Lay me place and bake me pie
I’m starving for me gravy
Leave my shoes and door unlocked
I might just slip away, eh?
I shouldn’t have been awake and in front of the TV at that time on Monday morning. In the past my being so would have implied some kind of disgraceful and debauched behaviour, but nowadays the reasons are sadder, more prosaic, more difficult.
I shouldn’t have been, but there I was, in the teeth of some other crisis, with the BBC news as a flickering backdrop, just intrusive enough.
As the story broke, the presenters seemed as bewildered as we were. A few archive clips were reeled out, lurching in and out as some poor sap behind the scenes tried frantically to figure out what aspect ratio they should be. Platitudes were mouthed. Gradually the editorial line began to crystallise, the narrative neaten to hagiography.
It’s not like we didn’t know the story already.
I’ve been trying to think, since then, of anyone else who comes close in terms of significance, culturally, personally. There are — have always been, will always be — plenty of casualties. No shortage of sorrowful obits, memorial tributes, parades of hits. Just this afternoon we learn about Alan Rickman; who knows who else may have gone by nightfall? But can any of them compete with Bowie? Will any of them be as… foundational?
Musicians, artists, writers, performers. There are plenty I’ll miss, some very much indeed; I could trot out the usual suspects, but what’s the use? We’ll be ticking them off soon enough. We’ll dig out the old albums and argue over their relative merits as if in a maudlin, pointless Top Trumps game. Some joyless heretics will inevitably pipe up to dismiss them as less important than great leaders, politicians, clerics, industrialists and what have you; and, seriously, fuck those guys. But perhaps the Stranglers were — are becoming — right after all.
It’s a personal thing, of course. There are poor benighted souls out there with no clue who David Bowie was. Others who inexplicably fail to rate him. The environment is different now, his impact less evident; but by the same token, it seems to me, everyone else is diminished even more. That heroic space, now vacated, may just have ceased to exist. Perhaps the facile headlines describing Bowie as “legendary” were right: a figure from a bygone age, already shading into myth. We won’t see his like again.
Science and technology will continue to change the world; so will terror and catastrophe. But music and art? How can they, now that they are only content?