Wow. I think that total shock was my first feeling on hearing the news yesterday morning. I only remember feeling affected by the death of one other ‘celebrity’ in a similar way, and that was Princess Diana. Like many people I’ve loved being reminded of the music and images that the genius of David Bowie has brought back to our screens. Also, I’ve had to explain to my children just who he was…which has been weird. For my generation and most people even vaguely around my age he needs no explanation…he was simply a global star that was part of our childhood and youth. I felt compelled to write about my thoughts and reaction to the outpouring of not just grief that the death of Bowie has produced, but the overwhelming feelings of respect and acknowledgment of his cultural importance.
The death of someone so famous and influential always brings with it a period of reflection I think. It makes you look again at your own life in a way that many of us don’t on a day to day basis. So how could I try and explain how important David Bowie was to my 12 year old daughter and what can we learn about life from reflecting on his death?
If anything defined David Bowie, surely it was his rejection of definitions. A true rebel in every sense; his music, his looks, his behaviour…the very elements that made him who he was defied definition. Was he a just man? A musician? A commentator? A philosopher? An artist? He was all these things, and so much more. He was so creative; a master of invention and re-invention. He refused to be labelled and helped so many others reject their labels and express themselves because of it.
This man, from a working class area of London set no limits on himself, or on his expectations. I guess it’s linked to the fact that he blurred boundaries and was always experimenting. One thing I found particularly moving yesterday was that crowds gathered across the world to celebrate his life. He was truly a global star. People gathered outside his homes in New York, LA, Berlin and his mural in Brixton. He touched peoples’ lives in a way that few other stars ever have, or perhaps will.
It’s hard to explain to my daughter how incredibly life changing for so many people, and for society, Bowie was. She watched the footage of him on TOTP, with his around his bandmate, singing and wondered what was so special about it. She thought some of his costumes were weird and his make up was pretty amazing, but she wasn’t phased by it. After all, Lady Gaga wears bacon dresses and Sia sings from behind a wig. I explained to her that it was in no small part because of Bowie that these things could happen now. That in the time when he was making these statements about music, fashion, gender and sexuality he was doing so in a world that had never seen it before and one where people just didn’t do that stuff! Growing up in the 70s and 80s myself we saw the proliferation of the media and the breaking down of some of the ‘norms’ of behaviour that had started changing in the 60s. But to todays’ kids how do you explain that the scale of these changes was just so incredible?
I love the fact that Bowie looked weird and celebrated it. I love the fact he his teeth weren’t perfect and that he never felt the need to change how he looked – except in the ways he wanted to present himself. Skinny, lined, grey, he got older in the same way as he did everything else – authentically. But still with great style. Today there is a huge dichotomy in society. On one side, everything is possible. I can tell my children that they have more opportunities and possibilities open to them than any previous generation of our family..and that’s true.
But on the other hand, there is a ridiculous pressure to conform. To be part of the crowd. Childline yesterday were talking about the feelings of alienation, depression and loneliness children call into them about these days. They feel excluded by the pressure to fit in, caused in no small part by social media. Everyone is so concerned to be popular that being genuine, authentic, and real seem to matter less and less. It’s not even about what you do or where you go anymore, it’s how many people see you doing it. And that’s sad. Over the last few years, Bowie had been an intensely private person. No one knew he had been battling cancer except his friends and family. He had released albums with absolutely no fanfare whatever. He didn’t need to seek the approval of others. Right up to the end he was guided by his own creativity and that demands respect
Something notable about people speaking about Bowie in the news is that those who knew him really loved him. They feel his loss personally. A producer that worked with Bowie on many of his albums, speaking on TV yesterday said it was impossible for anyone who knew Bowie not to be his friend. On top of all his success, his creativity, innovation, trend setting and trail blazing, it seems that the person who did all this was still a good friend, and a good person.
What an icon. So never mind ‘Be More Dog’, I’m going to strive to ‘Be More Bowie’. The inspiration of a generation. RIP David Bowie.