Making Sense Of Dame Joan’s Passing

Dame Joan Sutherland is dead and I have nothing sensible to say about it. Except that she was old – not very, but 83 can’t be construed as young or even middle aged – and that she had been sick for some time. It’s a shame and I do love the Opera and a great exponent of the soprano’s art is no longer with us. But that’s it. It’s over.

Sounds harsh, but I suppose that’s what life is about. (This from an alleged man who wept when pet companions were Euthenased.) We move on. We don’t wallow.

Oh, but we do wallow, though, do we not? Joan hasn’t performed publicly since she retired in 1990 – that’s twenty years – and still there will be people who say they miss her. I suppose they miss the idea of her. They miss the way they felt when they heard her sing. And they possibly even mean that they miss the time in their life when they enjoyed listening to her as a current performing star, and maybe seeing her live, for we all feel a bit like we’ve been abandoned by our former selves and forced to hang out with this wheezy, uncool, rather dull individual who is our not so young self, and the comparison between hip and not hip at all versions of ourselves is a very stark one indeed. I think, just quietly, that it’s also inaccurate. To some degree, anyway, we romanticise youth: ours, other people’s, the concept in general. And this isn’t a good thing. For we were pimplier, and less cocksure, and we did not swagger everywhere, and we did not woo quite so many romantic conquests as we tell ourselves, and we were not as close to selection for the Australian cricket team as we tell ourselves, and we were probably a lot further away from a successful career as a rock star than we now think we were then. We were unsure in many ways. Self-conscious. Unhappy. We ate poorly and were perhaps frequently hungry or forced to deny ourselves luxuries (like food that wasn’t on special at the supermarket, in a bid to save money), which were often actually necessaries. We were poor.

Perhaps some of those remembering Joan weren’t poor. They are recalling the time heaps of their fat rich prick mates came onboard their fuck off big yacht and Joan Sutherland was there too. Joan won’t be attending another party of this sort now, as she’s gone, and so is the boat, and the friends are all in gaol or dead.

It is strange that we feel we know someone when we have never met them, and in a way have no right to mourn their loss. This has been a deeply unsettling experience for me in a historic sense, when, doing research, someone dies, and you think something like: “Oh!” and feel a little bit sad. And then you think that everyone you have been reading about is dead, they were all deceased before you started reading and they will be dead when you finish. They would be dead if you had never read about them at all. But we feel like we call them into existence, in an almost mystical way, and in that sense they have lived again, right before us as we read or heard the story, and their death occurs all over again, in a concrete, immediate, and grave manner. Right now. In all its sadness.

So perhaps those mourning La Stupenda’s passing have somehow called her spirit into existence, fastforwarded through her professional life, and then been virtual mourners at the passing of her spirit. In this sense it would be ungentlemanly to not acknowledge that it is as if she lived and died again, all in one go, and people have every right to feel a sort of grief. And perhaps I do now, as well.

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Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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