As an American, I think I've always had a bias against monarchies. It's
not something I've done a lot of soul searching on, mind you. It's just
that growing up in the United States, we're taught that the people should
rule the country as a republic, and no one family should lord over the
land, even symbolically, by dint of birth. I agree.
Still, there are a lot of Americans who, whether they support monarchies
in theory or not, are fascinated by the British royal family. I, however,
am not one of them.
And yet I was still struck, as nearly everyone I know was, by the sudden
death of Diana, Princess of Wales, now the people's princess, in a Paris car crash one week ago. As someone whose world, for better or for worse, often revolves around music, I was taken aback by Diana's death in the same way that I am at the loss of a well-known band member.
When I heard the news of her passing, I felt inside the same way I did when I learned of guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn's 1990 death in a helicopter accident: I felt like potential was stolen.
Although I had seen him perform a couple of times, I was not a Stevie Ray
devotee. He was someone, though, whom I expected to watch grow old, and
perhaps more refined. I remember specifically envisioning Stevie Ray
someday being as old as Muddy Waters or B.B. King were already when I first
started listening to music.
And just as Stevie Ray had seemed to have won his battle with drugs just
before his death, so too had Diana before she died seemed to have finally found the happiness that eluded her. Of course, that perspective may only be rose-colored hindsight, but I do remember seeing photos on the supermarket tabloids -- maybe even one snapped by one of the paparazzi chasing her car when it crashed -- and thinking of Di, that her smile looked genuine. Maybe she was getting on with her life.
Last week I spoke by phone with Amanda MacKinnon (a.k.a. Manda Rin), the
20-year-old singer for the Scottish band Bis. Bis are surely not a band
one would associate with Royalists. Inspired by American indie music and
British riot grrl bands, Bis made a sensational, populist debut on the
stale Top of the Pops TV program a little while back. Sporting a
homemade sound and fronting a homemade U.K. label, the band burst out to
promulgate notions of "Popstar Kill" and "Telling It to the Kids."
MacKinnon had grown up with Diana, although she's not old enough to recall
watching the royal wedding on television. In many ways, her reaction to
Diana's death was similar to mine. "I was completely shocked," she said.
"I still can't believe that she's gone. When you don't know someone that
well, it's hard to take in."
Like folks all over the world, MacKinnon found herself hungry for news, for
updates, for something to help it all sink in. "I know they would repeat
the same stories over and over, but each time I would just listen to
it all day long."
Although MacKinnon was not a royal watcher, she still found some attraction
in Diana. "Diana I felt was the royal family," she said. "She was
completely someone of her own. She was the only one out of the whole
family that I could really respect. To me she seemed quite a shy person,
and had been fighting the whole monarchy practically herself after the
divorce to try and get her career still going. She just wanted to be happy
and help people. She's the only one out of the lot I think that had any
kind of personality. To see the only one like that go, it's a real shame."
In retrospect, it's probably more appropriate than I originally realized
that I had similar feelings after Princess Diana's and Stevie Ray Vaughn's
deaths. Diana, after all, was friends or acquaintances with a variety of
rock stars, from Elton John to U2. This week, tributes to her poured in
from pop's own royalty, from Madonna to Michael Jackson. Diana was perhaps
the one world figure whose star outshone all of those famous names.
And yet, I suspect that part of the fascination with Diana for many
Americans was that she was -- as much as one with her aristocratic background
can be -- an underdog. "Fighting the whole monarchy practically herself," as
MacKinnon put it.
I imagine that from now on I'll pay even less attention to the royals than
I did before. I'll probably never be a royalist. But I hope I'll always
be a humanist. And any human can be saddened by the loss of another and
the tragic waste of a person's potential. [Sun., Sept. 7 1997, 9 a.m. PST]