You can look at it two ways: either we like gawking at death, or we find deeper meaning through loss. In 2004, music lost more than a few memorable characters-icons that spanned a litany of genres. Ever notice how many people never make it to that much-vaunted median age for dying? It's enough to depress an aging music writer like myself. Here's a look at who, like a cruel game of Donkey Kong, graduated to the next level of existence:
John McGeoch, 48
Not exactly a household name, but as a member of Magazine, Public Image Ltd. and Visage, he was crucial to the sound of the '80s.
J.J. Jackson, 62
One of MTV's original VJs, back when they showed videos. His death is a sure sign to Generation X'ers that they're not getting any younger.
Ray Charles, 73
A true legend, Charles was a trailblazer, scoring hits in rock, R&B, country and jazz. With a catalog that includes “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia” and a definitive version of “America the Beautiful,” it's safe to say those who control the “play” button on the world's music will never let us forget this cat.
Arthur Killer Kane, 55
The New York Dolls bassist was an inspiration to many nascent rockers. He passed away just days after the band made a triumphant return to the live stage at Morrissey's urging.
Rick James (, bitch), 56
The famed funky bass player best known for his much sampled “Superfreak.” He will be immortal as long as dance floors exist.
Johnny Ramone, 55
As a founder of the American punk band, Johnny set the template for brooding guitarists the world over. King of the low-slung axe, he added muscle to tunes such as “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Rockaway Beach.”
Rodney Dangerfield, 82
His loser shtick was well-timed and instantly recognizable, with classic movies to his remind us of his comedic underachieving. But let's not forget his pioneering work in hip-hop with the 1983 Grammy-winning album, Rappin' Rodney. No joke.
Greg Shaw, 55
Indie-music pioneer who founded the Bomp! label, coined the terms “power pop” and “garage rock” and released discs by a slew of San Diego acts, including The Event, The Crawdaddys, Unknowns, Gravedigger V, Tell Tale Hearts, Nashville Ramblers and Mystery Machine.
John Peel, 62
The ultimate music fan, Peel was the most influential DJ. His BBC Radio show helped break hundreds of bands over the decades, from the Undertones to the White Stripes.
Ol' Dirty Bastard, 35
The Wu-Tang Clan founding member's over-the-top personality made him one of the most entertaining acts in rap. As such, Russell Johnson was almost as famous for his run-ins with the law.
Elvin Jones, 76
An incredible drummer, this jazz giant played with legions of performers including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. Nice C.V.
Son Seals, 62
A Chicago blues guitarist known for his cutting style, he helped revitalize the genre in the '70s.
Hitting home: San Diego music icons we lost in 2004
John Guerin, 64
One of the most recorded session men of all time, Guerin grew up in the area before playing on records for everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Byrds to Sonny Rollins. He was also responsible for a lot of music on film and TV-that's him playing the Hawaii 5-0 theme song.
Louis Guerena, 44
Manic leader of pioneering rock en español group, Tijuana No.
Pedro Escovedo, 96
The patriarch of the Escovedo clan. Without his seed, the musical world would lack the talents of Azteca/Santana members Pete and Thomas Escovedo, the Zeros' guitarist Javier Escovedo, former Dragons frontman Mario Escovedo and Austin's folk champ Alejandro Escovedo. Not to mention his grandkids-Sheila E. and band leader Peter Michael Escovedo.
Micheal Monte, 91
Band leader known for his 1957 recording of “Rock My Rockin' Chair,” reissued in England during 2000.
Barney Kessell, 80
One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Kessell played on hundreds of hit recording sessions, from Elvis to the Beach Boys and even more TV shows, movies and commercials.
Charles L. Jones, 87
Orchestra leader in the post-WWII era.
Bill Balance, 85
A groundbreaking radio personality in the '70s, Balance will likely be remembered as the man who sold nude pictures of Dr. Laura.
Lyle and Ellen Duplessie (51 and 49, respectively)
Lyle was an excellent bassist and guitarist with numerous groups. Both were tireless supporters of roots music and were cofounders of The Troubadour magazine, as well as parents of San Diego's youngest music-scenester, Derek Duplessie.
Paulette Valenzuela, 34
The balls-to-the-wall frontwoman for hard-rock band The Abuse was murdered during a robbery at her home.