Performers are dropping dead left and right, and people are trying to find ways to keep their talents and names profitable without their consent so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. I just read that a CGI version of Debbie Reynolds will star in a sequel to “Singin’ in the Rain.”
So far, at least.
Pop singer George Michael died on Christmas day, and already there is a controversy over his unpublished songs, what Irving Berlin and his generation referred to as a songwriters’ “trunk.” The “trunk” was where composition deemed unfinished, unsatisfactory or just not quite right were stored, perhaps for future commercial use, perhaps for oblivion.
Fadi Fawaz, Michael’s partner, posted online a song from Michael’s unreleased and unfinished album “Trojan Souls.” The song, called “This Kind of Love,”includes the lyrics: “This empty house seems to get colder and colder. So won’t you stay here with me?”
Michael’s fans immediately clamored for the song to get an official release, calling for it to be properly edited to share with the world in George’s memory. Michael’s Wham! collaborator Andrew Ridgeley has disagreed strenuously. In response to one fan who suggested that a previously-unheard track should be released to raise money for Michael’s preferred charities, Ridgeley tweeted:
“No, #GM [George Michael] controlled all his output. I, nor anyone else have the right to transgress that principle.”
The singer’s representatives have not confirmed plans for any future releases, but don’t be surprised if they do: now that he is dead, Michael’s music is hot and flying up the charts. We can expect that the same rationalization regarding Michael we have heard regarding the “Star Wars” franchise using Peter Cushing’s cyber-zombie to reprise his original role despite the fact that he is long dead and never anticipated having post-mortem, computer controlled performances attributed to him: “I’m sure he would have wanted it this way,” or in the case of Cushing’s heirs, “We’re sure he would want us to make money off of him.”
Maybe, maybe not. In the case of performances and songs an artist chose not to reveal to the public while he was alive, the ethical course is to presume he did so for a reason, and whatever that reason was, it should be respected now. Andrew Ridgeley is right.
Keep that trunk closed.