Apologies to Robin Williams fans but while I was sad at his death I did not feel remotely caught up in the grief wave. Admittedly, I did weep through Diana’s funeral service so I’m not immune to these things. On the whole, I think of myself as pretty cool with mortality – it goes with the territory. But Bowie’s death has reordered my landscape in ways I do not understand – hence this exploration.

So much has been written by others – including some rather nasty sneering at grievers. As if those who are sad are comparing themselves to Bowie’s family and friends! Of course fans engage with the image not the reality of the person – and no one plays as profoundly with the performed self as Ziggy/Thin White Duke etc. I love Suzanne Moore’s comment that she pretended not to recognise the actual man when she met him, to preserve the internal icon (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/13/dont-deride-those-mourning-david-bowie-this-grief-serious-and-rational).

I am not in the UK and have not been trawling the comments sections of such articles, though I note I am still reading one or two pieces about Bowie’s ‘meaning’ each day. Perhaps to help explain the continued heaviness of his sudden absence. After this week’s reflection, I suspect that it is his exploration of the constructed self that moves me so strongly and has since I first saw him, still David Jones, miming at the London Arts Lab. And of course he is part of my young life: those summer student days in Whitstable rolling endless spliffs on the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy and the Spider from Mars, while the vinyl wore thin on the turntable; the countless viewings of Roeg’s The Man who fell to Earth; my thin body in its big linen suit rejoicing to Let’s Dance. In my teens, twenties and thirties, I too was torn between alien and human, trying to find a place on the planet.

I have to eliminate other allures, which I know have influenced friends – I was not a young gay man on a culture-free housing estate to whom Bowie offered the artist’s way. I grew up with painters, actors and jazz musicians – ours was a bohemian hothouse, so it was obvious I would be a writer or some kind of artist. It took time to realise that posing and treating existential angst with alcohol was not the same as actually writing, painting or playing something. I was better playing than being an artist.

Bowie was the real thing and this is what he means to me – he let himself blaze into his full potential, though his lyrics show the doubt never left him. His vision of himself, an always changing, ever-evolving musician and visual artist, was stronger than disapproval, ridicule or even years of substance abuse. He kept trying out different versions of himself until he found something which felt comfortable. This is my connection. This week his departure reminds me of the selves I have – and, crucially, haven’t – occupied, the struggle to disappear so that the not-self can simply be. His death day was also my 64th birthday – five years!

I love the recent albums now, and listen to Heathen, The Next Day and others all the time, hearing the maturity, love and gentleness expand without any loss of curiosity or daring. And now we have Blackstar, an exquisite, heartbreaking, leave-taking. At the end of his bold life, he creates a bolder death.

The opinion columns accuse people who express their grief publicly of narcissism and I accept the charge – though I also believe that artists find the universal through exploration of their own experience, seeking just such resonance. Bowie’s music, his self-creations and now his elegant death resonate with me, along with millions and millions of others. As Annie Lennox says, “Our personal and collective landscape has changed and we’re trying to come to terms with it”.

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(painterskeyes.com)

 

 

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