5 Insane Ways We're Not Letting Celebrities Die
Most of us don't have to worry much about what will happen to our stuff after we die. Sure, we might be concerned that whoever inherits our amigurumi Cthulhu collection might not appreciate it as much as we did, or fret about somebody digging into our browser history and discovering our carefully indexed reviews of dozens of different hemorrhoid creams. But such cares have nothing on those of celebrities, who must increasingly fear the living plundering their posthumous products and images like zombies descending on a hot dog factory. For example, someone might pump out a few ...
Endless Zombie Albums
If you're a famous musician, leaving this mortal realm doesn't mean you get to stop working. Albums released after a musician has died are everywhere, and sometimes they make sense. If an artist was working on an album pre-death, and just had to get the dedication to their dog in the liner notes right, there's no reason to halt production and stomp on poor Ned Bark's glory. But after that album comes out, and the collections and "best ofs" that follow it, record companies often decide that they have to go deeper, and that's when you start getting to the Bad Stuff.
"What about a Nirvana Christmas album? Have we tried a Nirvana Christmas album yet?"
These records tend to be filled with tracks that musicians who choked to death on their own vomit after a three-year bender once looked at and thought "No, I'm better than that." But those musicians are not around to be all fussy anymore, and so consumers are treated to Jeff Buckley albums made up entirely of unfinished, scratchy demos and Doors albums that fill time with Jim Morrison reciting average poetry. "Michael Jackson has a sore throat at the studio and coughs into a microphone for 19 minutes" is presumably coming out in 2017.
Followed shortly by a Vegas show about it.
But terrible as these recordings might be, at least they usually feature music or words that the musician actually produced with their still-living body. That won't always be the case, because new technology means we can all look forward to ...
Just Faking Their Goddamn Voices With Robots
Say your most beloved celebrity died tragically early, without singing all the words you wanted him to. And say you've run out of albums to release that consist of remixes of him ordering coffee and then yelling at the barista that he wanted soy milk, not coconut. What do you do next? Let the guy rest in peace? No, silly, you turn to Japan.
Turn your head toward them in a dead-eyed stare. That's right.
Our Japanese friends, deciding that their blank-staring sex robots weren't creepy enough, have started using technology to metaphorically resurrect dead, no-longer-profitable-enough singers. It's all thanks to the speech synthesizing technology Vocaloid, developed commercially by Yamaha. Vocaloid can be programmed to mimic a particular human singing voice, dead or alive, like an extreme, necromancy-powered version of autotune. Early tests have already produced music from a folk singer who passed away in 2007, and last year, producers announced a new song by rock musician Hideto Matsumoto, who died in 1998 but is now being dragged out of his grave by singing robots. Take a look at the video of the song below, and remind yourself that apart from the backup vocals, no human is singing:
Judging from the online response, the reaction of many fans to posthumous Vocaloid releases seems to be "leave these poor dead people alone already," but obviously, the demand is out there, because the technology keeps marching forward. Whether there is some way to combine Vocaloid technology with future celebrity-themed sex bots remains to be seen.
Did you know that Kurt Vonnegut is still alive on the Internet, still spewing out his deep philosophical thoughts to 177,000 followers?
Then how the hell are people reading your Tweets, genius?
Seeing as how Vonnegut passed away in 2007, I'm reasonably sure that this is simply a devoted fan account, and I guess we should all be grateful that its anonymous author mostly sticks to actual quotes, rather than making every fifth tweet an advertisement for his Vonnegut quote t-shirt store. There's one problem with his devotion to realism, though: It has apparently led many fans to believe that the guy is still alive.
I guess some of these Vonnegut-repliers could be doing it ironically or as part of an elaborate piece of performance art. But almost every one of those tweets has at least one reply complimenting the author, or even asking questions as if he's going to answer. And at least some of these tweeting fans must not be aware that their idol died years ago, and that the Internet is deceiving them as cruelly as that time it promised them millions from a foreign prince.
Vonnegut isn't alone in the strange Schrodinger world of social media death/undeath. Dead celebrity Twitter accounts are everywhere, and while many are used to harmlessly commemorate anniversaries or provide links to charities, others are largely devoted to selling us stuff. Celebrity Twitters can be insanely profitable, as shown by the case of @JamesDean, a fan account that in 2014 was sued by an agency that manages celebrity estates. The agency, whose case was eventually dismissed, demanded the fan hand over the handle linked to one of cinema's most enduring icons, presumably so they could use it to sell retro hair products or something.
"We tried just misspelling his last name, but that didn't work out so well."
Publishing Everything They Touched
You've probably heard by now that a new book from Harper Lee has been announced, suspiciously soon after the reclusive author suffered a stroke that left her deaf and blind. And that a new Dr. Seuss book is coming out this year, even though the guy died over 20 years ago. Obviously, none of us have read these books yet, and for all we know, they're masterpieces that will add the final sprinkles to the chocolate sundae that is their creators' careers.
And maybe someone will finally kill that goddamn mockingbird.
But that's not always the case for dead or near-dead writers. Take Mervyn Peake, author of the Gormenghast trilogy. After Peake's health declined, publisher blundering meant that the final book in his trilogy, Titus Alone, was released with entire chapters omitted and "bewildering" editorial changes added throughout. A corrected version took over a decade to come out.
This "vomit out a profitable manuscript at any cost" craze is somehow even worse than the bad albums that are inflicted on poor deceased musicians. Sure, many of those musicians' unreleased material might have been less than stellar, but at least they recorded it in a studio, in front of others. That awful love song about mating dragonflies they thought up while drunk one Wednesday night and then mentally tossed away? It will remain unheard, at least until someone in Japan scans their brains and then makes robots sing it.
It will probably look something like this.
With writers, it's a different story. There's no way of knowing whether a dead author intended a particular draft manuscript to ever be seen by another person, let alone by a wide audience. Imagine everything you've scrawled down in your own life -- the sad diary entries after you got dumped when you were 16, the unsent love letter on the back of a napkin comparing your soul to a lonely freight train, that unfinished self-insertion Batman fanfic hiding in your desk drawer. How much of it would you want seen by your own family, let alone by millions? It's one of the rare advantages of not being famous: Sure, your most precious possessions might get dumped in the trash rather than being auctioned off and valued, but at least a wide audience won't see that poem you wrote in 2007 about how your heart is a snow-covered pine tree.
But it gets worse for poor dead wordsmiths. They can also be afflicted by ...
Sometimes, an author of a series of books dies before the series is wrapped up, and another author is drafted in to complete it. And that's fine: Brandon Sanderson finished the Wheel of Time series after original author Robert Jordan passed away, and very few fans screeched in terror. But other times, a ghostwriter takes over from a dead author and then just keeps going, shuffling through the dark, spooky halls of literature again and again like some sort of writing-related ... monster? Zombie? I can't think of a good metaphor here.
Non-corporeal part of a dead person that's not dead yet?
The best example of this phenomenon is VC Andrews, who, as the author of the 1979 young adult incest classic Flowers in the Attic, was creepy enough even while she was alive. Andrews had published six novels and was at the height of her career when she died of breast cancer in 1986, but her publishers had a solution to that. A ghostwriter was called in to finish the novel she'd been working on, and then to release more under the successful VC Andrews name. How many more books do you think he's put out since then? Two? Six? Try 70.
"And then ... the incest ... had been dead the whole time. Well, onto 71."
Andrews' ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman, is a successful author in his own right. Among other things, he wrote the novel that the Keanu Reeves / Al Pacino movie The Devil's Advocate was based on. By all accounts, he's carried on VC Andrews' creepy torch successfully, and for all we know, Andrews is looking down from Author Heaven and smiling at him in between drinks with Kurt Vonnegut, but still. Most professional writers have produced at least something they're not particularly proud of, and Andrews was only 63 when she died. What if she was destined to change her mind about writing creepy incest, and spend her later years writing nice stories about magical horses? But now that a ghostwriter has taken over, her name is still being used to garnish the covers of lurid tales about incestuous rape and teenage prostitutes. For all we know, Andrews could be reacting to her ghostwriting afterlife like some sort of avenging ... specter? Revenant? Man, I'm no good at this.
For more from C. Coville, check out 4 Reasons Being a Tall Woman Can Be Worse Than a Short Man and 6 Insanely Dark Online Games for Young Children.
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