Meet The What-Ifs

A guy over on one of the lists I sub to has raised the “what-if” question, which rolls around periodically in every music-related discussion group in the world: “What if X hadn’t died?”

I’ve always heard these what-ifs and regarded them suspiciously. We just have too many examples of people who have gone to hell as their careers “matured.” Elton John is the greatest, best example in the Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen pantheon, but he’s hardly the only one.

Let’s look at an example. We always love to wonder what Hendrix would have done had he lived. So what if, on September 18, 1970, Hendrix had lived and another artist had died instead. Say maybe a brilliant young blues rock singer who had, at that point, just released his second solo record – a 5-star wonder that followed a solid 4.5-star debut from the previous year. These came after he’d fronted 4.5- and 5-star efforts from The Jeff Beck Group and a fantastic 4-star (at least) debut for The Faces.

That’s something like five records in three years, and the worst in the pack was at least worth four stars.

So, what if Jimi had lived but Rod Stewart had died that day? What kind of mythology would we have constructed around him? How many what-if debates would his legend dominate?

For all we know Jimi would be doing duet records featuring Rob Thomas and Nelly or playing the pan flute in Celine Dion’s band in Vegas right now. Probably not, but how many people predicted Rod’s current 25 year-long nonstop Frustrated Housewives Tour back in 1970?

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3 thoughts on “Meet The What-Ifs

  1. Lester Bangs “interviewed” Hendrix five years after Jimi’s death. The piece addressed a lot of those questions.
    In the early ’70s, with Faces, Rod Stewart was one of the true stalwarts of rock: a hard-partying showman with one of the best sets of pipes ever to adorn a rock-‘n’-roll record. I suspect we’d be talking about him today much in the same way Janis is spoken of.

  2. That’s actually an ever better parallel than Jimi, I guess. You’d be flogged for heresy if you were to suggest that Janis would be doing Divas specials right now, but seriously, how can we begin to say otherwise? She could be Streisand…

  3. A “what if” question on my mind recently, as I just finished a bio of Keith Moon: What if Keith Moon hadn’t died? The Who pretty much ended when he died, since they had one hit in ’81 (“You Better You Bet”) and then all but faded away. Then again, they weren’t really doing much at the time of his death either. “Who Are You” was basically a Townsend solo project.
    Oh, and even if Janis were doing “Divas” concerts, I would still think she’s fabulous.

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