Thomas Jones in the London Review of Books:
Catching news about the Michael Jackson trial, I can’t help being reminded of a caustic song by Dan Bern, a singer less famous than Jackson by several orders of magnitude, called ‘Too Late to Die Young’. ‘The day that Elvis died was like a mercy killing,’ it begins, before turning its attention to the inglorious late careers of other fallen idols of American popular culture, challenging listeners to ‘name the last good film that Marlon Brando made/While trying to keep his kid from going to jail.’ ‘Too late to crash, too late to burn, too late to die young,’ goes the chorus. The song is softened somewhat by the singer’s sense of his own life lacking much direction or purpose; and it’s more than aware that dying young isn’t on its own enough of an achievement to turn someone into James Dean.
‘Too Late to Die Young’ points up, too, the contradictions of being both a star and a human being, in terms not only of what consitutes the good – dying young v. living an ignominiously long life, for example – but also of the expectations of the crowd, who want their (our) heroes to be above common human frailties, but all the same can’t help probing for weaknesses, and are both sorely disappointed and gleefully reassured when we find them.