I remember well when, as a new and very young Rabbi, I was woken one Sunday morning at the end of August 1997 by a frantic parent. Sunday school (as it is called in Britain) was beginning for the year, but she implored me to cancel the learning because of the news that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash. I thought it was terribly sad that a young woman, who had given so much and still had so much to give, had died. But I couldn’t quite understand why someone was crying on phone to me about it. But not only did this parent cry at the news of Diana’s death, but so did all of Britain. There was such a spontaneous outpouring of mourning the like of which I don’t ever remember (perhaps when Elvis died, or John Lennon, the feeling around the globe was similar, but I’m too young to really remember those events well). Somehow Princess Diana’s death allowed people who had no connection to her at all to give vent to their mourning and sadness for all that is wrong in the world (and possibly everything that they felt was wrong with Britain and the monarchy at that time). People who had never met her or seen her were literally crying in the streets.
At the time I didn’t really understand the reaction. Sure, it was sad. Sure it was a preventable tragedy. But why was everyone crying?
Now I am older (and wiser) and I think I understand it a bit better. In fact, I understand it very well. A few weeks ago I heard the news that Jon Lord had passed away. And I was upset for the rest of the day and, truth be told, for the entire week.
Who was Jon Lord? You may know him as the keyboard player for the rock band Deep Purple. Deep Purple were once known as the loudest band in the world. But that would not tell you anything about Jon Lord. For me he was the glue that held Deep Purple together, always a gentleman despite the behaviour of some of the other members of the band. He was also the composer of “Concerto for Group and Orchestra” combining classical music with rock music – which was virtually unheard of in 1969 when it was first performed and recorded. Jon was the elder statesman, but not in the limelight. He quietly ensured that everything worked. In fact, the one and only time I saw Deep Purple perform (in Tel Aviv in 1991) Richie Blackmore, the guitarist, walked off before the encore. The band continued without him – Jon played the guitar part on the keyboard. And the song was “Smoke on the Water” – not easy to do without guitar!
Why was I saddened by Jon’s death? I never met him, I never even knew anyone who met him. I had no connection with him at all – except through his records (remember them?) – and I had a lot of Deep Purple records. I first heard Deep Purple’s Made In Japan when I was 13 years old, in my first year of high school. For the next 4 years I collected as many Deep Purple records as I could find in New Zealand (which wasn’t nearly as many as could be found in Britain, or even Japan – though I did ask my uncle to bring me some records from Japan).
Teenage years are always difficult, and high school for me was not a lot of fun. But the whole way through I knew that Jon Lord and Deep Purple were there for me. And if Jon could combine classical music with rock music, then there was a chance that I could be in a famous rock group too, with my classical music background and my (growing) love of rock music. And yet Jon showed that it was still possible to be a nice guy; rock musicians didn’t have to trash hotel rooms, get strung out on drugs, or become alcoholics. They could still speak eloquently and write ‘grown-up’ music.
Jon Lord was one of only two members of Deep Purple who had been there from the beginning, and through all the band changes. However, in 2002 he left the band to focus on his composing and other projects. That was also part of my connection with Jon Lord – it is important to know when to stop. There is an alternative to Jethro Tull’s statement that “he was too old to rock ‘n’ roll but he was too young to die.” One can bow out gracefully at the opportune moment.
In a job interview, when asked which people I respected and looked up to, I once answered ‘Jon Lord’, but I didn’t get the job and couldn’t express in words the close connection, and the strong influence that he had on me.
I kind of lost track of Jon Lord the past few years. I was busy raising a family and dealing with all the issues of life, and I didn’t need him as much as I had in the past. I didn’t listen to all his later compositions, and didn’t keep track of his honorary degrees. And I didn’t know that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011. So when I read the news that he had passed away it was very sudden for me. There will be no more music from Jon. There is now one less gentleman in the rock music world. And part of my childhood is gone forever.
Jon, you will be missed by all who knew you. And by thousands, or millions, who never knew you except through your music. Rock in peace Jon.