David Bowie died yesterday.
I am an 80s child, and he was an icon in the era of 80s music.
Yet, whilst I am sad for the loss his family will feel — so very sad for that — I am largely unmoved.
Everywhere I look, people are mourning. Tributes are pouring in and the sense of loss the world over is palpable. People are declaring how he was the single most important person, how he changed their trajectory of their life. It is incredible how many lives in his 69 years of life he touched.
And yet, whilst I remain saddened, I also remain surreally unmoved.
I wonder why this is.
I am not without compassion.
I feel deeply.
I cry when people die. Especially my people. And people that touch my lives. And people who die in movies that touch me. Which is usually not mainstream movies. More indie movies. Movies that are off the wall and are about humanity. I love those movies.
But I digress.
David Bowie was an icon to so many people. An irreverent artist who remained true to his soul, and to his identity, right to the end. His creativity and influence on a mass of people is palpable and without question.
Oh my gosh, I am finding this so difficult to write.
His music brings back a flood of memories for me. Of a time when life was difficult, survival seemed impossible, and music did not form part of the equation.
And yet it did.
I loved to sing and my mom used to sing to me all the time, yet I was not drawn to music like most people seemed to be drawn to it.
I don’t play music much in the house and I don’t play it much in the car. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I didn’t look at David Bowie as a beacon for those of us slightly weird people who didn’t fit in (wasn’t everyone weird back then?), as so many people seem to have done. It was all I could do to survive. I had no yearning to listen to music as a form of escape, or to remind me of a life I could have had, or could have in the future.
All I could do was to keep moving forward and to pray that this too, will pass. I had to navigate an education system that seemed hell bent on proving to me just how much I did not fit in; how perhaps I was not meant to be here; how, whilst everyone bonded over the latest band, smitten with love with the latest heart throb, all my teenage self could think was “But they shit the same way we do, what is all the fuss about one other human being?”
The music on my Spotify account is largely music set to words that have more meaning to me than the artist that sings it.
Music for me are the words; not the music, or the artist. Which is just poetry really.
Music, it seems, passed me by.
Oh, I tried to fake it, of course. I taped the Springbok Top 40* once and brought it to school for everyone to listen to, and sat red-faced as the boys laughed at the fact that I forgot to pause the recording during the adverts.
I tried to pretend my slave-to-music status by learning songs and pretending to follow bands.
I went to concerts, even though I didn’t really enjoy them, and sometimes had no idea who they were.
Yet I love to sing, even if I don’t know the words to the song. I have always loved to sing.
And I love to dance. Oh my goodness, I LOVE to dance.
And I do listen to music – every now and again – to hear the words that I need to hear to soothe my soul, or uplift my spirits. But I could not tell you, mostly, who sings what.
Music has never, it seems, really gripped me the way it has the rest of the world.
As the world danced and sang and listened its way through a field of memories, swaying to and from music through the ages, I seemed to be walking on the sidelines, watching them, wondering what it was all about, yet desperately wanting to run my hand over the music, having it seep into my heart, my very being, and experience whatever it is they felt too.
Instead I would pretend, poorly.
I remember once my parents taking me to an orchestral concert. The conductor decided to seat the orchestra in the middle of the town hall, and all the seats were positioned around them which I assumed was for acoustics. My parents and I were seated in the gods and some people were seated on the stage. As the orchestra began to play, it did not take me long to become disengaged and to watch as people became enthralled. The orchestra were excellent and clearly the audience loved them. All, it seemed, except me. Afterwards, I enthused about the concert, feigning delight at the experience shared by everyone. I so badly wanted to be connected to these people, to share with them their delight.
On New Years Eve, we spent the night with my family member who has Alzheimers. Miss J had bought her a copy of the number 1 hits of the 1950s. I had read somewhere that music is the last bastion to be lost from the memory and people with Alzheimers find it calming and settling as the music etched into the recesses of their long term memory is recalled. As I watched my family member, and my dad and his partner, sing every word of every one of the songs on that CD I became acutely aware that if I lost my mind, I would not have the experience of that calm. No music sticks in my mind, no music clings to my soul forever to be remembered.
And so, as the world at large mourns Mr Bowie and tributes pour in, and heartfelt, beautiful messages of condolence are sent to Iman, I feel lost. I feel reminded of how disconnected I feel from the world, where popular culture seems to bounce of me like bullets ricocheting off armour.
And I find myself wondering why that is. Is it genetic – some of us are born with a love of music and others aren’t. Or is it just some people, me, don’t get popular culture. We are immune to it, forever destined to wander the deserts of outlying society?
I have no answers to these questions. All I know is that I can no longer pretend. I am sad for your loss Mr Bowie, because you made a glorious contribution to this world, and because I think I should have really liked you if I had known you, but I have to acknowledge that I am one person (perhaps of a few out there in the wide world) who wasn’t overly touched by your music. I was aware of you and sang and danced to your lyrics, but I would by lying if I said I was in mourning for you. And that says a lot more about me and where I see myself in the world than it does you. And I suspect you would have understood that because you seemed to have lived your life very much to the beat of your own drum, and that I can very much admire.
Rest in peace.
* The Springbox Top 40 was the South African equivalent of Top of the Pops (UK) or Countdown (Aus)
0 thoughts on “On David Bowie and the non-love of music”
Although I am having a different experience to you regarding David Bowie, I know exactly what you mean about popular culture and feeling disconnected from the world. I feel the same way about blockbuster movies. When everyone around me is going Star Wars crazy – AGAIN! – I feel like a freak. The more popular the movie the more detached I feel and it is a strange feeling.
I think the David Bowie thing depends very much on where you were and what you were doing in the early seventies. He came into our young and impressionable lives at a time when the greyness of London and the economy was very depressing. For many of us, his music provided a much welcome and colourful soundtrack to significant events in our lives. For me Jean Jeanie is inextricably linked to my first love which turned out to be a massive influence in my life to this day.
The grief we are all feeling, I believe, is to do with being confronted with our own mortality. If David Bowie can leave then those of us of a certain age are getting closer to the edge! It is possibly quite a selfish thing. I do think it’s all a psychological dynamic – I have been feeling like a friend has died and I am quite a cynical person when it comes to celebrities.
Lemmy from Motörhead also died recently and I felt like you do about DB. I was mildly sad but had no emotional attachment to his music even though I love it. So there was no grief trigger for me with him.
I enjoyed your post – it’s interesting to hear another person’s experience of the same event. If you were not as emotionally invested in his music/image as some people were, then why would you feel grief? I also think age is a critical factor – I am days away from 60 and it seems to have hit all my old school friends the same way – he was a massive part of our misspent youth! We grew and changed with him as he grew. He has never been out of our lives. We matured and so did he. And now he has gone.
If this is too long Sarah, I will not be offended if you don’t allow it 🙂
Hi there Gilly. Perhaps this is an examination of what moves us, what motivates us and what causes us to mourn. I can see how David Bowie affected so many people when you explain it like that. My parents emigrated to South Africa from the UK in the 70s, when I was 8, so I missed the DB frenzy though of course I was very aware of him. I can understand how people 10 years and older than I am, who grew up on his music will get an acute sense of their own mortality. Like you with mainstream movies, I am with music. I am not mainstream at all. I do feel sad when people (celebrities) pass, but perhaps of the loss I have experienced in my own life, I tend to accept that our time has to come some time, although if I am honest, I panic when I think of my own ending. I feel like it is a race to achieve some things before that day finally comes. At least David Bowie led a full life filled with electric creativity, right up until the end since I have watched his latest videos and am listening to his latest album, both of which are impressive. That is a good example, I think, of a life constantly lived to the beat of his own drum and to those of us who might not have done that quite as well. Ah, I could go on forever examining and reflecting. Thanks again, for commenting xx
Hi Sarah, after I wrote my comment I did think I hadn’t given enough thought to your main point about what does (or does not in this case) move us to mourn. But as I had already written an essay I thought I’d better stop! 🙂 I loved this piece because it really does make us think hard about a very complicated emotion. It has given me an idea for a post and if it is ok with you, I would like to link to your post as the catalyst. Is that ok? After I read this, I was cleaning up the kitchen (exciting life!) and really thinking deeply about my own reaction to the news and wondering what other celebs could provoke the tearful reaction I had. I thought about Mick Jagger for example – or any of the Stones who I really love but I just know I won’t have the same reaction if any more of them go before me. It really does come down to how strong the emotional connection is between the music and major life events I think. Thank you for this post Sarah – it really has got me thinking and wanting to write which is a flipping miracle since I have been completely off reading blogs, commenting and most of all, writing my own for weeks now.
Hi there Gilly, You are more than welcome to link to my post. I have weirdly been thinking about my post too 🙂 and also feeling a draw to listen to Bowies music more intently, to listen to his words, and to see how people connected to him. I did listen to a few of his songs yesterday and there is no doubt the man was a genius, but he still didn’t speak to me. I find it interesting how we collectively mourn someone we don’t know – I remember when Princess Di died and seeing people wailing at the gates of Buckingham Palace. I would agree that emotion plays a big part in how we perceive someone (and their gifts) and where we place their gifts in the meaning of our own lives. I intend to write another post examining my own perception of celebrity and what that means to me, and perhaps to others too. Clearly it is a driving force in our society and when someone passes, we feel it deeply. Well, all perhaps except me :-). I look forward to reading your post and YAY! for your writing again!
Sounds to me like words are your ‘music’ and there is nothing at all wrong with that. x
Thank you Dawn xx
I admired Bowie and his originality. In the world of auto tune and reality tv choosing pop stars, a truly original artist seems rarer and rarer. I wonder if that’s the crux of the outpouring of grief. He seemed very rare.
I think you could be right Robyna. We hark back to a time when individuality was revered and our originality appreciated perhaps xx