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Not With The Band: My Problem With Posthumous Music


I have always had a mixed feeling about posthumous releases. As much as I want to hear any work from an artist I like, even after his/her death, it is a strange idea to release material once this person is dead. It can easily turn into total exploitation, or a corpse eating party. Look at what happened to rappers like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., even lyrics taken out of context were turned into songs by disgusting money-sucker producers! The last in date is Michael Jackson, as it was announced that the Michael Jackson estate is plotting up to eight albums,… eight albums? They are totally out of their mind I guess, but they are totally proving that Jackson is worth more now that he is dead than when he was alive, ‘He has earned $600 million since his death which makes him the highest-grossing dead star’ according to Metro UK, and this is so disturbing.

How do we know Jackson wanted all this material to be released? And worst, how do we know it is really his material? There is a new conspiracy out there, as a fan is now suing the estate because she claims that Michael Jackson is not singing on all the tracks on his 2010 posthumous album! According to Fashion Times, Vera Serova has filed a class action suit in a Los Angeles court in California Thursday, June 12th, as she claims the lead vocals on ‘Breaking News’, ‘Monster’, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ are not those of the singer, after hiring an audio expert to analyze the CD she bought in 2011. She has filed a reputed class action suit, which means that, if she wins, the estate will have to pay everyone who bought the album! Jackson’s daughter Paris allegedly claimed the voice was not that of her dad, and she even said it was a Jackson impersonator (Jason Malachi) who had replaced her famous father. Sure this guy is very believable as Jackson, and I believe everything is possible.

Otis Redding, Selena, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Tupac, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Notorious BIG, Amy Winehouse, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Nick Drake, Joy Division, Queen, the Beatles, Joe Strummer,… there is probably not a dead musician who hasn’t had a posthumous release. Of course this is nothing new as even Frédéric Chopin’s opuses contain more than 20 posthumous works, or Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ was finished by someone else almost two years after the composer’s death.

I continue to have a problem with posthumous releases and I don’t trust them, they generally do not represent the artists’ intentions, they do not truly reflect his or her work, and I feel so uneasy when it happens to an artist I deeply care about. But there are posthumous releases and posthumous releases, they aren’t all equal on the moral scale, the making of a complete album based on suddenly-found partial lyrics is different from an almost-completed album that someone couldn’t totally finish before a tragic death. The new Michael Jackson releases are the worst, this deep digging in his most obscure demos and these new made-up recordings (with impostors if it is actually the case) is pure necrophilia.

I don’t care much for more Michael Jackson, but to this previous list I should add Elliott Smith of course, who has already had 2 posthumous releases and we should even get more new songs soon with the new movie ‘Heaven Adores You’. Since the time I have been visiting message boards and online communities about Elliott Smith, I have always encountered fans avid of new music and ready to do anything to get it. Demo files have circulated for a long time among these communities, without fans worrying about their provenance. I have downloaded these files too, but I have always felt a bit weird doing so. Do we really need to hear a crappy demo of an unfinished or rejected song? I am not sure. If it’s available, I will listen to it nevertheless, but I don’t want it to be re-mastered, cleaned up or even finished. I am not against some leftover-demos here and there but I want to hear them as they are, I don’t want an official album of these polished demos suddenly transformed into perfect studio recordings.

Overall we should leave the dead alone, there is no genuine reason for a posthumous release as we can’t never be sure the artist would approve it. If it is finished and unreleased material, there is a great chance he/she didn’t want it out, (except if the artist tragically died after almost finishing it). If it is unfinished material, someone else has to finish it and the authenticity is lost. There is often no reason for posthumous release other than money and this is sad. Even though I thrust the Smith estate much more than the Jackson estate, there is something beautiful about not wanting everything from an artist we care about, there is something beautiful about letting his or her art live as it is.

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