, on stage? At what point will our culture back away from the freakshow and admit we’ve become like visitors to Bedlam, poking the inmates with a stick for shits and giggles?