Why We Can’t Ignore The Death Of David Bowie
“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”
I have been doing some extensive thinking and reflecting over the last year on what to do with the time I have left: it’s that time of life.
On Sunday, 10th January 2016, I turned 45.
On Sunday, 10th January 2016, David Bowie died.
My reflection immediately compounded on the morning of the 11th January when I woke to hear the sad news of his death.
The death of a public figure
I never met David Bowie. He doesn’t know who I am. He kept it hidden well if he did.
If you have never lent your ears to Bowie’s musical outpourings, or if he never influenced your life in any way, shape, or form, of course you are not going to feel much. Why would you?
On an intellectual level you may be able to appreciate his impact on music, art, and film: whether you liked his output or not. You may be able to objectively appreciate the influence he has had on other people, at least, based on your own connections with public figures you admire. Or, maybe, you are like many I have read comments from on the internet that believe it is silly to mourn (to feel regret or sadness about the loss or disappearance of something) someone you never knew personally.
I disagree with the last one of these, and here is why. I listened to his music. I watched his videos. I watched his films. His music created feelings within me, feelings that I may never, ever, be able to describe articulately. And I have some very strong memories attached to those feelings.
As a result of listening to David Bowie, I read particular books, watched specific films, and I explored other bands, artists, and genres of music. These are things I may not have experienced if I had never discovered Bowie. This in turn influenced my thinking and my construct of the world. It changed the lens through which I saw it.
People that have a powerful influence on you during your formative years create a spiders web that explodes your mind outwards. It is like experiencing your own personal big bang again and again as each new discovery creates its own web.
I, like many Gen X-ers, have had my artistic, cultural, and intellectual journey shaped by numerous musicians, authors, and actors: David Bowie is just one of them.
If after your formative years you then continue to follow and feel connected to these people throughout your life, how can you not feel something when you hear of their passing?
Don’t get me wrong, there is more Bowie music I dislike than like. But the music I do like is firmly etched into my psyche. It is spectacularly important in my musical life.
The point I want to make here is that sometimes it isn’t about the person or how well you knew them. It isn’t even about what they do. It is about how they made you feel. And that, right there, is what we mourn.
The reason we can’t ignore the death of David Bowie is the same reason we can’t ignore the death of any other person that positively influenced our life: because they made us feel, they broadened our horizons, they showed us what was possible, and they inspired us to be more than we can be.
It is what they remind us of. It is mourning the loss of someone that taught you things that form a portion of who you are. We admire in others the things we want to aspire to ourselves, and sometimes when someone dies, we feel like we lose a mentor.
This isn’t about putting heroes on pedestals and seeing them as unable to do wrong: that isn’t the Gen X way. It is about sharing their flawed journey with them and how it intertwines with our own flawed journey, even over vast distances. How someone makes us feel is not confined by physical presence. And the same goes for the void they leave when they are no longer there. It’s a piece of the world that was always there: until it wasn’t.
Our own mortality
In my book, Gen X Marks The Spot: Be The Hero In Your Own Story, I talk about watching my Mother’s reaction to a famous person’s death when I was younger. How I didn’t understand it then but I have since realised it was her reminder of her own mortality. I know that because I have felt it. And the stronger that person’s influence on our life’s journey is, the stronger we feel this realisation, thus the stronger the mourning (especially at this stage of our lives). It is like a little piece of us dies.
What I have been reflecting on this last year is exactly the Bowie quote above. How long do I have, what am I going to do with it? It’s a good question.
What is interesting is that where I got to with my reflections can be seen in how Bowie lived and died. He pushed boundaries, continuously seeking new experiences. He opened the door for us to not only embrace our weirdness and differences, but to fearlessly and shamelessly show off our inner freak. He lived the life he wanted to live and wasn’t held back by what others thought. He embodied authenticity, independence, and despite the glam, modesty.
My reflections have brought me to a place where I know that to live fully I must take risk. I must step outside of the safe and the normal and go all in. In order to live the authentic life I want to live, I need to embrace my inner freak. I need to do the things I want to do but I am scared to do. I need to be prepared to face ridicule or rejection. I need to be unapologetically me if I am going to fully embrace life.
As Bowie’s death shows, we don’t know when our time will be up. From what I can see, he worked as long as he could doing what he loved right up to his death (as evidenced by Black Star), fully embracing life to the end. He knew he was dying but organised himself in a way that meant he was going to go on his terms. Just the same way that he lived. For me, there is a lesson in there to be heeded, and that is another reason why we can’t ignore the death of David Bowie.
Leave a legacy
Bowie leaves a legacy not only of music and film, but of how he made people feel. You don’t have to make records or movies to do that. It is in how you live and touch and influence the people you meet every day. So go and embrace your inner weird and live a life that will be mourned.
What do you think? How did Bowie influence your life?
If you enjoyed this article, download a free copy of my e-book, ‘Gen X Marks The Spot: Be The Hero In Your Own Story‘ here
Picture left by Baz Dedhevan
Picture right by Tony Fiedler