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Sunday, 28 January 2018

Farewell icons of my youthful days

In the world of the arts, some artists matter to us more than others, we recognise their talents, we love, admire, appreciate their work. They enlighten us; they disturb us. Sometimes we simply just know they  have a specialness. Three significant artists passed away last week.

First, Hugh Masekela. His jazz was a sound track for the struggle against apartide. That vile system finally toppled in the early 90s when Mandela finally walked to freedom. His work can challenge but it's rhythmic and sinuous. I listened to some of his music on YouTube and was astonished by its power and complexity but soon found his more commercial 80s hit that I boogied to back then: Don't go Lose it Baby. Obituaries gave the impression of a restless, driven man but one who had reconciled himself to death. Three score years and ten plus a bit more. What more can we ask for?

Next, Ursula Le Guinn, whose marvellous, generous, wise stories made me look at the world through different eyes and changed how I thought about it. A long life, well lived: her work a wonderful distillation of ideas and humanity.

Lastly, Mark E Smith. The kind of alcohol fuelled and drugged out geezer and genius you only find in the North of England. Worn out at 60. Leaving a legacy of strange twisted brilliance on vinyl and MP3. A formidable post punk force who spoke to many of my contemporaries. A little too much for me, if I'm honest, though at 21 I danced away to his spitting, snarling, hypnotic vocals and his band's  insistent, swirling, grinding din. One of about six people; everyone else had run off to the bar. Over the years he built a loyal following. One of my colleagues had followed him since he was 15 and had bought every Fall album - and there were many. On Twitter, writer Susan Hill expressed her confusion at not knowing who he was. Was he  pop star? I replied, explaining he was as far from ABBA as South Dakota is from the sea.

Time for bed. I think I will hunt out my collection of Ursula Le Guin's short stories and allow myself to reflect on how the best fantasy is a mirror to reality. I think she was an anthropologist. Her imagined societies are rich and unusual but always believable and never clich├ęd. I wonder what she would have made of Mark E Smith?

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