Hologram Tours: No More Resting in Peace.
The first time I heard Amy Winehouse, I swooned. Ironically, it was the feeling I've heard about from addicts describing their first taste of heroin. It was a feeling of, “This is what I'm looking for, this is how I always want to feel.” Her voice killed me. Her persona revived me and killed me all over again. The beehive, the fragility, the otherworldly aspect of her Old Soul.
But now that she's gone, the last thing I want is to see a performance by a hologram of Amy Winehouse, a fate she doesn't deserve but may come to pass later this year.
In case you haven't heard, holograms are the new method of extracting revenue from dead musical artists. Technology has allowed Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa, among others, to go on tour long after their time on earth, filling venues with fans who seem to want their performers dead or alive. It's a phenomenon that seems to divide music lovers into two groups: one that finds this idea ghastly, and one that welcomes it. For every fan that clamors to see a touring hologram of Whitney Houston, there's someone wishing she could just rest in peace.
Unfortunately, resting in peace is no longer an option. Not if record companies and family estates have their way. A handful of companies have sprouted, hoping to mold a new, hybrid category of entertainment — part concert, part technology-driven spectacle — centered on the holographic afterlives of deceased musical stars.
Half of the 20 top-grossing North American touring acts of 2019 were led by artists who were at least 60 years old, among them Cher, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Dead & Company and Billy Joel; The top 3 were the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Bob Seger. Their deaths could ensure a lucrative income stream for a music industry in flux, at a time when CD revenues won't be enough to support an artist’s dependents. According to one publicist for a start-up hologram company, speaking of the soon-to-be-dead artists, "We have to put them back on the road."
Tupac Shakur was an early test subject for the new technology 15 years after his murder. His hologram made an appearance at the 2012 Coachella festival. The success of the concept led to one-off appearances by other dead artists, most notably Michael Jackson. Base Hologram, the most ambitious of the new companies, produced holograms of Maria Callas and Roy Orbison, debuting them in 2018 with performances in Europe and America. In February, Base will unleash the "hologram sector's" biggest venture thus far: a full concert by a Whitney Houston hologram.
Poor Whitney. I can't help but reflect on the lyric of her theme song, Greatest Love of All.
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Wrong, Whitney, they can and will. But they couldn't do it without ticket sales. One can't blame the purveyors of hologram concerts for trying to make money. I mean, I can personally, because that's me. But musical artists have traditionally been exploited by the forces around them and so this is just more of the same. But fans should think about the artist first. Who among your idols would consent to the use of their hologram? And what are the limits of this use? Should Maria Callas have to sing with Ronnie James Dio? Will Bob Marley perform with Lil Peep? Should an artist have to give consent while they're still living? Is there any way to protect their legacies in the face of greed multiplied geometrically by technology?
I never got to see David Bowie perform live, and it may be my biggest music-based regret. I still get goosebumps every time I hear "Heroes." But as much as his music means to me, I wouldn't want to see a Bowie hologram. I simply wouldn't want to defile his memory that way. Ditto with Amy. Maybe the more you revere an artist, the less you want to see them replicated. Their place in your life is too sacred.
I'm so glad I got to see Prince a few years ago in a small club. I can honestly say that I was devastated by his death. But if I'd missed that club tour, I would never want to see him as a hologram. Prince was all about life. I hope his estate will let him rest in paradise along with Aretha, Jeff Buckley, and all my other fallen idols.
If you love Amy Winehouse, there are a million great videos on YouTube, a great documentary, and of course her records. You can picture her in your mind's eye when you listen to Back to Black. Naturally, her family supports the hologram project currently in the works. Luckily, in my view, the project has been postponed. Would it be more ethical, one journalist asked, to let an artist who hated fame and touring to simply rest?
I know my answer. What about yours?