So, where were you when you heard that he had died? Were you one of the thousands who stood around on a January evening getting very cold outside the Ritzy cinema in Brixton or even colder in New York? Quite frankly, Dear Reader, I just don’t know what we’re going to carry on the rest of our lives. Even though most of us had only a nodding acquaintance with David Bowie’s music until last Monday. Starman, Heroes, Life on Mars and Rebel Rebel. Yes, we love them all and we now know how each one goes – after we hastily looked them up on YouTube on Monday morning.
Of course, my thoughts are with Bowie’s wife, Iman, members of his family and friends who actually knew him, but that’s not you and me, Dear Reader, or the people standing outside the Ritzy cinema. Let’s get real, shall we? I’m sure most of us have mourned someone close to us, a member of our family or a close friend, and we have felt real pain. You don’t feel genuine grief for a rock star, however much you might enjoy his music.
Why then do we allow ourselves to be manipulated into hysteria, largely, by the press? Two days later, the actor Alan Rickman died, and we almost started all over again. Is life so grim, or so boring? The early seventies, when Bowie first came upon the scene, was one of the richest and most prolific eras for rock music and, at the risk of being called a heretic, he was not the greatest. Are we going to have to go through the whole business again for Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry, Stevie Nicks, Debbie Harry, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, four members of Abba and countless others, who are very much alive? Syd Barrett died in 2006, without fuss; I’m sure Pink Floyd were at least as innovative as Bowie, and have at least as many fans.
In 1976, during Bowie’s heyday, the composer Benjamin Britten died and I have this abiding memory of a group of – very serious – music students clustered around a transistor radio in somebody’s room, amongst rolled-up dirty socks and half-written essays, listening to an obituary delivered in the portentous and sepulchral tone that only Radio Three can manage. Those students were sad in a respectful way, but, as they knew full well, Britten’s music was still there for them.
So, what has this got to do with writing, seeing as this is a writing blog? Not a lot, and, yes, I am venting online. Except, as we all know, everything is to do with writing, particularly observations about human emotion. Someone could write a story about this. Possibly me.
Above you see the classic photo of Bowie as Aladdin Insane, below one of him holding a cat. I like seeing the ‘relentless innovator and champion of outsiders’ (according to Newsweek) holding a little ginger cat. (Both pictures are reproduced courtesy of creative commons.)