The suicide of Keith Emerson came as a shock but in reading up on the reason that led up to the taking of his life, I am more angry than saddened.
I was turned on to Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the mid-70s. As a former drummer-turned-percussionist, I was in awe of drummer Carl Palmer, but the group as a whole was nothing but pure genius. (BTW – Despite six platinum-selling albums, including 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery, ELP STILL is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)
In the late 70’s I was a stagehand at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and because of my attending a rival high school, got the opportunity to meet and strike up a friendship with legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein who also told me the correct pronunciation of his name: “Have you ever heard of a Steen-way piano?” He told me how, back in the day, he played piano with Billie Holiday for $10 a night and it was then I discovered that many conductors are also virtuoso pianists.
Subsequently, I asked Mr. Bernstein who his favorite keyboardist was and he said without hesitation, “Keith Emerson. He’s a genius.” While Edgar Winter was credited in making the synthesizer a recognized rock ‘n’ roll instrument, Keith Emerson took it several levels higher and set the standard.
Shortly after the ELP “Brain Salad Surgery” release, my best friend and I saw them perform at the old Boston Garden and I was even more impressed by the musicianship that almost fully translated from the album to live performance. Seriously, how many keyboardists play several parts AND the bass on foot pedals simultaneously live? Think about it….
It was quite sad to find that in the later years of his life, Keith Emerson was being dogged by the anonymous cowards on social media, who were criticizing his performances in ignorance.
His right hand and arm had given him problems for years. He had an operation a few years ago to take out a bad muscle but the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse. He had concerts coming up in Japan and even though they hired a back-up keyboard player to support him, Keith was worried. He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as, ‘I wish he would stop playing.’
— Mari Kawaguchi, Emerson’s girlfriend
ALL musicians are ultimate victims of age. Singers transpose their hits down a step or two because they can’t hit the notes they could when they were in their 20’s and 30’s. If you listen to the speed and accuracy of Keith Emerson back in the 70’s and 80’s, one could easily understand how age could affect his performances in his 60’s and beyond, but that was no reason to bully (using the verbiage of today’s social media “victims”) him to the point of suicide.
He was tormented with worry that he wouldn’t be good enough. He was planning to retire after Japan. He didn’t want to let down his fans. He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous and anxious.
In the age of autotune and sampling, Keith Emerson was a great musician who on his worst day could blow away some of today’s “artists” and for cowardly, no-talent punks to troll him to the point where he felt the need to abandon all is one of the great tragedies.