Let’s Talk About This Tupac Shakur Hologram for a minute.
Tupac Shakur has been dead for more than fifteen years. But thanks to the magic of modern technology, he was able to join Dr. Dre and Snoop at Coachella last night. No, they didn’t reanimate him, in the strictest sense of the word “reanimate” — they made a hologram of him.
Now, I’m not so dumb that I don’t understand that Tupac wasn’t a metal artist and, thus, technically has no place on this blog. That being said, I think this development could potentially effect ALL music, so it’s worth discussing now. If the fact that we need to have this discussion in the context of a rapper bothers you, please feel free to stop reading now. Everyone else, see ya after the jump.
Okay, so here’s what really bugs me about this: Tupac Shakur, as an artist and as a man, had no say in this, obviously. And while all dead artists are vulnerable to being exploited by whomever controls their estate, likeness, etc., this is a lot more unsettling than, say, Jimi Hendrix’s music being used in a car commercial or whatever. Sure, Hendrix never authorized the use of his music to help sell whatever product, but at least it’s his music. Unless there’s a live recording I’m unaware of out there somewhere, I’m reasonably certain that no one had access to a clip of Tupac yelling “What the fuck is up Coachella!” In other words, not only did Tupac have no say in this representation of him, but it’s not even a real representation — it’s manipulated to the point where it really has nothing to do with Tupac.
Now, here’s how I think this applies to all music: If we can now bring dead artists back to not only perform but perform exactly as we see fit, then… like… where’s the line, y’know? Why can’t we have a Beatles reunion, or John Bonham (well, really “John Bonham”) back on drums with Led Zeppelin, or Metallica performing Master of Puppets in its entirety with “Cliff Burton,” or any other number of nightmare scenarios?
Because I guarantee you, the entire music industry is looking at the Tupac hologram with dollar signs in their eyes right now. Hell, Japan has already embraced a completely fictional, 100% virtual “rock star.” But this is even better, because dead people already have brand recognition! You don’t have to tell people why they should care about Dimebag — they already do care about Dimebag. All you really have to do is convince Vinnie Paul that performing on stage with his “brother” is a good idea and hope enough people are willing to pay to see it. Which, based on the screams in the Coachella crowd, should not be a problem.
“Okay, so what?” You ask. “So sentimental types pay to see a virtual Dimebag. What’s the big deal?” Well, here’s the big deal — you’re supposed to love an artist for the art they create. In the case of a performing musician, a large part of that is always going to be about what they bring to their performance. Yes, recordings of Randy Rhoads will preserve his memory forever and ever, but the experience of seeing him live — of seeing and hearing, in real time, the ways he interpreted and manipulated his instrument — can never be repeated. If you start paying to see holograms of dead musicians, you wouldn’t be paying to see what Ronnie James Dio can bring to the table live, you’d be paying to see a representation of the memory of Ronnie James Dio, very possibly doing things that the real Ronnie James Dio would never do. You wouldn’t be admiring Layne Staley’s skill, you’d be admiring a duplication of how Layne Staley looked and sounded. In effect, what you’re saying is, it’s not the artist or his art that’s important — it’s the BRAND that’s important. And there’s already too much of that in the world without fucking holograms of dead people headlining concerts.
Normally this is the place where I’d invite you to tell me I’m overreacting in the comments section, but here’s the thing — I really don’t think I’m overreacting, and I don’t think anyone will be able to convince me otherwise. People were meant to die. An artist’s output was meant to come to a conclusion. This is a line that has been crossed. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a trend.