God is dead, but, contrary to Nietzsche’s diagnosis, ‘we’ didn’t kill him; he died of cancer. This perhaps crudely cold and off-putting opening does not refer to a naively metaphorically constituted transcendental abstraction, but to a spatio-temporally situated rock legend, Ronnie James Dio. This study aims at contributing to the burgeoning research field of memory and collective identity by providing a sociosemiotic account of the formation of collective narrative identity. By drawing on the three major categories whereby collective memory is formed, that is artifacts, processes, places, as well as on the three key sociosemiotic metafunctions which are responsible for shaping a cultural event as sign system, the pursued interpretive route seeks to effectively contextualize how collective memory is fleshed out situationally in the context of Dio’s memorial.

Keywords: memorial, commemoration, phenomenology, sociosemiotics, rock music.


1. The memorial event as semiotic resource for shaping collective narrative identity

Ronnie James Padavona (July 10th 1942- May 16th 2010), more widely known as Dio, the singer and mastermind behind the homonymous band, as well as lead vocalist and frontman for many years of the leading rock band Rainbow and the hard rock (heavy metal) band Black Sabbath, who passed away on May 16th 2010 after a prolonged battle with cancer, indubitably belongs to the pantheon of contemporary music culture. The cultural heritage he left behind, featuring both outstanding song-writing, as well as an imaginatively rich iconography, is likely to continue inspiring his loyal fandom, but also aspiring artists in the concerned genres. Dio’s multimodal heritage constitutes an abundant semiotic resource that has been fuelling his fandom’s collective identity for many years and whereupon its collective memory is likely to continue feeding in quest for a narratively mediated ontological scaffold: “The initial man-life correspondence is narrative” (Kristeva 2001: 27).

Dio’s memorial event that took place at his burial site at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, California on May 30 2010, attended by more than 1500 fans and friends, was (and could not have been other than) a ritualistic celebration of his life-long achievements, enacted in the form of a live-show, in which he excelled throughout his artistic career. May 30th has been officially declared ‘Day of Ronnie James Dio’ by the city of Los Angeles.

The role memorial places, memorial artifacts and processes/rituals of commemoration perform in shaping and consolidating the collective memory, and subsequently the collective identity of social groups, has been amply theorized in various social sciences and humanities disciplines, including sociology, cultural anthropology, ethnography, cultural studies, memory studies and to a lesser extent semiotics.