Shrines to dead celebrities have come a long way since the standard gravestone. Lawrence Benner explains how these days, nobody wants to be the witless mourner who just carves some platitude on a stone.
The tradition of paying tribute to the dead has a history at least as long as that of people dying. At first the dead were simply put away somewhere, usually under something. But as the Mesolithic period gave way to the Neolithic, people began marking grave sites with simple stones, then stacking stones on top of other stones, finally piling dirt on top of stacked stones. Neanderthals are believed to be the first humans to inter grave goods along with the body of the departed: pointy flint tools, mainly. Soon grave stones began to be carved with platitudes, and more diverse grave goods were sealed in tombs: clay beads, copper coins, etc. This practice reached its peak with the Egyptians, who believed that no one should enter the afterlife and follow Ra on his daily ride through the Fields of Yalu without at least one mummified cat.
But as the needs of the living have changed, so have the needs of the dead. These days nobody wants to be the witless mourner who just carves some platitude on a stone. Nobody wants to spend eternity with nothing to eat but a pointy flint tool and a mummified cat. These days the savvy idolater must consider more closely the needs of the departed on their journey through the shades.
Here, in modernity, we begin to see the erection of spontaneous shrines. In the seventies, it becomes customary to blunder over Chopin’s grave on the way to Jim Morrison’s, to spray-paint “The Lizard King” on his headstone and stick chewing gum to a nearby tree.
Soon the impromptu street shrine becomes an accepted form. Gone are the days of clay beads and copper coins. Now there are offerings of flowers, candles, stuffed animals, personal notes—sometimes even a bottle of Thunderbird or a pack of Luckies.
In the early eighties the shooting of John Lennon prompted the creation of a memorial in Central Park called Strawberry Fields. Mourning fans made pilgrimage to the site in order to place tributes to the dead star on a circular mosaic.
Michael Jackson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is the site of a similar display.
If anything is certain, it’s that there’s a lot that’s new in the land of the dead. What’s trending in idolatry? Come with me.
REDEFINE THE SHRINE
Around Aspen the ski slopes are dotted with impromptu tree shrines to dead celebrities, like this one for Marilyn Monroe:
This Money Green Leather Sofa shrine for Biggie Smalls is covered in lyrics from the rapper’s hit single Juicy:
This shrine to Jim Morrison doubles as a medical marijuana pipe:
In the Hogan’s Alley neighborhood of Vancouver this defunct steakhouse where Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother used to work has been transformed into a shrine for the departed guitar player. If you squint you can almost glimpse the spirit of young Jimi in a purplepink Edwardian jacket and stovepipe trousers, his eyes like black saucers, noodling on his Strat and singing about space aliens, and you can almost smell the sizzling steaks, and you can almost see his grandma (often described as birdlike.)
ATTEMPT DIRECT COMMUNICATION:
It never hurts to try, you know. You might get lucky. There are séances, psychics, Ouija boards, Led Zeppelin albums. You might be surprised at what revelations await: Sugar from New Zealand not only regularly communicates with punk Sid Vicious (“he’s been following me around for about ten years”), but he’s also her spiritual guide. One can only speculate on the practical utility of his advice.
Evidently he divides his time between Sugar’s frontal lobe and the Hotel Chelsea in New York, where “The spirit of Sid Vicious (who stabbed his girlfriend to death in Room 100) is said to haunt the hallways.”
Grunge guitarist Kurt Cobain has taken time to communicate with the living as well. He informs us that “there is no hell,” and that he helps obscure musicians write songs occasionally, but he doesn’t want to reincarnate anytime soon, because it’s “too harsh” down here. He is willing, however, to accept music awards via a psychic, although he occasionally finds psychics annoying.
According to Musiclover, a contributor to the website psychic-experiences.com, Jimi Hendrix came to him in a dream after he had been in a motorcycle wreck, and said to him: “there is no past, present, or future. You are here now. Wake up . . .” Musiclover became fully awake, and the experience was so moving that he “ran over to [Jimi Hendrix] and threw myself on him and hugged him and wept. I just grabbed him and cried and cried. I asked him if it was really him and he said, ‘It’s really me. . .’”
Jim Morrison is angry about Oliver Stone’s 1991 film The Doors: “I don’t blame Val Kilmer. I blame Oliver Stone and those involved with the film. Oliver Stone made a movie about who he thought I was. I think he was doing more drugs back then than I was. His ideas of me could not have been more wrong. I did not spend weeks and months tripping out in the desert. Maybe I would have been better off if I did. I also have to say that there was a much more spiritual side to me that many who knew me saw. This was not presented in the film, which was unfortunate. I don’t know why someone would want to make a film about me. There are better subjects. But if they did it, well it should have been more truthful because many are still on Earth that knew me. I am quite amazed at the other members of The Doors that the film did not depict me. I am perplexed that this film was legally allowed to be made. It was like a bad drug trip, completely lame and forgettable.”
We can only speculate as to where he saw the screening. Projected onto a cloud? Are there multiplexes in the sweet hereafter? Might he have also taken in the Biggie Smalls biopic while he was there (which Biggie himself is critical of, at least according to a dream that Mary J. Blige had)?
Quite a few dead stars have something to say about their film treatments (a rival psychic claims Morrison loved The Doors.)
According to one internet source, footage exists of psychics visiting Morrison’s old house in Laurel Canyon and communicating with his dead dog Sage. This video has yet to surface. What insights might Sage have brought to the whole “was-the-Oliver-Stone-movie-shitty” debate?
And finally, although he is one of the more reticent deceased celebrities, Brandon Lee—son of martial artist and film star Bruce Lee—has no problem chiming in on various issues: “. . . the seance ended with communication from Brandon that he was still angry about his death—being shot by a gun that had real bullets rather than blanks during the filming of The Crow—and that he would return to Earth in two or three years . . .”
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS FAMOSOS:
If you plan to traverse the thirteen planes of Tamoanchan, you’d best bring a boxed lunch.
MAKE SOME TRIBUTE ARTWORK:
The deceased love art. They especially love art dedicated to their memory. Consider this sketch of Sid Vicious wearing Fred Flintstone’s bathrobe and drinking a Fanta:
Or little Michael Jackson and Tupac (this meeting actually occurred):
Or these Morrisons:
and these Winehouses:
WRITE SOME POETRY:
An inordinate number of dead people wrote poetry, and they admire tributes in kind. The “virgin student fascinated by disc technology” could do worse than visit this online Jim Morrison shrine, which features insightful poetry dedicated to the late singer:
Sensitive, mystical poet
Your legacy lives on
Stoned as petrified reptile
In the amber resin of your ageless words
ROCK IS NOT DEAD!
The Evis [sic] Poetry Index is well worth a visit while you’re in town. You’ll find My Tribute to Elvis Presley, by Marissa Conrady:
This is a poem for Elvis,
Do you remember the man, who was no idler in moving his pelvis?
He rolled and he rocked,
But by his sudden death the whole world was shocked . . .
. . . and Todd Blogney’s Aptheosis (sic) of the Cat:
. . . This hillbilly cat from Beale Street
Hair long grackle black and oil slicked back
Mortuary slab Sideburns Snake hipped
Pelvis whirling buccaneer
Curling his enamelled sneer
Gyrating whirligig Acne strewn Adonis
With Kentucky caterwaul reverberates
To the rustling of a million petticoats
From the first fumble of the butterfly
To the unbridling tempest
Erotic sideshow messiah
He will sway and strut
Gyrate and tantalize
The adolescent swoon
Like milk lipped lambs who gambol to the chop . . .
Oh, how they once gamboled milk lipped to the chop, am I right ladies?
Jennifer Skinner’s Jimi Hendrix poem manages to combine raw lamentation with useful information:
It was forty years ago today,
that Jimi Hendrix passed away.
Now he’s just a fading memory,
who made a brilliant record called,
“The Wind Cries Mary.”
Stud87’s heartfelt Kurt Cobain Poem, read? puts everything into perspective:
no one understood
the lyrics he wrote
but to him they made more sense
than a motorized rowboat
But what can compare to Randy Johnson’s COREY HAIM?
He had talent and he had fame.
Corey Haim was this man’s name.
He starred in a TV show called The Two Coreys.
When people saw this man act, they saw glory.
I was only a few months older than him.
On the day of his death, it was very grim.
He fought vampires in The Lost Boys.
This man’s fans brought him lots of joy.
This man’s acting skills could not be denied.
All of America was saddened when he died.
GET A TATTOO:
Marilyn Monroe would have loved the small of your back. Having her face pressed against a vinyl seat cover for two days straight as you drive across the desert is just an added indulgence.
DO A LITTLE DANCE:
From Come As You Are, a Kurt Cobain-themed art exhibition, Seattle 2010: “Gillian Wearing’s silent video of herself dancing to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and subsequently Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ breathes elements of Kurt the musician.”
And we all know nothing breathes elements of Kurt the musician like “I Will Survive.”
The detritus of my research, or
“Sid Vicious is an idealist who would like to paint the world in pastel colors, and live in peace and harmony with others at all times. He is able to see points of similarity and unity with people who are vastly different from him, and befriend many different types of people. He is a considerate and thoughtful friend, and has a real flair for making others feel accepted and appreciated.”
“Sid Vicious, the diurnal South-western quadrant, consisting of the 7th, 8th and 9th houses, prevails in your chart: this sector brings about a thirst for communication and sometimes a need to take risks in your dealings with others. Relations are a factor of your evolution and your transformation, which you accept serenely. Indeed, what matters to you is the movement and the energy that link you to others and that make you gain more awareness. A kind of rebellion or a desire to get away from it all is rooted in you.”
Brittany Murphy digs the afterlife, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard go row-boating, and Princess Di is thrilled about William’s engagement to Kate.
Leo Tolstoy—cabbage, wool, and lengthy despair
SACRED HEART OF BIGGIE SMALLS:
Incidentally, the immense magnitude of Biggie-and-Tupac-reunited-after-death imagery is bewildering. Go on, look it up. They’re like Romeo and Juliet, uniting the feuding houses of Montague and Capulet from beyond the tomb.
Have a nice day.
Originally appeared at The Weeklings
Lawrence Benner lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his girlfriend and three cats. They watch a lot of Battlestar Galactica lately. He is a writer and independent filmmaker and co-founder of the imaginary film company Buried Pictures, now in its tenth year of complete anonymity, about which he insists he is not in the least bit bitter.