Carey Lander, R.I.P.


Carey Lander, keyboardist and singer with Camera Obscura, was 33 when she died.

When music superstars David Bowie and Prince died suddenly barely three months apart, the world mourned their passing with concert tributes and purple-colored lighting of bridges and other monuments.

It’s totally understandable that fans of these iconic performers would honor their legacies in big, bold ways. Likewise, you would expect some form of public grieving for other well-known singers and musicians who’ve died in recent months — Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Maurice White.

But unless you’re a devotee of the Scottish indie band Camera Obscura, chances are the death of keyboardist Carey Lander slipped by unnoticed. She died last October of a rare type of bone cancer that she’d fought for four years. She was just 33.

I’m a fan of the band and I admit I didn’t learn of Carey’s passing until this year.

A favorite song, “New Year’s Resolution,” came up on one of my mixes and Carey’s playing made me wonder when the band might be touring in the U.S. again. I’d seen them once before in Portland — six years ago this month — and hoped they’d return sometime this year. That’s when I learned from the band’s Facebook page that they’d suspended their touring because of Carey’s death.

It made me sad, knowing how much I’d enjoyed seeing them perform, mere feet away from the stage at a densely packed nightclub. It also made me sad, knowing the impact of her passing was just as devastating on her bandmates, family and fans as any performer, superstar or not.

Carey Lander wasn’t the focal point of the band, not by a longshot. She sang background vocals and contributed to a balanced sound whose sum was greater than the individual musicians.

Judging by the obituaries in the British press, she was someone I probably would have enjoyed meeting.

She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer which usually affects children, in 2011. She established a crowdfunding page to raise money for cancer charity, and went on to raise £56,000 (more than $80,000 U.S. dollars) — a sum that has nearly doubled since her death.

Lander told visitors on her Just Giving page: “It’s probably too late to help me, but it would be great if we could find something in the future that means children don’t have to undergo such awful treatment and have a better chance of survival.”

In a piece for The Guardian, Tracyanne Campbell, the band’s frontwoman, remembered her friend:

“Carey was always immaculately colourful in both humour and appearance, always sarcastic and funny, but also thoughtful, dignified, discreet and wise. All the best things. More than anything, she loved books – Carson McCullers, Sylvia Plath and Patrick Hamilton, Paul Auster – and also 50s and 60s vintage style, winter clothes, red roses, falling snow.

“People often thought that Carey was quite shy and unfriendly, but she wasn’t, really. She was the right kind of quiet. She could steer the band with her silence. In rehearsal, if she didn’t like something, the lack of sound from behind the keyboard spoke volumes.”

Bowie and Prince were incredible, original artists, deserving of the acclaim they received alive and in death. Carey Lander was no superstar, but clearly she’s someone who made the music industry and the community around her a better place.

Photograph: The Independent

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