What makes this post different to the multitude of platitudes floating around on facebook and twitter regarding the death of David Bowie? Honestly, nothing much probably. I was as sorely tempted as anyone to post a generic picture of him, alongside a caption reading “You will be missed” or “[insert lyrics from Space Oddity]” – this is not me judging those people. This is me, having a hard time coming to terms with the way people display grief in this age of the Internet.
We all know those people who continue writing on deceased friends facebook walls after they have died. Personally, that sort of behaviour really skeeves me out. And hey – I’m not one to judge the way people deal with their losses – perhaps publicly displaying it and allowing others to “comment” and “like” their personal messages aids them in some sort of transcendental manner. Kind of like leaving flowers at someone’s grave, and then being notified every time someone stops by, recognising you have left the flowers, and leaving you some sort of cosmic kudos for it.
Please, if I die, delete all of my online profiles.
With celebrities it’s different though. We are not personal friends of these people. Our friends seeing our grief isn’t as much of an intimate voyeurism. It’s natural to be sad, share that with someone who understands, receive a little bit of internet karma, and then move on to the next public disaster.
Well, I can honestly say this is the first time I have felt the need to write anything about this. But it’s for a totally different reason than I otherwise expected. When Amy Winehouse died I was mildly disgusted at the outpouring of grief that came from the internet and media in general, considering the huge part the paparazzi had to play in her depression – and the general blanket negativity of interest the public had in the actual reasons playing a part in her death. Oh yeah, the fact she died is SO SAD. But omg let’s not discuss depression and mental health – it’s too much for my fragile ego.
I am surprised at myself that I am feeling completely the opposite with Bowie’s passing. I truly am touched and surprised by the amount of people I have on my facebook newsfeed citing Bowie as a personal icon and influence on their lives. People who I know vaguely, and people who I have known for years all displaying an interest I had no idea of! I believe my close friends know me well, as I have – over the years – been fanatically obsessed with David Bowie to the point where people have sent me presents and art related to him pre-2016/death. What I am now feeling is genuine and complete happiness at the number of people who have come out of the woodwork to express their sadness. It may be on social media, but we all are realising that – goddamn – Bowie’s death was a work of art. You would be stupid not to understand the total and practical level of work he put into it. Discussing his death with a friend, we came to the conclusion that he probably could have lived longer had he denied himself the completeness of “Blackstar”. But that just wasn’t in his nature. If he was going to die, as he knew he was, it had to be art. It had to be performance.
Personally for me, Bowie was an indicator that music could be all of the following: 1) good 2) powerful 3) different, and 4) fuckin weird. I named my radio show in college “Rock n Roll Suicide” because I loved the song (it’s still my favourite) but also I thought associating my radio show (wherein I played anything from Lamb of God to Led Zeppelin to Le Tigre to LCD Soundsystem) with David Bowie displayed a sort of coolness that any other band wouldn’t cut. And obviously, I was right. Bowie transcended genres. By associating my show with him I allowed myself the freedom to play whatever I wanted. Because that’s what he did. (We all remember “Earthling” right?)
Bowie has always been someone who looked to the future with his art. His music predicted genres to come, created new sounds that would define the decades, and made schisms in already existing genres. With every new album Bowie rocked the musical world and fault lines were created out of which sprung new bands and artists inspired by this pixie-haired madman.
I mourn for what we will now lose due to his disappearance from this mortal realm. But I also rejoice, that we existed during a time that someone like Bowie could be let loose on the world. His influence will live on, his art, fashion, music, and the goddamn stylish way he died will be remembered. We will laugh at the gay as hell video he made with Mick Jagger, we will weep at the youtube video performances of “Rock N Roll Suicide”, we will be inspired by sweeping futuristic lyrics to “Life on Mars?” None of this will change because he is dead.
What will change is our attitudes towards art and society in general. Let us not forget that Bowie was a believer in freedom for everyone. And that is what his legacy should focus on. Let his immortal spirit return in peace to his alien homeworld and party in style.
And let me try to ignore that small part of my brain that hasn’t stopped thinking “man, I really thought I’d get to see him perform live one day” since I heard the news.