I’ve had the good fortune to see B.B. King play on two occasions. He was a showman – not just a musician, but an entertainer. A true master of his craft. At both shows, he told stories, engaged the audience, led his band, and played just the right notes at just the right time and in just the right amount. B.B. owned the patent on minimalism in the blues as far as I’m concerned.
I liked B.B. King and his music, I always have. I’m sad that he’s gone and I won’t have the chance to see him perform again, but here’s the thing – his music didn’t change my life, and I won’t pretend that it did. He isn’t the reason that I picked up a guitar, or like the blues, or value showmanship. He did all of those things incredibly well, but it didn’t alter my development as a musician or change the course of my life.
Every nook and cranny of social media is currently packed to the gills with people faux-grieving the King of the Blues. Not that this is surprising – when any famous person dies, the bandwagoners come out in droves. People making it known how legitimately awful their life will be without a living B.B. King walking the earth. People musing about how B.B. King was responsible for their musical taste or development. Or maybe he gave them the ability to hear at all, or cured their blindness, or polio, or whatever.
These people also can’t name more than two songs by B.B. King, and can’t recall the last time they purposefully listened to him. They are jumping on the bandwagon to feel cool and garner attention, to be part of the conversation. Vultures circling popular culture, waiting to feast on any corpse that shows up.
It has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion when I jump onto this particular soapbox (which happens at least every time a famous person dies) that some of these posts are genuine emotion from people who actually cared about the person in question and/or their work. I realize that, but these are hidden in an avalanche of half-hearted grabs at attention.
B.B. King mattered to me, but I won’t sully his name by pretending that I am under emotional duress because of his passing. He was one of the greats, and I will fondly remember the times I saw him perform. That’s my experience in a nutshell – he wasn’t my friend or a member of my family, he was a talented musician who I am fortunate to have seen. But I don’t grieve for him. My life isn’t in shambles. I’m just kind of bummed that he died.
I think that’s my issue with the disingenuous bandwagon fans – it takes away from the person’s work and life. Some folks are actually saddened by that person’s death, and shallow, insecure people steal this emotion in a moment of opportunistic self-importance.
The Office took a jab at this sort of behavior in one of the later seasons, in which Ryan bemoans the death of Smokey Robinson. He begins to backpedal as soon as people start questioning his knowledge of Robinson’s music and it snowballs from there. Ryan didn’t care about Smokey Robinson, he just wanted to feel important because the death of a musician could have such an impact on him. I think of this clip every time a famous musician dies, because a lot of the social media grief is the same sort of insincere.
I could not sequester my snark, and posted ‘Cue the BB King bandwagoners’ on Facebook this morning. The first response indicated that the greats deserve bandwagoners when they die, but that’s not true at all. The greats deserve a new generation of fans to discover their music through their death, not pretenders that are using it as an opportunity to gain attention.
Of course, I suppose that’s what I’m doing right now…
We are all snowflakes in some way or another. And so it goes.