This has been a bad last few days for disco, that is for sure. It is not cool in some circles to admit a love for the Bee Gees or for their music, but for a variety of reasons I have long appreciated their music, even from their much-reviled disco period of popularity in the mid-to-late 1970’s. As someone with a fairly high natural tenor and a love of falsetto, it is almost inevitable that I would sing along to their melodic pop music, whether we are talking about their early work such as “I Started A Joke” or “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” to disco-era ballads like “How Deep Is Your Love?” and “Too Much Heaven,” to their beautiful later works like “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Alone,” and “Immortality.”
Mortality is a chain of thought that runs through their music. One of their earliest hits was “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” and even as young lads the Brothers Gibb seemed drawn to the eternal themes of love and death that inform the deepest and most melancholy poetry of the human heart and spirit. It should go without saying that such deep and gloomy themes fill my own body of work as well, another area of appreciation for the work of the Bee Gees . Ironically enough, the last song that Robin Gibb wrote before dying, for his Broadway play “Titanic Requiem,” was a song called “Don’t Cry Alone .” Solitude, death, loneliness, and the desire of love to triumph over these evils were part of the core of the work of the Bee Gees, themes that they returned to over and over again.
In remembering the work of the Bee Gees, it is important (if unpleasant) to recognize just how ferocious a role both death and sibling rivalry played in the fate of the band. There were, after all, four popular Brothers Gibb–three off them in the Bee Gees (Robin, Barry, and Maurice), and one of them not (Andy). The band broke up for the first soon after founding, in the early 1970’s, because of rivalries between Robin and Barry about who was to be the band leader . Then, after their popularity had waned and they wanted to make a show of family unity, their brother Andy Gibb died at the age of 30 (a death the remaining brothers seemed to take to heart ). Even after the death of Maurice, though, there were communication problems between Barry and Robin, preventing them from remaining strong together and battling with each other in the press .
Now, Barry Gibb is the only Bee Gee left surviving. His family is praised for their immense musical talent, but they leave behind a complicated legacy of a ferociously divided and complicated family (Robin Gibb’s own family life was, to put it the most charitably, unconventional even by the standards of the stars). And that is perhaps some of the point. A serious concern with death and mortality, lax moral standards in one’s personal life, immense talent that was neither entirely remembered in the proper context or entirely realized, and ferocious infighting seem to mark our times in general. The Bee Gees, in their music as well as their life, serve as a reminder of the pain and suffering that results from living the wrong way, and from not being able to rely on your family to have your back in tough times.
But it is perhaps best to remember Maurice with words penned by him and his brothers from the closing lyrics to their song “Immorality:” I will make them give to me…/Immortality./ There is a vision and a fire in me./ I keep the memory of you and me/ Inside./ And we don’t say goodbye./ We don’t say goodbye./ In all my love for you/ And what else we may do/ We don’t say goodbye…” The Bee Gees did not find immortality, for most of them now sleep in the grave awaiting their judgment. They will be remembered for their music, which is worth remembering, and their surviving family members will reflect on the troubles that resulted from their mistakes, and will keep their own memories inside. For there are no goodbyes, only until we see each other again . It is unsurprising that celebrating a life and mourning a death, even of a stranger, give rise to such mixed and complicated feelings. But in reflecting upon the deaths of others, hopefully we can gain a better appreciation for how to make the most of this short life we live on the earth.