Billy Joel and Def Leppard are lying. That’s the way I see it. It’s disturbing to imagine that, as a general rule, the good die young.
All the way back in 1977, Billy Joel sang that only the good die young. He definitely flaunted it, and taunted with it. In stereotyping those with a religious upbringing, and an emphasis on piety, he claimed the “sinners are much more fun.” Even heaven is disparaged, saying it isn’t better than the dangerous life he leads. At best Mr. Joel has a severely inflated ego (which we know he does anyway for many other reasons). At worst, he’s a tempter luring the innocent to prey on.
Just 10 years ago, in 2008, Def Leppard made the same claim in a song of the same name. Very quickly, though, one realizes the tone is quite different. The song ruminates of a special person who was gone much too quickly. It’s a bitter irony that someone so good was taken from him. No one is going to miss the wicked person who dies young!
We eulogize the dead. Even the worst are always better after they’re departed. The best moments are elevated and all other is forgotten (except by those closest to the deceased). Robin William’s movie “World’s Greatest Dad” is a parody of this phenomenon.
Iron Maiden expanded the thought along its predicted trajectory to say
“Only the good die young, All the evil seem to live forever.”
We all know people who are honourable, and others who are not. If somebody has to die, who do you wish it to be? Surely not those who bring life and goodness and joy into the world! Who hasn’t said, upon hearing of a tragic loss, “Why them?!!!”
2Pac seemed to bemoan the idea that the good die young, when it’s The Good who are needed more than ever. In the face of persistent malevolence, there needs to be a counteracting resistance, a benevolence that pushes back. May the force – of grace – by with you!
Queen felt the sting personally when they wrote “No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)” in 1997.
I guess we'll never understand, The sense of your leaving
The longer the idea is pondered, the closer one drifts to the existential. What is the meaning of life, the meaning of death? There’s an unspoken expectation of the eternal, and dying being the wrong outcome.
Anberlin claim in “Godspeed” that “They lied when they said that the good die young.” I tend to agree. Granted, the song is a case study from the world of music. The author says the “song is about the ‘glamourous’ lives of musicians that people seem to put up on pedestal and worship. Why? Sex, drugs, and rock and roll seem to get you to about the age of 27 and then you die. Tragically.” There aren’t many who associate “goodness” with reckless pursuit of indulgence. And statistics would bear it out, that dangerous living leads to earlier deaths. So then, statistically, the opposite is also true, that wise and self-controlled living bestows long life on the average.
But is it more than that? Maybe the question really becomes, why is there death at all? Especially for those to whom we’re deeply attached. Especially for those who live uprightly, but wonder at times what’s the point?
Back to Anberlin, this time a piece called “Other Side.” They propose that death doesn’t have to be an end, but rather more of an interruption. “There’s a time and a place. An unknown region of space. I can meet you all there.” If this is true, even IF the good die young, there’s a silver lining. Dying young or old, a good person’s death is still a loss. But mourning looks differently if there’s future reunion.