This has been the second time I have been in Shanghai when a world famous musician has died. The first time was far sadder for me. George Harrison kicked the bucket on December 1, 2001. He was my favourite Beatle. Quiet, unassuming, he lived in the shadow of the great Lennon-McCartney writing combo – as so many from that decade did; step forward Ray Davies. Yet his Beatle contributions were among the very best the quartet ever recorded. Greats like While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Here Comes The Sun have withstood the sands of time. In the 1980s George was the greatest influence in the supergroup of all time, The Traveling Wilburys. Just before he died Harrison made a stunning album called Brainwashed, which saw him hit creative peaks not seen since the early 1970s, and All Things Must Pass. In short he was a genius.
I was in Shanghai when I learned of his passing. Together with a commercial colleague we went out that night on yet another massive pub crawl. At every stop we demanded the pub play something by George Harrison. However, dingy the bar, however Shanghainese, we were adamant that the pub had to pay a loud homage to Harrison. We must have cleared out endless pubs with our drunken rants for Harrison homilies that night.
Fast forward seven and a half years and I’m sitting down on day three of a conference, opening up my laptop, lazily slurping my first cup of coffee and an events colleague of mine tells me Michael Jackson is dead. ‘Fuck off,’ I retort, dumbfounded. ‘I’m not kidding,’ she says, heading to the BBC homepage. Sure enough, there he is, warped, white Jacko, dead at the age of 50. I get in a taxi later that day. The Chinese radio station is playing Jackson tributes 24/7 and so begins the bizarre media deification of a man they helped satanise in the 1990s. Both Google and Twitter crashed on the day of Jacko’s death so great was the volume of traffic. Apart from the pair of them dieing while I was in Shanghai, the other link I guess they have is that in the 1980s Jackson bought up half the Beatles back catalogue, quite literally for a song.
A week on and Jackson’s departure still leads the news, every Tom, Dick and Harry comparing his passing and life as greater than that of Lennon’s and Presley’s. It’s become one of those mega news events – a where-were-you-when-x-happened type event. People, get a grip!