Before I start the 12th post of JJIJ, I’d like to thank everyone who commented on yesterday’s David Bowie tribute, it’s good to know just how many of you were touched by his life and work.
Having said that, I just want to follow up that post with some reflections on how Bowie’s death was received in the UK.
Even after having spent the day reading (and writing) the tributes to him all over Facebook and on various blogs, it was still with a sense of unreality that I sat down to watch the news last night, because there was no warning, no way to ease ourselves into the idea that we were about to lose an icon of modem music.
Of course, with hindsight we are all now aware that the signs were there, hidden in plain sight on his latest album, Blackstar, with its themes of death, illness and one last transformation; from corporeal megastar to ephemeral legend in one small step, the ultimate space cadet left the planet for the final time.
When we know that we are soon to lose someone who means so much to us, we prepare ourselves, consciously or not, so that when we attend the funeral, watch a memorial service or read an obituary, we have already reached the point which enables us to put aside our sadness and celebrate the life of the one who is no longer with us.
But when the news comes as a shock, when we are caught unawares by such a loss, the reaction is often one of raw grief and irrational anger, that we have been deprived of the chance to properly say goodbye.
So it is a measure of how much a part of our psyche he’d become that, within hours of the news of his passing, after the posthumous message of Blackstar became clear, fans, journalists and fellow musicians alike were praising Bowie’s ability to surprise us, even at the end.
Indeed, it seems that the only person outside his immediate circle of family and friends who knew of his battle with cancer was Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove, who was working with Bowie on the Lazarus stage show, for which he provided the soundtrack. Van Hove was apparently told of the singer’s illness when they started work on the project and was asked to keep it confidential.
Despite the sadness of yesterday’s announcement however, the overwhelming tone of the news coverage was one of celebration that we’d all been fortunate enough to share the planet with a man who made music and culture so unpredictable and fascinating.
Celebrity fan, Simon Pegg, summed it up perfectly with this tweet…
…while Channel 4 News ran this piece, fronted by Paul Mason, (usually their economics editor, but clearly a huge Bowie fan) which caught the mood of the nation nicely…
…and followed it with a live feed from the former David Jones’ birthplace, Brixton in South London, where thousands of fans gathered to leave tributes at the Bowie mural there, and to remember him in the best way possible; by singing the songs that gave pleasure to so many, exactly the way he would have wanted.
Even anchorman Jon Snow, (himself a fan) signing off at the end of a show almost entirely devoted to the singer’s life and legacy, couldn’t hide his feelings, his voice cracking with emotion as he read a message from Bowie’s long-time friend and collaborator, Brian Eno.
So we said goodbye to a man who transcended fashion, musical fads and the very idea of what makes a rock star, making him a hero to millions of fans over five decades, all of whom, I’m sure, will pass on their love of an artist who never stopped evolving and ch-ch-ch-ch-changing.
It seems only right that I should finish this post with the album that brought David Bowie to the attention of yet another generation of new fans, when he returned to recording in 2013 with The Next Day.
It’ll be a long time before a man like him falls to Earth again.