Never before has the entire population of the planet been confronted with the fear of death. There have been world wars, but not all countries were under direct threat. There have been pandemics, such as Spanish flu in 1918-20, which is said to have infected as many as 500 million people and may have killed up to 50 million. But in that relatively unsophisticated age, millions will have been blissfully unaware of it. In 2020 there can’t be many communities that don’t have access to radio, TV and the internet, so even if you’re cooped up in the middle of a forest, cut off from civilization, you’re probably going to get the news from somewhere.
All of which means that suddenly human beings don’t seem so clever or self-supporting after all. You may not think you need God, or you may not believe in God or gods, or you may not believe but still have to blame someone or something and someone else’s god is a handy scapegoat.
But are you afraid of death? And what does that actually mean, anyway? I suspect many people are not against ceasing to exist as such, because for good reasons or bad they’ve had enough. It’s been fun, but it had to end some time, and as long as your disappearance won’t have dire consequences for people who depend on you, why not shuffle off this mortal coil through no fault of your own?
It’s the manner of our death that is more frightening: being run over by a bus and knowing nothing about it is one thing, but being terrified and struggling for breath with your organs shutting down as you face the inevitable is another.
It’s not a subject to be glib about, but this is just something to think about, and the song is a suitable rallying cry: one of the great guitar riffs, ethereal vocals and a danceability unusual in heavy rock makes for a powerful combination.
Blue Oyster Cult had been around since the late ’60s without making it big until they stumbled upon this riff and built it into a rock classic that was simple enough to have local bands, including my own, pumping it out all over the place.
So don’t be stupid, don’t be reckless, don’t be irresponsible, but don’t fear the reaper.