Why celebrities can't stop, won't stop — even when they briefly stop

LCD Soundsystem and the problem of the ephemeral celebrity farewell

Six short years ago, LCD Soundsystem said goodbye.

The dance-punk band played a sold-out farewell show at Madison Square Garden in April 2011. A box-set recording of that multi-hour concert, (now ironically) titled The Long Goodbye, was released. There was a documentary in which frontman James Murphy cried. A "small shrine" to the band was erected in a Williamsburg record store.

It's since become clear that this was all for naught.

The band first poked its head out with a single released last Christmas Eve, "Christmas Will Break Your Heart." Then the band announced it would play Coachella, after which Murphy swore LCD Soundsystem would "cease to exist." Then the band said it would play a few more shows. During one of those shows in Brooklyn, it unveiled two new songs.

Then last week, the band announced it was releasing a new album in September and embarking on a world tour.

To be clear, I'm happy the band is back together. (I went to their concert in New York on Saturday!) But I'm also irked — and I'm not even among the fans who shelled out to go to the dramatic farewell show.

Murphy acknowledged on the band's website these feelings of betrayal and deception likely simmering beneath fans' excitement:

"But in my naiveté I hadn't seen one thing coming: There are people who don't hate us at all, in fact who feel very attached to the band, and have put a lot of themselves into their care of us, who feel betrayed by us coming back and playing. Who had traveled for or tried to go to the [Madison Square Garden] show, and who found it to be an important moment for them, which now to them feels cheapened. I just hadn't considered that. I know — ridiculous on my part." [James Murphy, via The New Yorker]

Fans are frustrated — and rightfully so. And yet, it's hard to be surprised, too.

LCD Soundsystem is far from the first band to devastate fans with a final goodbye, only to sheepishly peek its head back out. And at least LCD Soundsystem waited a few years between its exit and its return — some celebrities have said a final farewell and re-emerged before the tears had even dried.

Jay-Z declared his 2002 album, The Black Album, his swan song, but by 2006 he was back and calling his retirement the "worst ... maybe, in history."

LL Cool J tweeted on March 14, 2016 that he'd "officially retired from music." The very same day he deleted that tweet and announced he was "coming out of retirement" and "starting a new album."

This phenomenon is common in sports, too. Muhammad Ali announced in 1979 that he was done boxing, only to return to the ring the next year to fight Larry Holmes. Michael Jordan said he was quitting basketball in 1993 to pursue a career in professional baseball, but by 1995 he was back on the Bulls. He retired again after winning his sixth championship in 1998 — and came back again, too.

Other offenders include Ozzy Osbourne, Frank Sinatra, The Who, Joaquin Phoenix, Audrey Hepburn, Garth Brooks, Brett Favre, and Barbra Streisand — and that's far from the complete catalogue.

Not all of these athletes, actors, and rock stars have provided an explanation, like Murphy did. While some of these goodbyes seem hard to see as anything other than a publicity stunt (looking at you, LL Cool J), it's unlikely that every last one of these celebrities was being totally disingenuous. People change their minds. Sometimes a professional baseball career doesn't pan out the way you'd imagined. Maybe Murphy didn't realize how much he'd miss performing "Dance Yrself Clean" until the finality of the farewell sunk in.

But these wishy-washy goodbyes set a bad precedent. If LCD Soundsystem didn't really mean goodbye for good when it went through that elaborate song and dance, why should fans believe it the next time the band says an album is its last? Haven't these celebrities ever heard of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

The latest celebrity to announce his exit from Hollywood was actor Daniel Day Lewis. Last Tuesday, the three-time Oscar winner said he's done acting. Already I'm wondering, when will he be back?


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