Sunday Morning: The Princess Is Dead... Long Live Rock

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]