The music world lost a legendary artist this past weekend. Keith Emerson was one of the most visible ambassadors of synthesizers in the 1970’s, recording one of the first synth solos on his Moog for the track posted above, the sadly prescient “Lucky Man”. With Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, Emerson formed one of the most popular Progressive Rock bands ever, ELP, becoming known for his huge stage rig which included the “Monster Moog”, a wall-sized modular synthesizer.

Emerson was also known as a talented composer and arranger, creating arrangements of famous orchestral and jazz works for ELP and previous bands. Most notably, while with ELP, Emerson arranged the popular classical piece “Pictures At An Exhibition” by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky and Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man” and “Hoedown”, in some cases recording entire albums of these arrangements.

Photo by Mari Kawaguchi

Moog recently re-released the Monster Moog in honor of Keith Emerson and his many contributions to the music world. The 550-pound synth that Emerson (with his crew of stage techs) hauled around the world was given new life as an astronomically priced recreation, asking a mere $150,000 for one model. Emerson took great pride in the synth, touring with it despite common instabilities that were found in analog synthesizers of the period. Here he describes it to a crowd of fans…

While losing so many great musicians this year has been tragic, the loss of Emerson has been particularly disturbing. Plagued by a nerve condition in his hand that prevented him from performing with the lightning precision he has always been known for, Keith faced a deep depression. Even worse, he read comments and reviews from hyper-critical fans, claiming he had lost his talent and that he should give up. Imagine the personal catastrophe this must have been, to be physically unable to express himself through his instrument and then to be tormented for it. In the end, sadly, Emerson took his own life.

All musicians deal with rejection, failure and the physical challenges of performing an instrument. For many, this is a catalyst, sometimes to improve, sometimes to change their approach, sometimes to move on completely. For Emerson, the idea of continuing to perform below his own expectations was too much.

If you are depressed and considering suicide, don’t wait to talk to someone. Call someone, anyone, and get the help you need. We all need more artistic beauty in this world, not more tragedy. If you need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

Keith Emerson, Synthesizers and Suicide

4 thoughts on “Keith Emerson, Synthesizers and Suicide

  • March 15, 2016 at 7:38 am

    His innovations and contributions to rock music were monumental; he will be greatly missed!

    • March 17, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      My eulogy,
      At the club “Simply Blues” in L.A. I was at the bar and who walks in…Keith Emerson!. Being a quite young keyboard player he was the musician that I had idolized. I walked over to him and asked, “how’s your hand”, to which he replied, “its all right, thanks for asking.” I offered him a beer, then he asked, “do I know you?” (funny). We then proceeded to have a few more, talking music and a strange story about when he met one of his idols, Bill Evans in New York. We really hit it off. He asked me where I lived, I replied Santa Monica he replies “Me Too!.” He grabbed a napkin and gave me his home phone number… he said call me. We used to chat on the phone occasionally, he loved parrots and once-in-while we’d run into each other at pet stores. Besides being a musical icon he was also funny, very kind, gracious and gentle. I, as many others, will deeply miss him.

      • March 17, 2016 at 1:08 pm

        Thank you for posting this, it’s a very touching story and such a classic Hollywood experience!

  • March 18, 2016 at 4:09 am

    May those who criticized him contract cancer of the testicles so as not to contaminate the rest of the planet..
    RIP Keith…


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