The day the music died

The day the music died
Mr. Cash - RIP. Photo: DPA
Still looking for that special Christmas gift? Two Berliners have compiled a loving – and often humorous – tribute to famous dead musicians in a novel pocket-sized calendar.

“The Beat Goes On” is a compendium musical of demise that comes in the form of a snappy black daily planner for 2011. Two friends, Milan Tillich and Stefan Hauser, came up with the idea after countless drinking sessions in their flat.

Looking for any excuse to get sauced, the passionate music fans began toasting recently deceased musicians while listening to their records. But far from being macabre affairs, the drinking sessions became the celebration of artists they cherished such as Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash.

“We listened to a lot of music and we drank a lot. We ended up having themed evenings after a few great musicians passed away,” Tillich told The Local this week. “It became a tradition we kept up even after we no longer lived together.”

He eventually put together the first prototype of the dead musician calendar as a gag birthday gift for his friend Hauser.

“It had about fifty names in it, but we soon realized we should do it properly as a book,” he said.

Having published “The Beat Goes On” calendar in German since 2008, the duo have now come up with an English version for 2011. It offers the same touches as the original, such as the “Death of the Week” detailing particularly noteworthy ends and a statistics section breaking down the leading causes of death.

“Mostly it’s just natural causes, but often you can’t help but laugh – some musicians with particularly odd drug deaths or trying to take an electric guitar in the bathtub,” said Tillich, referring to Keith Relf from The Yardbirds.

But Tillich and Hauser also stressed the educational aspect of their undertaking. For example, documenting that Cass Elliot, the corpulent singer from The Mamas & The Papas, did not, in fact, choke to death on a ham sandwich. “It was a heart attack,” explained Tillich.

And Hauser pointed out how the Iron Curtain had a decisive impact on croaking German musicians during the Cold War.

“The East Germans over did it with alcohol while West Germans had more drug overdoses,” he said between gulps of a large beer.

Though their tome contains over 1,300 dead musicians, the two make no claims at offering a comprehensive collection.

“You could fill an entire book with simply jazz musicians – there’s no way to have them all,” said Hauser. “It’s subjective and it can’t get much fatter than it is now, so each year we sort out a few people.”

Fortunately they no longer have to collect dying rock stars on their own – music fans frequently send in suggestions each year and they have a team of contributors helping to keep their dead list current.

But they refuse on principle to prepare obituaries in advance for promising candidates like Keith Richards or Courtney Love.

“It’s not just about data collection, it’s a labour of love,” said Hauser. “Though initially it was about getting loaded.”

Tillich agreed “The Beat Goes On” is essentially an upbeat endeavour.

“It’s not about mourning,” he said. “There’s a bit of nostalgia and it’s about bringing these heroes back to life.”

There will be two special events for “The Beat Goes On” this month in Berlin.

St. George’s English Bookshop – Wörther Straße 27 in Prenzlauer Berg – will host a reading from the book with an acoustic set of music.

December 15 at 8:30 pm

Monarch Bar – Skalitzer Straße 134 in Kreuzberg – will host the official launch party with readings and a band.

December 19 at 9 pm

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