This post originally appeared on OpenSalon.com.
It’s always sad news when someone who has contributed to the soundtrack of your life passes on. A little piece of you hurts and you know every time from now on that you hear one of their songs you will recall good times (or maybe bad ones), but the nostalgia will be ebbed by the tiny strobe light that goes off in the back of your head reminding you that the singer has permanently left the stage.
When I woke up this morning I saw a Facebook status plea begging that this not be true: “Donna Summer, dead at 63.”
Online grieving immediately ensued. There is a method to this sadness, which starts not with disbelief or a sudden sense of loss, but a ho-hum “This is another hoax.”
Summer wouldn’t be the first victim of false reports of death. Cher, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Brown have all been perfectly healthy when their “deaths” were reported on Twitter. Some say these reports were publicity stunts. Others claim the tweets left out a word or two – what they really meant to say was “[Insert singer’s name here] career is dead.”
Haven’t having heard much from Summer over the years, and losing a little bit of like for her after a 1980s’ dustup in the press reported that her born-again Christian beliefs ran counter to her legions of gay fans (later swept under the carpet as an unfortunate misunderstanding), my first reaction was that the report of her death was at best a mistake, or at worst a way to revive a career that had seen its zenith some 35 years ago.
Online grieving doesn’t exactly follow the Kubler-Ross model. It goes something like this. The unconfirmed news breaks on Facebook, which forces you to scroll through your news feed to see if anyone else has posted anything more concrete. You get distracted. Look at pictures of a birthday party 3,000 miles away, a couple of cat memes, another editorial praising Barack Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage, and then remember the reason you’re still hanging out on Facebook instead of doing some work. Is Donna Summer really dead? You refresh the news feed and here come more cats, babies and rainbows. Switch to Twitter.
A couple of tweets report Summer’s death, but they link to sources like TMZ and The Inquisitr (which cites TMZ). You’re looking for something more reliable, Perez Hilton will do, but you stopped following him a year or two ago because he was too “distracting”.
Speaking of distractions…there’s some food truck news you need to know. Korean tacos down the street tonight, that sounds good. But not if this San Francisco wind and fog keep up. You reach for your iPhone to check the weather. Nope. Doesn’t look like street taco weather tonight. Sorry @koreantacoman.
It’s around this time, nearly an hour into your online day, that you remember to check your email. My email access is still via the Yahoo! homepage and that’s by design. I get real headline news there, stuff that comes from AP and Reuters and that slides me all the way to the end of the Kubler-Ross scale. Acceptance. “Disco Queen Donna Summer: Dead at 63”.
The cause of death was cancer. She did her best to keep her illness from the public, of which she was pretty successful. It’s adding a shock value to the online grieving and I will spend another hour reading obituaries, watching YouTube clips and commenting on Facebook statuses.
I will even write a blog post – because I’ve just put a phrase to this phenomenon of how we react when a celebrity dies, particularly one with a gifted musical talent a la Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson. It’s called “online grieving” and there is one more step Elisabeth Kubler-Ross didn’t live long enough to conceive. The obligatory click over to iTunes, to download Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits or to Spotify (via the Huffington Post) to stream a top 10 playlist.
Online grieving doesn’t allow a lot of time for sadness or reflection, so I’d like to take a minute here to remember the Disco Queen, Donna Summer in all her glory. The big hits like “I Feel Love” and “Bad Girls”, sure. But my personal favorite Summer song has always been “On the Radio”. It went up in stock for me when it was used as the theme song for the 1980 Jodie Foster film Foxes. And, now you probably know how old I am.
R.I.P. Madame Summer. Your songs have always been and will be on my radio – vinyl, cassette, CD, iTunes, streaming and whatever comes next.