We lost two great American artists today, Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich. It’s odd, isn’t it, how chance sometimes brackets two dissimilar lives like this, leading us to ponder each of their legacies in light of the other’s: the revolutionary banjo player and the radical feminist poet, he perhaps more influential in his field than she in hers, but not by much. I’ll let others write the tributes, but I do want to pause for a moment and remember.
And here’s another odd thing: when poets and musicians die, it changes the way we hear their work somehow. The recordings are suddenly colored by our awareness of the fact that there will be no more from them, and what we have is all we’ll get. Such recordings are part of history now in a way they weren’t before, even if they had already been hugely influential. Which is to say, I suppose, that they gain a mythic dimension, since now they connect us to the dead, whose voices or instruments remain as bridges between being and nothingness. Whatever else one may find when diving into a wreck, I think the sound recording is the eeriest of all artifacts, the ultimate in evanescence made nearly permanent.