Bright Star

2 Feb

On school days my alarm goes off at 6.50ish. I put on Radio 4 and doze. A few minutes later our 12 year old son stumbles in and clambers into our bed, shortly followed by our 10 year old; a little cuddle to ease us into the day. It’s a bit of a squash these days and I sometimes find myself sitting in the armchair next to the bed. So it was one Monday in January 2016. I reached for my phone, as many of us do first thing in the day, and looked at twitter. Every tweet was about David Bowie. Shock, sadness, the usual hopes that it was a hoax. I quickly scrolled through to the trustworthy news accounts. No. It was true. I looked at the row of curly heads in the bed. The 7 o’clock news was about to come on. I didn’t know quite what to do. I sat in the peace of the morning. The news announcer headlined Bowie’s death. The curly heads didn’t seem to respond, perhaps they hadn’t heard. I had to say something, get this news out there, clearly. “David Bowie’s died” I said.

Now, I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge fan of David Bowie. I don’t mean this in the way people say “I’m not a huge fan of artichokes” where they really mean “I fucking hate artichokes”. I just mean I’m not a fan. I’m not really a fan of anything, I simply don’t have a fan mentality. I love lots of things, but I don’t have that tendency to go deeply into things. Of course I’ve always loved Bowie’s music. The first record I bought was The Jean Genie. Over the years I’ve occasionally bought Bowie albums. I lost interest in his music around the usual time – you know. I was glad to hear he was dabbling in Drum & Bass, because I love D&B, but I’ve only really listened to the old stuff since… you know. I follow his son, Duncan, on twitter, so get a bit of Bowie news second hand, and was really touched recently seeing him tweet “I’m so proud of Dad” when the Broadway musical Lazarus launched. Dad! I showed it to my wife Karen. How lovely, I said. But Bowie was never a passion, or no more so than countless other music makers over the years.

I have another confession to make. I am one of those people who raise an eyebrow at twitter grief. The sceptical gaze very soon turns towards myself. Why am I not the sort of person who cares passionately about the death of a stranger? How come I haven’t been deeply influenced by this person who seems to have been such a big part of so many people’s lives? I would never criticise other people for their grief and I understand the urge to be on twitter, sharing, discussing, conjuring up memories. I’ve just never felt that moved by a celebrity death – oh, except maybe John Peel, but that was way before twitter.

So why was I sitting there on that Monday morning, sobbing for at least half an hour? Part of the shock was that he seemed so full of life, so full of creation. It was the last thing you expected. So why, still, when I listen to Black Star do I start welling up?

I wanted to write this from the point of view of somebody who wasn’t a huge Bowie fan, somebody who just liked him, really loved some of him, couldn’t care less about other bits of him, to try to explain his impact – to myself. Not another eulogy to a genius, I hoped that in writing it I might find the answers that – as of right now, as I type this sentence – I don’t have.

I’ve realised that, despite not being a ‘fan’, Bowie is a love that my wife and I share. We listen to his CDs in the car, occasionally, with the boys. They know some of his songs. There isn’t really any other music from that era that I go back to (apart from Roxy Music, but Karen and I don’t share that). But Bowie is there, and he has been part of our lives, and now our family lives, quietly, from time to time.

So we sat down together one evening and watched the Black Star video soon after it came out, all four of us (five including the dog) on the sofa. Watch it, we said. We felt it was important, somehow. It’s a bit weird, they said. Yes, we replied. And I’ve looked back at that emotion that I felt, saying “Yes”, to try to unravel what was in my heart. I think it was pride. I felt proud of Bowie. That he was still making different, beautiful music. He represented all sorts of things about artistic and personal integrity that lots of people have commented on. But he also represented us, as parents, our generation, and the sort of lives we’ve tried to carve out for ourselves, trying to make art, trying to say it’s ok to our boys to be a bit different. Yes, I felt proud of Bowie. There he was, an old man but not an old man at all, still vital, still surprising, still… a bit weird. Our legacy to children who have to deal with a very complex world. What can we give them to equip them for what’s ahead? Well, a bit of Bowie should help.

I still don’t really know why I cried because, like I say, I’m not that sort of person.

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One Response to “Bright Star”

  1. fennerpearson February 2, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    That’s a lovely piece of writing, Moose. I know that much as I love Bowie’s Berlin period, that wasn’t what made me sad. I think it was partly the loss of part of the cultural furniture of my life – and so a reminder of my mortality – but also it was partly to do with what I think you’re describing; the loss of an artist still at work. That seemed tragic. Funnily enough, I envy your tears; I wish my feelings would manifest so quickly and clearly.

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