By James Montgomery
Tupac’s Sunday night appearance at the Coachella music festival still has a few minds bent out of shape (he’s been dead since 1996 after all) and the aftermath of his hologram performance has left us wondering if the stint will lead to a slew of other performances from reincarnated musicians?
While it wasn’t the first time this level of trickery has been employed live — Madonna used the same technology at the 2006 Grammys when she performed with the Gorillaz, as have well-moneyed folks like Celine Dion and the Black Eyed Peas (not surprisingly, a holographic pop star has also been selling out venues in Japan since 2010) — Holo-pac represents something else … something a tad more unsettling. Because, to the best of my knowledge, this was the first time anyone decided it would be a good idea to resurrect a long-dead music icon for the sole purpose of a performance.
I’m willing to bet it won’t be the last. Whether or not that’s a good thing is largely up to you.
Part séance, part neo-necromancy, Holo-pac also almost certainly heralds the coming of a brave new era of revenue-grabbing, legacy-tarnishing spectacle. At the moment, beaming your favorite deceased star onto a stage night after night is probably cost prohibitive, but soon, it won’t be. And once that final hurdle falls, how long until every hotel in Las Vegas is lining up their own digital Elvis Presleys, Michael Jacksons or John Lennons for full-blown revues? In 2010 alone, Jackson’s estate generatedmore than $170 million in revenue, so how much would fans pay to see him, uh, “live”? The mind boggles, and, to be honest, the heart aches.
Because, sure, while the estates of each star would have to sign off on any of this, that didn’t stop Kurt Cobain — dead since 1994 — from inexplicably showing up as a playable character in 2009’s “Guitar Hero 5,” sad proof that anything is possible if the folks in charge of an artist’s legacy are desperate enough for cash. And if that bothers you even in the slightest, imagine how you’d feel to see Cobain’s hologram flailing around on stage, puppet-like, while a faceless backing band bashes through the Nirvana catalog? It’s a pretty gross idea, yet it’s not all that inconceivable (but you can take solace in the fact that they’d definitely do a real good job rendering his green cardigan).
And yes, I understand there is a market for all of this. The idea of seeing the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix live is appealing even to me. But if you care even the slightest bit about the legacies of your favorite artists, then you probably don’t want their likenesses exploited for anything, let alone a borderline ghastly holo-deck puppet show. And to be honest, the appeal of most great, long-gone artists lies in the fact that they’re no longer with us: They are certainly timeless, yet they are also of a certain time. They define an era, an ethos, and they most certainly don’t deserve to be resurrected. Or exploited. And if you’re a real fan, well, you should probably be nodding in agreement right now.
And I think that’s the deep, dark secret about this whole Holo-pac thing. Sure, it looked cool, but wasn’t it also just a touch ghastly? Here was Shakur’s digital ghost, “rapping” and posturing, giving a shout-out (thatsomeone had to record for him) to a festival that didn’t come into existence until three years after his death. I’d like to think that, were he still with us, ’Pac wouldn’t have done any of this, and maybe I’m in the minority with that opinion, but I suspect that most of his fans agree with me — to say nothing of the fact that, since he’s been killed, we are unwilling to actually put Tupac in the grave, which only made the whole thing feel even more ghoulish (by all accounts, Snoop didn’t seem to have a problem with it, though that’s probably because he sees holograms roughly 25 percent of the time anyway).
And who’s to say what happens next? Could the Rolling Stones just swap out living, decrepit Keith for vibrant, slightly-less-decrepit 1965 Keith, or bring back Brian Jones just for the heck of it? Would Vans purchase the rights to Sid Vicious’s visage just to put him front-and-center on a summer tour? How long until we watch holo-Bonham do the “Moby Dick” drum solo at a corporate retreat in Aspen? All of these things seem like longshotsnow, but when you leave an artist’s legacy in the hands of anyone, well, strange things are bound to happen. Kind of like Tupac showing up at a polo field in California. To live and die — and rise again — in L.A. … or very near to it, at least. Welcome to the future.
What did you think of Tupac’s appearance at Coachella? Sound off in the comments.