All my favourite singers are dead. Buckley, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, all dead. If Frusciante goes then things are getting ridiculous. I do seem to have an affinity for artists that can only exist as history. Maybe I have some weird musical fetish when it comes to mortality or maybe it’s simply because they never got the chance to let me down. It’s probably the latter but i’ll check with a doctor and get back to you. All these artists seem to have risen to a near angelic status since their passing but there’s one fallen angel who has never seemed to get the eternal canonization that the others have been blessed with; Could it be for the sad fact that he died too late in his life for it to be headline news?
John Martyn is the angelic underdog here. I was lucky to get exposed to him through my dad and have since been on a bit of a crusade to try figure out why the hell he isn’t a household name. He was an unfathomably competent musician with a voice that transcended human limitations. It’s a voice so painfully raw that it scrapes deep into the skin of human emotion leaving an open wound of pure, incomparable passion. He reached expert levels of guitar work and his innovation with the use of the Echoplex is possibly his most important and yet most ignored musical contribution.
Some would argue that John didn’t have THE song, that one signature tune that appeared in the right place and provided the gateway for future generations to discover him (Halleluiah, Pink Moon etc.) but you could have picked any number of songs from John’s genre spanning discography and you would have found a potential classic: The ambient majesty of ’Small Hours’; the humble romance of ‘May You Never’; the moonlit desire of ‘Angeline’. And why on earth is his take on ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ not considered the seminal version? I think it was simply a case of these songs never reaching a wide enough audience. There wasn’t the placement that had a whole new generation asking “who the hell sings this song”.
I’m still praying for John Martyn’s posthumous popularity surge but something tells me that it will never come. I think maybe John will forever remain the forgotten hero that accomplished so much and was ignored by so many. The only comfort is that a voice that strong will never lose its momentum; years from now it will still possess the power to create a life-long fan the second it hits the ears so just maybe he’ll be an angel yet.
RIP John Martyn. Download ‘Solid Air’.