FAREWELL TO THE WIZARD: THE MUSIC OF KEITH EMERSON

March 16, 2016 – 1:38 pm

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Keith Emerson shot himself on March 10, 2016. The 71-year-old founder and keyboard player of Emerson, Lake and Palmer was ‘tormented with worry’ about upcoming concerts in Japan because nerve damage to a hand had affected his playing. Randy Shields remembers the musician.

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Click here for ELP - Barcelona 1992

Click here for ELP - Switzerland 1997

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One of my least favorite words is “late.” I hate people and things being late. And I hate being informed in a Google news feed about the “late” somebody. Generally, it means they died way too soon. Why do I never hear about the “late” Henry Kissinger or the “late” Dick Cheney? Why does festering malignant evil seem to go on and on?

So it was today that I learned about Keith Emerson’s death on March 10. One third of the prog rock supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, Emerson was my keyboard hero since I was 14 years old.

I first saw ELP in 1970 after the release of their self-titled debut. They couldn’t even fill the Hara Arena hockey rink in Dayton, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, however, they exploded and the next year when they came it was sold out.

I had a seat on the floor, about ten rows from the stage. After Emerson finished playing the beautiful piano solo in the middle of “Take a Pebble,” a guy sitting in front of me pushed his way through the rows of folding chairs, leapt up on the stage and shook Emerson’s hand, before being hustled off by security guards. I totally understood why this guy did this - the tension, the beauty and the greatness were unbearable without some release. Years later, I read Emerson’s biography, Pictures of An Exibitionist, and he referred to being incredibly sick that night, not remarking on the beside-himself fan at all.

Emerson was responsible for turning a lot of young people on to classical music. Classical music could be exciting - not most of it, but plenty of it if one knew where to look - and Emerson was a great guide. Classical music could rock, whether it was Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” or Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Hoedown.”

Emerson was also generous enough to transcribe many of ELP’s greatest songs and his most difficult piano parts, making them available to people like me who could read music but not play by ear. It’s incalculable how much enjoyment Emerson brought me since 1970. To see Emerson in action watch this video.

Back in 2010, after a Philadelphia show with Emerson and Greg Lake, I stuck around outside with dozens of other fans near the tour bus, freezing our asses off and, sure enough, Keith and Greg came out for pictures and autographs. (Wow, this rock god, this guy who gave us the flying piano, this whirlwind of passion and theatricality isn’t ten feet tall!)

He was completely gracious and friendly. I never imagined that my little ol’ long-haired, head-banded, blacklit hippy self from Springfield, Ohio would ever get to meet the great Keith Emerson - but it happened. Maybe there’s hope on the Kissinger and Cheney thing yet.

Note: Email Randy Shields here. His writings and art are collected at RandyShields.com. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  1. 4 Responses to “FAREWELL TO THE WIZARD: THE MUSIC OF KEITH EMERSON”

  2. I wonder… was the nerve damage to his hand permanent? Would it not get better if he rested and followed medical advice for a period ? Could it be that other reasons too might have led him to suicide ?
    It is all so sad anyway… What a loss and in such a tragic manner… Who would expect it ?

    By Τheo on Mar 17, 2016

  3. I believe Keith had suffered for many years with nerve damage and had a series of operations but clearly they had not helped.
    It must have been devastating for him to lose the dexterity to play up to his desired ability. Lake’s comments seem to suggest additional issues around the medication he was taking for his situation.
    I hope his sad demise does not overshadow his immense contribution to the world of music.
    Goodbye Keith, I will miss you.

    By Je Suis Darth on Mar 17, 2016

  4. I was sad to hear about Keith Emerson, I was a big fan. But hopefully Dick Cheney will outlive and “fester” a lot longer than you will!

    By Maek Schuler on Mar 17, 2016

  5. Dear Randy Shields, I’ve learned from my life experience that it is never ever good karma to wish evil upon another person, whether or not you agree with them politically or philosophically. The wheel spins. What goes around comes around. You may wish to recant your comments about Cheney and Kissinger.

    Keith Emerson, wow. So sad. Such a great talent. Saw ELP several times back in the day in rock arenas, spectacular shows.

    Thanks for sharing.

    The Man In The Middle

    By In The Middle on Mar 17, 2016

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