“It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope, when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above, say it’s much too late
So, maybe we should all be praying for time…”
George Michael – ‘Praying For Time’
December 27, 2016
This past weekend saw the deaths of singer George Michael and actress/author Carrie Fisher. I was a fan of both. As Princess Leia, Fisher was one of my first big celebrity crushes (along with such other eponymous Seventies starlets as Farrah Fawcett and Olivia Newton-John). More importantly, I have a lot of female friends my age who found inspiration and direction from her example. It’s a similar situation with George Michael. I have a lot of gay friends my age who found strength and inspiration through Michael’s lyrics over the years, and while I am not gay myself, I am a sucker for a good, heartfelt ballad, and his songs always scratched that particular itch for me.
As I’m writing this, 2016 has only four days left on the calendar. It is very possible that another celebrity may die within those four days. Or maybe not. (UPDATE: Debbie Reynolds….) Maybe George Michael and Carrie Fisher (and Debbie Reynolds) will be the last for the year. But here’s the thing…
I think 2016 had a four-day head start.
December 26, 2015, saw the death of Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead fame, a musician considered by many to be the last of the truly great rock stars. Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame, once said of Lemmy:
“We recorded his track in Los Angeles in maybe two takes about a year and a half ago. Until then I’d never met what I’d call a real rock ‘n’ roll hero before. Fuck Elvis and Keith Richards, Lemmy’s the king of rock ‘n’ roll—he told me he never considered Motörhead a metal band, he was quite adamant. Lemmy’s a living, breathing, drinking and snorting fucking legend. No one else comes close.”
Now, why am I mentioning Lemmy’s 2015 death in conjunction with the seemingly abnormal number of celebrities who have died in 2016? Because Lemmy died only four days before 2016 began. I propose that Lemmy’s death was 2016 cracking its knuckles, whispering “Here I come,” and then charging forward with a roar.
And what a roar it was.
The Year That Roared devoured musicians such as David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, Christina Grimmie, Phife Dawg, Keith Emerson, Guy Clarke, Ralph Stanley, Matt Roberts, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and dozens more, including legendary Beatles producer George Martin. It mowed down actors such as Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Chyna, Alan Young, Kenny Baker, Kevin Meaney, Florence Henderson, Robert Vaughn, Alan Thicke, Joseph Mascolo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and again, dozens more. To personalize this a little bit more for Cemetery Dance readers, it also cut a swath through the horror genre, with the passing of Ed Gorman, Robert E. Weinberg, A.R. Morlan, George Clayton Johnson, Angus Scrimm, David Hartwell, Mark Justice, Steve Dillon, Earl Hamner Junior, Frank D. Felitta, Robin Hardy, Gary Reed, Ted V. Mikels, Jon Polito, John Vulich, and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
I knew some of these people personally. Others I only ever knew through their music or films or writings. And a few of them I never knew at all. I heard about most of their deaths while in transit. It seemed like with each passing month and each celebrity death, I’d get a text while either on my way to a signing, during a signing, or on my way to a hotel after a signing. Many times, it was horror novelist Robert “Bob” Ford who tipped me off. I’m not sure why. It started with Prince—a musician for whom both Bob and I share a deep and abiding appreciation and love. I found out about Prince’s death via a text message from Bob. And for the rest of the year, he kept me updated on the passing of other celebrities, as if he were some sort of hippie horror writer storm crow—or perhaps a more fashionably-dressed Gandalf the Grey, sending me grim and gloomy dispatches whilst I wandered this country on some ill-fated quest to reinvigorate my love of this genre, and take the industry’s pulse, and figure out what my place was within it.
A friend of mine wrote something earlier this week. I’m not going to tell you who she is, because she values her privacy, but I want to share one bit of truth. She wrote: “2016 has not been difficult because some celebrity dies. It has been difficult because we all have real life things happening to us.”
That’s a big fucking truth bomb, right there.
2016 roared throughout the first and second legs of The Farewell (But Not Really) Tour. Those roars continued throughout the month of August, when the third and final leg began, but by that point, I barely noticed them any longer. 2016 could roar all it fucking wanted. I had real life things happening to me. I was burned out and broke, behind on deadlines, and trying to crawl my way through a swamp of exhaustion and muster the stamina for four more months of signings and touring. 2016 could take all the celebrities and icons and strangers and friends it wanted. I would deal with those deaths in time.
Because I was still very much trying to deal with the friends 2014 and 2015 had taken from me.
* * *
August 3, 2016
We finished recording the latest installment of my weekly podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, around noon. When my co-host, Dave “Meteornotes” Thomas signaled me that we were out (meaning the microphones were no longer recording), I leaned back in my chair and sighed.
“That was fun,” Dave’s girlfriend, Phoebe (who is also an occasional co-host) said happily. “It’s good to see you two back in the studio again.”
I nodded in agreement. It was good to be recording with Dave. I’d built a recording studio in my home specifically for the podcast, but it hadn’t gotten much usage for most of that summer, due to my tour schedule. Instead, I’d been recording interviews out on the road, and then Dave recorded his segments back at home, and we spliced them together. But now, here we were, reunited.
I sighed again.
Mary, who was also sitting in the studio with us, frowned. “What’s wrong, baby?”
I turned to her. “Are you okay with me telling Dave and Phoebe about what happened to us at the Emporium?”
Mary nodded. “I’m okay with it if you’re okay with it.”
“What happened?” Dave asked. “Did some nut back you into a corner and holler about the ending to The Rising?”
“No.” I shook my head, and waited a moment before continuing. “We think we had…well…an encounter with Jesus.”
Dave and Phoebe looked at us. I gauged their expressions. Both were serious and attentive. I saw no hint of disbelief or disregard. I glanced at Mary and she nodded at me in encouragement.
“Our Jesus?” Dave asked.
I nodded, confirming.
Phoebe leaned forward. “What happened?”
“I think…” I paused, taking a deep breath. Then the words seemed to tumble out of me. “I think he wants to go home. And I need you guys to help me steal his remains.”
To Be Continued…
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.