After the adulation come the moans. Some growling grumps do not appreciate the wall-to-wall attention accorded to David Bowie. Not me – I enjoy this celebration of a musician and artist who for once deserved that tarnished old badge of cultural icon.
We don’t unite over that many things, so coming together to examine and praise a noted life is mostly for the good.
Anyway there is no pre-arranged scale stipulating that we should only give so many minutes, so much printer’s ink to a certain individual. Okay, there is an arranged level of grief awaiting the Queen, but other than that we can take our pick: public grief is democratic.
The mourning of a celebrity such as Bowie is grief at one remove, or massed sorrowful reflection if you prefer. We should see the past couple of days as the celebration of a life lived well. Bowie did what he wanted, created his artistic self from nothing, and led a successful life – cut short at 69, for sure, but everything ends and he lived by his own creativity, by his own rules and inclinations.
And he gave much to people – creating music they liked, and adopting various personas they either identified with at the time, or feel fondness for looking back.
Not that Ann Widdecombe is having any of it.
The former Tory MP turned novelist is in handwringing mood in the Daily Express today. “I do query the saturation coverage of his death, which had me switching from news channel to news channel in a quest to catch up with other news such as the doctors’ strike. According a pop star the same degree of reverential coverage which might reasonably be expected of a monarch says all that has to be said about modern priorities.”
Oh, I don’t know. Why not honour an epoch-defining musician? And that ‘pop star’ is telling – a phrase from a goutily displeased great aunt. Or indeed a former Tory MP turned novelist, and a woman not exactly shy of public attention herself.
Let the people enjoy their memories – and let them relive their past. For life can be refracted through a higher lens, and when we praise a dead celebrity, what we are also doing is recalling our own past, living key moments of our life again.
Over in the Daily Mail, Stephen Glover shares Ann’s concerns. “Dare I say that the torrent of adulation in some quarters has been slightly overdone? Isn’t it the case that in modern Britain the death of a statesman or great writer or brilliant Nobel Prize-winning scientist would have received one-tenth of the reverential coverage accorded to David Bowie?”
The telling phrase here is “in modern Britain” – that despairing label, that catch-all sigh of exasperation. Yet is modern Britain that different than Britain in the past? Charles Dickens died at his home at Gad’s Hill at the age of 58 on June 8, 1870. A true star of his own age, the great writer asked for a humble and private service at Rochester Cathedral. He didn’t get that but was instead buried at Westminster Abbey a week later in a grand funeral service that was followed by a procession of mourners that wound on for three days.
That sounds like the 19th century equivalent of what we have seen in the past few days. So maybe we aren’t as different as we like to imagine.
Glover has a point about politicians – yes, we mean you, David and Tony – jumping on the cultural bandwagon. Far better to listen to someone who knew Bowie, such as the old keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, who has been speaking movingly in interviews about his friend and fellow musician.
A fair bit of attention has greeted another story in the past couple of days: the news that media mogul Robert Murdoch is to marry Jerry Hall, onetime super-model and serial girlfriend to famous men, including Mick Jagger and Bryan Ferry.
No, I still can’t get my head round that one. It feels as if my mental wires have fused somewhere and brought together two entirely unrelated famous people in a freakish aberration of the mind.