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?”

David Bowie

 

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?

 

Flawed Idols

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.

 

Reflections

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 Storyhere

 

Picture left by Baz Dedhevan

Picture right by Tony Fiedler

 

 

 

 


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Showing 10 comments
  • Kasia
    Reply

    You’re so right Keith…we can’t ignore how some people make us feel – that’s where the whole mystery of art and influential people comes from. I had a very strong reaction and feelings of sadness when Freddie Mercury died, or when princes Diana passed away. The same was with Steve Jobs’s passing. For reasons unexplainable to me I felt that these people touched my life in a very very important and deep way and I mourned when they were gone. And yes, every time someone famous but not close dies I am reminded of my own mortality. Which ultimately is a very good albeit sad reminder.

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hey, Kasia 🙂

      Different people influence people in different ways. How and why we feel these connections isn’t always easy to understand or articulate, but we feel them strongly. I am not a big Queen fan, unlike with Bowie, so Freddie Mercury’s death didn’t have the same impact. It could also be because I was much younger then, so the connection to my own mortality wasn’t as evident 🙂 The point is, we feel what we feel, and we can’t always make sense of it.

      I read that the Dalai Lama meditates on death extensively. Over the last few years since my Dad died, other deaths’s like Robin Williams and Lemmy from Motorhead have hit me a bit harder. Death is a great leveler, and I think as you said, it is a good but sad reminder. I think meditating on death makes sense because appreciation for life increases in an exponential way. “Knowing” we are gong to die whatever we do is quite liberating. Why not take the risks, why not embrace our inner freak? Why not quit the job, why not ask the guy / girl out, etc. I think that Dalai Lama fellow is a smart cookie 😉

  • Rebecca
    Reply

    Happy Birthday Keith. Funny how the birthday makes it more personal isn’t it? I, too had a birthday marked by this event. On Friday, Jan 8th, I turned 39 along with David Bowie’s 69. I also remembered watching my mother’s reaction to a death – Fred Astaire – and understanding finally what it meant to say good-bye to a part of your external self, however disconnected it may truly be. I was reminded this week that I need to get my guitar restrung after nearly 20 years, because I remembered that music is the closest thing I have to religion. I remembered that my “inner freak” as you so appropriately termed it, has been feeling a bit neglected. And all in all, I cried all day Monday, singing Space Oddity to my almost three year old, who for the first time sang it along with me. Cheers to the music. Cheers to David. Cheers to all of us moved by the unnameable in life.

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Happy Belated Birthday to you to (I would have said that on your birthday but it wouldn’t have made sense :p)

      Get that guitar strung. All of our inner freaks need to have their voices heard!

      Yes, cheers to David, and to music. And I LOVE that sentiment, “moved by the unnameable in life”. Beautifully powerful 🙂

      Your daughter has a strong memory with you now that she will understand one day 🙂

  • Tim Brownson
    Reply

    Happy birthday mate, you’re a quality coach, quality writer and quality bloke!

  • Sandra
    Reply

    I’ve had this post bookmarked to read for a few weeks Keith, as I’ve had the amazing opportunity to travel to New Zealand with my 82 year-old mum for five weeks. I’ve been fascinated by death and the way we in the western world deal with it (or not in most cases, denial seems to be rife!) for many years now. I guess being a qualified nurse and midwife helps, I have a range of experiences of death as a professional. Being present at my 94 year-old dad’s death in February 2015, and feeling his final out breath, was one of the most powerful feeling of my life. I did the best I possibly could to ensure he had a ‘good ‘death, which brought some consolation to me in the hours, weeks and months following.

    As you say, death is a great leveller – however rich or famous we are, it is inevitable for us all. There’s seems to have been a ‘glut’ of high profile demises in 2016. I believe that every time people are affected by the death of someone they feel close to, whether they’ve physically met or not (as in the case of you and David), it inspires them to seize the day EVERY day, confident in the knowledge that one day it will be their final out breath day.

    Great post Keith, thank you for sharing your feelings and keep embracing your ‘inner freak’, it can be contagious 😉

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hi Sandra,

      Thanks for commenting. I think the idea of having a good death is something that many other cultures embrace more than us here in the west. And I think that keeping death close does inspire us to live more fully. I have a lot of admiration for how David Bowie put so much effort into things being right when he finally went, finishing projects, no big dramatic funeral, and keeping the focus around what was right for his family at the end. Lessons aplenty in there.

      And yes, embrace the ‘inner freak’ until the end 😉

  • Sylvia Doyle
    Reply

    Spectacular writing. I’ve really enjoyed reading your piece on Bowie. Funny …… the day I heard of his passing you were the first person I thought of ! Watching both my Father & Mother die was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Being parent less at 40 left me with a feeling of abandonment. A friend joked around saying “you’re an orphan now”, I didn’t find it funny at the time but thankfully now I do ! I felt that the 2 people in my life who had unconditional love for me were now gone & were never coming back ! I didn’t quite know how to cope with these new feelings inside but each day I learn something new & I strive to be a better & brighter person & now I treat every day as the chance of a new beginning! Looking forward to your weekly newsletter. All the best 🙂

    • Keith Clarke
      Reply

      Hi Sylvia,

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Day by Day is most often our best approach.

      Glad you’re getting better and brighter 🙂

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