I never bought a David Bowie record, but when I look back I find that his songs illuminate some key moments in my life. It’s not something I was conscious of until this week, when I’ve been hearing fragments of his songs most days and found myself washed over with nostalgia. Judging by the quantity of tributes across the media I suppose something of the same effect has been experienced by many of us.
Suddenly, we are discovering how artful his life was, even the ending, as it coincides with the release of his latest album. Critics are analyzing his lyrics, thinking about the significance of who he was and what he created. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
Crumpling a newspaper to set up the fire this morning, I read fragments of scandal about this or that celebrity being proved to have the same clay-like feet as the rest of us. For the successful, it seems this is the only alternative story to the reports of their death.
After all, this is journalism. The definition of News is newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events. A problem for journalists is that they can only write the surface of a character. Bowie seemed able to exploit this. I’m amazed by how much I seem to know about him.
On the other hand, the actor Alan Rickman, who also died this week, and is someone I have looked out for in films and trusted to deliver quality entertainment, I knew nothing about until after his death. Whether villain, hero or support, he convinced.
What made these two artists special for me, was their ability to convey characterizations. To see either man perform was to believe them.
With Bowie, I’m reminded that scandal for the artist, is not about shock in the sense of a newspaper, which tends to reinforce our prejudices, it is about pushing us to look beyond narrow and easy perspectives.
Here’s an Alan Rickman quote that seems to sum up something of what the lives of both men stand for to me:
“The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.”