Karl Wallinger

I haven’t figured out why some celebrity deaths hit harder than others. Very few if any celebrities are people I’ve met, but I spend enough time with the art of enough of them that I have a reflexive oof” when I see some names pop up in the obituaries. Richard Lewis, Andre Braugher, Matthew Perry, Sinéad O’Connor — I took those a bit personally. But then Karl Wallinger from World Party (and briefly, The Waterboys) died a week ago at 66 and I’ve been thinking about him ever since.

I liked three World Party songs a lot: Ship of Fools”, Is It Like Today?”, and Way Down Now”, and they were about all I knew of the band. Ship of Fools” came on my radar when I was 15 and my obsession with nuclear weapons was still raw. Now that I listen back to the lyrics and see the video, there’s nothing in it that says the song is about nukes, but he’s obviously warning about many forms of apocalypse. I must have been seeing mushroom clouds in his eyeglasses with the way that creepy bluescreen effect worked.

So that one song of his had an outsized effect on me, and his name stuck with me for a long time. His other hits are blessed with hooks, and I always regarded him as especially gifted. And then he died, 13 years older than me. Maybe it was related to his aneurysm from 2001, I don’t know. But I felt sad and cheated when I heard about it.

And Karl was a friend and bandmate of Chris Whitten, one of my favorite drummers. He was fairly devastated by the news according to his post on Instagram.

And only because of all this did I learn about Karl having been in The Waterboys from 1983–1985. I never liked them before, but Sarah knows the Waterboys and she just introduced me to Fisherman’s Blues and now I want all those non-Waterboys years back. For some reason, my younger ears didn’t appreciate Mike Scott’s voice back in the day, but with age and the appetite for more varied sounds, I really get it. Like, I need it.

Even before you read or listen to the lyrics, you can feel Scott spinning like a centrifuge of grief. He might break apart any second and send shards of himself into the rest of the band and it’s one of the greatest things you can hear.

That’s a lot of stuff to learn and appreciate anew from the passing of one man.

music death

March 17, 2024