On Legacy 5
A friend of mine emailed the other day asking about a comment he remembered seeing a while back somewhere on the site to the effect that Legacy 5 would be “toast” after Roger Bennett’s death. I can’t find that comment and neither could the friend (let me know if you can or remember where it was), but in the process of looking for it, my friend asked what I thought the “toast” comment mean, exactly.Which got me thinking about L5 post-Roger Bennett’s death.
In general, I think sg insiders have wondered for some time what exactly was the true and lasting origins of L5’s success. Fair or not, the group’s emergence from the Cathedrals inarguably gave the new group a prominence of place and priority in the pecking order of southern gospel that had little to do with ability, talent, or performance.
That doesn’t mean they have nothing going for them musically. They have had and do. But on balance, the group’s success has consistently benefited more from the nostalgia for Glen Payne and George Younce that the Scott Fowler/Roger Bennett pairing kept alive (nothing wrong with that; we all play the cards we’re dealt), and not least of all from the showmanship of Roger Bennett, than it has from the sheer genius of their music. Probably since “I Stand Redeemed” – a real piece of musical magic – there’s really been no song that L5 has managed to popularize in a way equal to, say, a song like “He Saw it All” or “Get Away Jordan” or “I Will Find You Again” or “insert any recent Greater Vision hit.”
When people talk to me about this – always in that “are you sure we should even be talking about this?” kinda voice, given the way Roger Bennett’s death still hangs over every discussion of the group – the conversation drifts inexorably toward some version of the following: Roger was the marquee star that held the group together and made up for what the music and/or song selection often lacked. Without him? … ehhhhh, I don’t know …
I think what people are getting at is less about the long-term viability of the group (they’ll be around for as long as they want to be, I imagine) and more about the unmistakable reality that in losing Bennett, the group lost not just a wonderful person but a flagship personality. The question isn’t, will the group survive? Rather, it’s something like, will they survive and even thrive, but unremarkably so?
Roger’s illness and death, and the way the group became a collective symbol and voice for his struggle as they sang the music he created from that crisis, doubtlessly stretched the group musically, toward the meditative and reflective to an extent they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gone. But without diminishing the legitimacy of that music, it was a product of its moment and context and, as we all too sadly feared, never a sustainable track from a creative standpoint. Given the degree to which Bennett’s personality became ever more the defining element of the group in recent years, it’s probably only natural that insiders and other sg types would develop a sense of uncertainty about what the future holds for L5.
Are they “toast”? Hardly. Gospel music fans are loyal and nostalgic, and for average L5 devotee, I imagine Bennett’s death only deepened their sense of loyalty (and this is the one reason why people are so reluctant to talk about this issue at all, because so many joyful noisers in the rank file tend to treat even an acknowledge of the obvious as a form of disrespect to the living and dead, even though it isn’t and ought not be considered so). What’s more, long before Bennett’s death L5 was quietly working to build one of the more impressive bases of regular fans who support the group no matter what kind of music they produce.
But their recent projects haven’t exactly gone beyond the competent or predictable (with perhaps the exception of “Truth is Marching On,” but which doesn’t
Perhaps the group needs and deserves time to reinvent itself or mourn through the loss of a friend and colleague, to say nothing of figuring out how to fill the creative void created by this death. But I actually think they are where they want to be – pretty much content with the place they occupy, a place they can probably safely inhabit as long as they like, getting by doing nothing more or less than what they’ve been doing.
For some outsiders looking in, it’s a bit different. Whatever else the subsistence model of artistic or professional vision may be, it is not, I don’t think, what some people have in mind when they think and speak of L5 as an heir to the legacy of Cathedrals and the caliber of music such a name calls to mind.
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