This is about grief. This is not an homage – not, at least, in the way of clever references to back catalogues and B-sides, or to gender and fashion influences or greatest hits lists.
This about the glaring space left when something you cherish, something that has sung its way into your bones leaves you forever. This is about the awkwardness of mourning someone you’ve never met. That this somehow makes you an intellectual weakling; a self-indulgent fool…
These words are because I don’t know how else to fill the silence, because today there can only be silence.
No office, no radio, no news beyond the initial information (relayed by my daughter waking me up after hearing it on the radio; a BBC check on my phone…). Silence because I cannot bear the idea of other people owning the grief, trotting all over it with sound bites and quotes and “best of” playlists. This is about the messages from kind friends I struggled to answer sensibly. There is no Facebook trawling, save for one ★ photo post, by way of wordless answer. I simply cannot.
I’m shocked at the shock of mourning a “famous person” like this. But, of course for so many of us, David Bowie is anything but that. He is family. And the sort of family real kin can rarely be. More than just comfort to a lonely teenager, as so many artists are, Bowie is where those of us who have grown up with him go to for escape, for fighting strength, for deep, unconditional understanding. As omnivorous and bottomless as my appetite for music is, he is my first, last and always. From childhood onwards he became, as for so many of us, my inner Sound and Vision.
My daughter knew this, in only the way my nine-year-old can. My indoctrination of her has been daily and it has been shameless, from playlists to films, to the photos around the house (a hefty if perhaps unhealthy gallery: “mummy, He is looking at me from everywhere,” Ella, then age seven). Sharing him with her has been a fully self-aware obsession, a joyful lesson in what it is to have a lunatic passion. I feel seven today. Her words, which woke me this morning, came with the instant, sharpest sense of my childhood self.
The first “big universe/small painful lives” realisation I had, came about listening to Space Oddity, aged seven. This heavy, existential awakening I didn’t quite understand but felt. It was the first time music made me cry, my tears something of a surprise plopping onto the pavement as I walked to school, the song on the radio in the kitchen that morning.
His music is a lifetime of company: a daily soundtrack that I always, prodigious as he is, find something new to wonder at.
This is a day of silence because what do you listen to for comfort when the thing that comforts you is gone? Of course, it will always be there – his life a gift – but I can’t stomach the thought that the next time I listen to anything of his, it will be changed. Its creator will be gone; the omnipotent Bowie being that inhabits my head when I listen to his music will be altered. The universe that has been with me since before I can remember remembering, since before I understood what music was, will be changed forever. All will be retrospective from here on in and I can’t face it.
His last album was perhaps his ultimate gift, the timing and content too prescient to be anything else. It arrived in the post and I listened in a silent room, headphones on – the way we used to experience albums. Not as wallpaper, not as merely music but a world to step into. I listened with wet eyes of wonder that he could still raise wet eyes of wonder in me.
And unease. The mortality motifs that laced the lyrics, the rumours… he seemed transformed from a man angered, in his previous album, to a man resigned. A gaunt figure, trying to reconcile himself: “if I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me”.
But, as we’ve long learnt, to blast meaning at Bowie’s lyrical mist is an eternal game. Yet, I couldn’t shake the thought: he is dying. And he has.
This is about grief and it is also about thanks. Thank you for so much, DB.
No more words
Slow Burn. Prettiest Star.