I took this walk, to ease my mind.
To find out what’s gnawing at me.
I couldn’t stay at home. I had to go, although I knew it would make me feel worse. I just had to go.
I need to contextualise. This is a blog post about the death of David Bowie. But it isn’t about that. It’s more selfish than that. It’s embarrassingly self-indulgent. It’s about the death of David Bowie and the way that I reacted to that horrible fact. I’ve never experienced grief like this about a public figure before. But I have experienced grief. And I recognise that this is grief. And it hurts. It hurts so much. Millions of people around the world are all experiencing the same unique and personal pain. And there are two options. There is the option of respectful observance or there is total absorption. And I realise which option I will choose. I will choose the one that includes me. Of course I choose that one. Me. Because this is about me. Because he is part of me. Because he is part of everyone. Because he is part of everything.
The majority of this post will consist of things that I posted on Twitter or Facebook as I learned of the news and attempted to accept it. The rest will be thoughts and fragments and shards of memories: moments when he splintered into my life. He was always there, acting as a filter to everything I saw and everything I thought. And that is how he will continue. He added a layer to my life. A layer of fascination.
I do not apologise if what follows is disjointed, confused, upsetting, offensive, awkward, contradictory, falsifiable, subjective, inaccurate, ungrammatical, emotional, naive, sad, selfish, mawkish, helpful, cathartic or comforting. It is what I thought and felt and right now I don’t care about anything else.
How to begin?
My first memory of pop music is seeing the video for Dancing In The Street.
I am four years old and think that they are wearing pyjamas, perhaps because the video was filmed at night. Bowie’s trench coat I mistake for a dressing gown. Two grown men jumping around in their pyjamas in the middle of the night. All they need is music, sweet music. The idea excites me.
Monday morning. I check Facebook before leaving for work. I see a post by Alexis Petridis:
Jesus, he must have known all along. Fucking hell. Fucking hell.
In the comments below, I see someone mention the name Duncan, and suddenly I know. I open the BBC News app and there it is. Cancer. Eighteen months. The words “it has been confirmed”.
When I was fourteen, I borrowed two tapes from my brother. One had Ziggy Stardust on one side and Diamond Dogs on the other. The second one was Heroes and Scary Monsters. I listen to them over and over and over again. A couple of years later, I get my first job. Working Sundays at Kingston Library. I am paid £25 for each shift. Each week this money is spent in Virgin Megastore buying Bowie albums on CD, with some saved over to spend in KFC after work. There is no logic to the order in which I buy the albums. My collection is haphazard and disjointed. It jumps through time. One memory springs to mind – stepping off the bus to go to KFC, it is cold and I am blasted by the wind.
I walk past a deserted building site while Sense Of Doubt plays in my ears and I stand and look at the concrete, at the half-demolished buildings, at the destruction and I am scared. Here I am, a sixteen year old boy, listening to a Walkman in a small, lower-middle class suburban town, on his way to KFC, having just finished a shift in Kingston Library, but I am transported into a different world. What a twat.
Back to that horrible day. I get on the bus to go to work. The news is still buzzing in my head. No, not buzzing. That’s not right. My head is numb. Just stillness and silence after the explosion. I listen to Blackstar. It is a completely different album compared to the one I’d listened to the night before.
Lazarus deals with it most directly of course. “Look up here, I’m in Heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” But it’s the last line that makes me stop and actually smile, something I didn’t think would be possible at that moment.
I have to stop listening to the album because I realise I am crying.
I only really caught up with Bowie in real time around the release of Hours… It’s certainly not his greatest album by any means, but I fall in love with Thursday’s Child.
I discover yet another Bowie. One who only rarely makes an appearance, but when he does, he is beautiful. The sincere Bowie, the honest Bowie, the human man with the human heart behind this superhuman music.
As long as you’re still smiling, there’s nothing more I need.
And your big fat dog.
And he jokes about his broken English, tries to be a friend to me.
I care for no-one else but you, I tear my soul to ease the pain.
Tuesday night. A lot of the world have moved on. Julie Burchill writes what I can only assume is meant to be some kind of ironic Bowie-inspired meta-textual tribute in the Spectator, telling people to stop “sob-signalling” and which contains a head-swirling, Ouroboros of a complaint about feeling:
a revulsion with a sub-section of my fellow hacks who – for a fee – will say something even if they have nothing worth saying.
Meanwhile, Camilla longs for some of the attention herself.
And I know it must look weird from the outside. Like this all just performative, social media driven, pretend sadness. Last week it was Lemmy, this week it’s Bowie, next week it will be whoever. But for us it’s not that. This is real grief. And obviously, it’s nothing compared to what his family and friends are going through. We know that. We don’t need to be told that. We are not stupid. But still, it is real pain that people are feeling. And it’s unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve lost people close to me, very close to me. And I saw people laying flowers for Diana and I thought they were mad. But if what they felt is what I feel now, then I get it completely.
I buy the Guardian, with its beautiful cover and twelve-page tribute.
I buy it but I have no intention of reading it, although it does seem fitting that the same person who broke the news to me on Facebook has his name on this front page. I don’t read it because right now I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I don’t watch any of the tributes on TV. I don’t listen to anything on the radio. I barely even read the posts my friends write on Facebook. I simply don’t care about what anyone else has to say right now because this feels so weirdly and intensely personal that reading what anyone else thinks just seems irrelevant, and yet here I am writing this.
I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do,
So I’ll just write some love to you.
October 2014. I move into a flat in Brixton. The night after I move in, my flatmate comes home to find me sitting in the front room reading a book by David Icke. The following night, she comes home to find me sitting in the front room reading my own book. I am unable to find the words to explain that the David Icke book is preparation for a piece I am writing for the New Humanist and I was reading my own book in preparation for a talk I was giving. Instead, I decide that she thinks I am a lunatic and hide in my room for the rest of my life. The book I had written was about the history of stationery. The talk I wrote about that book begins with the song Rubber Band.
Tuesday night. I have the realisation that it was a magic trick. That last album. He performed a magic trick. He gave us this album, and then just a few days later, he silently transformed it into something entirely different. What was confusing and obscure and frustrating and invincible suddenly becomes direct and honest and open and vulnerable. The Pledge, the Turn, the Prestige. It’s all there. It is the greatest concept album of all time. He won. He beat us all.
Part of me hates him for being so David Bowie about it that we had no time to prepare. But then that goes away and I am filled with love for him for being so David Bowie about it that he did give us time to prepare, except none of us realised that because none of us are David Bowie enough to be David Bowie.
And we should have known because the bastard had done it before. Making us think he’d gone quiet and spent a decade daydreaming about Potsdamer Platz and pining after Hermione, when really he’d been stomping around, yelling about women dressed as men for the pleasure of a priest. But even those of us who knew he could do anything didn’t know he could do this. First he gives us everything that we want, then he takes back everything that we have.
Monday night. I walk up to the Ritzy.
There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people everywhere. No-one knows what is happening. Some people have speakers and are playing music. There are people with guitars. There are pockets of people standing around singing different songs. Strangers hug each other. There are people in tears. I am in tears. I leave after five minutes. I just can’t take it. Not right now. Maybe not ever.
I go to the Prince Of Wales, it is packed. I stand in the corner with a pint of Amstel. I am shaking. It is overwhelming. I need somewhere quieter. Every pub in Brixton is filled with people singing this glorious man’s glorious music. Eventually, I reach the Crown & Anchor. It’s a bit further out and not so crowded. Of course they’re playing Bowie, but not quite as loud. I go to the bar and the barman can see it in my face. “How are you holding up?” he asks. We talk briefly about how sad it is, about how the only source of comfort in this is the sense that he seems to have made peace with what was happening. I’m reminded of seeing my dad’s face when he was told he only had two weeks to live and I remember knowing that the doctor was lying because she’d told me he only had one week and I remember him living for four weeks. I cry. I apologise. He seems to ask me out on a date of some sort. I politely decline but accept the can of Strongbow he gives me as a parting gift, and it all seems appropriate somehow.
There is no conclusion to this because there is no conclusion to grief. It stays with you but it gets better. In fact, you learn to love the grief because the grief is love. None of this makes sense and there was no point writing any of it because you all already know it, and if you don’t already know it and understand it and feel it, then there is no point in me trying to explain it. There are those who get it and those who don’t, and as long as we’re together, the rest can go to hell.
For, in truth, it’s the beginning of an end.
And nothing has changed.
Everything has changed.