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)