The Death of David Bowie Brings Out The Inner Hypocrite

David Bowie as Aladdin InsaneSo, 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.)

David Bowie holding a cat.


7 thoughts on “The Death of David Bowie Brings Out The Inner Hypocrite

  1. Hmm.. I guess this falls under the category of speaking for yourself. I regularly feel grief for the passing of someone who played a role in my life, even if I never met them in real life. I don’t see why it’s respectful to be sorry about the passing of a classical musician, but hysterical to be sorry about the death of a pop star. But then I didn’t have to look up youtube to remind myself of Bowie’s music – like millions of people around the world, his music has, still does and always will form part of my life. I also feel grief for the passing of Alan Rickman – is that a bad thing too? I don’t feel the public reaction to either death can really be described as hysteria. I’d suggest ‘sorrow’ is a better word – another great track from Bowie, by the way, that I can sing without resorting to youtube.

  2. . Here, Here Fiction Fan, if you, Charlie Britten, don’t seem to understand the intense emotion that are deeply tied into music- that then clearly makes you bereft of understanding those of us who are sensitive to feeling the loss of David Bowie. People in dementia wards who have lost touch with everything else in their world are still acutely aware of words to their favourite songs. God forbid I should ever get dementia, but I would hope to be singing Gene Genie and some of Bowies finest if I did. And he, as the craftsman of those songs for generations, has the right to be mourned – it is an end of a wonderful journey. Though, we all have been entrusted with his incredible work to pass on to future generations. AND on all accounts I have read about him past and present, and I was actually lucky enough to meet him briefly, he was a very pleasant human being in person- a rare package indeed

  3. I think you probably know my views on this subject, given that I posted re. Alan Rickman’s death. I’m in total agreement with FictionFan. The reason we mourn such celebrities, despite never having met them, is not only at the loss of their talent and loss of potential future projects to the world, but also because their contribution marks pivotal moments in our own lives that are now but a memory. You mentioned other artists that you consider more talented than Bowie, but Bowie wasn’t just a singer: he was a movement, in his own right. When he emerged, Britain’s society was predominantly white, patriarchal, heterosexual and split into either Protestants and Catholics. His androgynous persona broke through barriers and helped to create a world of greater tolerance; a world we should continue to defend, stridently. His existence enriched the world beyond measure; that is why he is mourned so vehemently.

  4. I think there is an element of jumping on the grief bandwagon for some people and the press have had a role in encouraging people to feel they should publicly show they care by laying flowers etc at scenes of accidents or places associated with famous people. But … that doesn’t mean there aren’t those who genuinely do care about and mourn the loss of people they’ve never met.

    Music, art, literature, films, poetry can all influence our lives and move us deeply. If that’s been the case, it seems natural to me that the creators of these works will be mourned when they die.

  5. Thank you for all your interesting comments, Fiction Fan, Jill C, Julie Wow and Patsy Collins.

    There is only one point I want to clarify. Fiction Fan wrote ‘I don’t see why it’s respectful to be sorry about the passing of a classical musician, but hysterical to be sorry about the death of a pop star.’ What I was trying to say was that the music students’ sadness was commensurate and that they appreciated that Benjamin Britten’s music lived on after him. Patsy writes that ‘Music, art, literature, films, poetry can all influence our lives and move us deeply.’, which, of course, they do – and they continue to do so after the artist’s death. I’m thinking of a 1980s song, ‘Fame’, the first line of which is ‘I’m going to live for ever.’ I would NEVER say that one music genre has more value than another. As my cousin, the conductor, once said, there is no such thing as classical music.

    For the record, I do admire Bowie’s music. As I discovered when I looked it up on YouTube, it was what I danced to at university discos in Manchester, only I didn’t, at that time, realise whose music it was. It’s the over-reaction which I was writing about in this post.

  6. Charlie I’m with you on this completely! I actually went to see Bowie at Wembley in his surrealist phase (which one you might ask) and – frankly – it was disappointing. Yes, I liked a lot of his music, but I never felt a warmth towards the man. When Alan Rickman died I did feel sad – not hysterical mind – just a teeny bit sad – as I warmed to the man i felt existed beyond his roles. I admired his ability to take part in the spoof film Galaxy Quest on top of all the serious stuff he did, poking fun at the world of acting and fame. But I wasn’t weeping or anything. The whole Bowie love-in was a bit over the top and as for all the middle aged straight men (mostly) and women of the media claiming what an influence he was on them – puh leees. Respect, yes, but as for wailing in the streets – wasn’t that Martha Reeves and the Vandellas? 😉

  7. Thanks for your comment, memoirsofahusk. I’m starting to realise, in my young and green years, that I listened to music, rather than watching artists. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas? Yeah, they danced… and wailed… in the streets.

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