Posthumousness, death and letting go: Les talk about Dawson

This was published in Cult Noise magazine. You can read it here!

I want to approach this topic in the best way I can – one which conveys my views on what I believe to be a serious matter, but in a way which respects those directly affected by what I’m about to write about.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was sitting in my gran’s home at her bedside, eyes glued to her tiny television screen as she idly flicked through everything Freeview had to offer at 7 o’clock.

“Ach! There’s nothing on the telly at this time,” she grumbled, and I instantly agreed.

As she put down the remote, a familiar figure walked across the television screen – Les Dawson nonetheless.

He was sitting on a music stool on a darkened stage with one arm slumped over the hood of a baby grand, as casually as casual can be. He was wearing a striking, royal blue velvet suit and white shirt which his stomach pressed tightly against, pulling the fabric until it was almost transparent. He was talking, as Les Dawson tended to do when he was on stage. And his face… his face stretched into all those different kinds of expressions that we mere mortals fail to fathom, often adding more humour to the spectacle than the jokes he told themselves. But there was something not quite right about his eyes: they weren’t blinking. And what kind of living human doesn’t blink?

My eyes were fixated on the screen. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a comical genius in his prime as an excitable, unseen audience hysterically laughs during pauses between jokes?

But just then the camera flicked to expose the audience and suddenly Cilla Black appeared on the screen, cackling. Shortly after that, Sir Bruce Forsyth made an appearance in a well-furnished room, followed by Sir Terry Wogan. Given that Sir Forsyth’s hair would have been a few shades darker in Dawson’s day, I got the impression that this performance had been filmed recently, and by recently I mean at least after the millennium, which would be impossible: Les Dawson died in the 90s, right?

And then it came to my attention that Dawson’s presence had been technologically developed into a walking, talking, life-size hologram. The producers had taken excerpts from the script of An Audience With… Les Dawson, thrown in a couple of old favourite one-liners, retitled the production he did before performing An Audience With that Never Was, and literally put words in this deceased man’s mouth long after his death – which to me is as immoral as it gets.

Les Dawson’s untimely death is a very tragic thought to revisit. Dawson’s comedic career had only just carried him into the coveted An Audience With… title when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1993. He left behind three children from his first marriage and Charlotte, a barely one-year-old, to his second wife, Tracey – both of whom were involved with the programme on the television that night.

While Charlotte Dawson remained extremely positive about the production in interviews shown during the programme, personally, I struggle to imagine how she must’ve felt being so close to meeting the parent she never really knew personally. How hard it must’ve been to watch him vanish, yet again, with the flick of a television switch.

An Audience With That Never Was reminded me of Michael Jackson – the popstar so gifted he’s still releasing number 1 albums after his death. According to Rolling Stone, repackaged material and outtakes from the late star’s time in the recording studio could form the basis of a further eight posthumous albums. And so here I ask: is it actually right of us to use a dead person’s talent for money long after they’ve been laid to rest?

And who will be keeping the profit from these new albums? I doubt Michael Jackson’s going to be buying a brand new million dollar mansion with it, bringing me onto another point…

As if musicians, comedians and basically anyone else who doesn’t want to work a 9-5 job don’t already have a tough enough time trying to make money of their endeavours, it seems as though the ‘big guys’ in the offices are somehow still being allowed to continue using their capital puppets to make more dosh even when they’re no longer on this planet. Because to hell with morality!

In 2014, Michael Jackson miraculously performed his Slave to the Rhythm from his first posthumous album Xscape at the Billboard Music Awards. The audience leapt to their feet, applauding, shouting praise from every angle of the Las Vegas auditorium, and no wonder why, because despite one problem, the entire performance was flawless. But was I the only one mildly disturbed by it?

I believe something serious needs to be addressed here.

For whatever reason, Les Dawson was not meant to grace the public with An Audience With… in 1993. The material and the whole production ought to have been laid to rest with him when he died and everyone was meant to move on and mourn over the magnificent existing products of this hilarious gentleman’s creative imagination. The joy felt too short lived. Les Dawson seemed alive and with us and in an instant he was gone, and sadness flushed immediately into the void. Similarly, for whatever reason, Michael Jackson was not meant to release these studio albums planned for the future. Soon, producers will be living through Jackson’s image to create footage he may not have even wanted to be out there in the public’s hands, making him into something he is not and toying around with his vocals and person until each record is turned into something further and further away from what he really was.

So, why do you think we do this?

To claim that the reason humanity continues to use people posthumously is because no one will match up to their greatness would be just as inhumane as actually using them. This world is filled with billions upon billions of people, each with a variety of talents and opinions. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to go searching for what is new and what is rising. So, if the reason is not due to a shortage of talent, then it can be only one of two things:

1. Some people are only your friend when you die. I personally had no interest in Michael Jackson until his death gave him the publicity needed to actually catch my attention. And I did feel sad about his death when I got to know him through articles written while he was still living about the hardships he suffered and his colossal fanbase. I do understand why existing fans would jump at the opportunity to see dead celebrities one last time. Releasing material posthumously also wets the appetites of new fans while satisfying the old ones.

2. Humanity simply struggles to let go of what we love.

Like my gran says, “what’s for you won’t go by you!”

If it was meant in their lifetimes, it would’ve happened in their lifetimes. Unless the targeted star gave consent while they were still living – which would render this entire article irrelevant – then just leave them in peace.

After all, peace in death is a fundamental human right that can’t be taken away from us.

‘Posthumousness, death and letting go: Les Talk About Dawson’ was published in Cult Noise Magazine, London, on 15th July 2015. You can read the whole article on their website here! 155

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