(Trying something different for today – I don’t feel up for putting up From The Vaults, and I don’t have time to write you any poetry or prose, so you’re gonna deal with my thoughts on David Bowie’s death, which will be deeply self-indulgent. I do apologize.)
My dad comes home and I ask him if he’s heard that David Bowie is dead, and he says he has.
It’s a weird moment, because usually when I tell my dad a celebrity has died, my dad is totally out of the loop, and just kind of nods, gets solemn, and then goes on drinking beer, and I’m reminded that the news report solemnly declared the cause as being ‘cancer’.
It makes me think of my father’s bout of throat cancer, almost three years gone, and sitting quietly in the oncology department, while he gets treatment.
Actually, no, it doesn’t: it makes me think of an article I read once, about how when doctors are told they have terminal cancer, they load up on painkillers, grab their best mates and spend their last months enjoying themselves, rather than going through medical hell just for the chance of a few more months.
Bowie, in his last photos, still looks reasonably the same – enough so that the announcement of cancer is a shock – and I can’t help but wonder if he made that choice as well. Was given the diagnosis and went, ‘fuck it’.
My father asks me if I’m aware of how influential Bowie’s music has been, and the truth is fully three-quarters of the music I listen to would not exist if not for Bowie. Ladyhawke, Florence + the Machine, Of Monsters And Men – anybody who tries to do experimental things with their music, anybody who tries to turn their music into an identity, is hearkening back to Bowie, in some way or another.
My facebook feed is awash in Bowie’s music, his image, his name. If Ziggy is returning to the stars, he’s going by way of the internet first, as we make sacrament of his name and his music over and over, but oddly, the photo that keeps cropping up and keeps making my chest hurt – in a weird, strange way – is the photo Bowie’s son posted with his tweet confirming the death.
It’s a black and white photo, and Bowie is young, carefree, in a t-shirt, beaming at the camera, with a baby – presumably Duncan Jones – on his shoulders, clinging to his head, looking off to the side, puzzled by something.
There’s something unreal, bizarre, about seeing Bowie domestic, but at the same time, it reminds me that while people exchange stories about how important Bowie’s music is to them, and tell themselves that Bowie’s music will live forever, that Bowie himself is immortal, I can’t help thinking about his family and hoping they’re okay.
And then I think about almost three years ago, hearing the diagnosis of throat cancer for my father. And calmly walking into Student Health and exchanging my GP, so that if my father died, I could afford to go to the doctor every month for my prescription, and the look on my father’s face when I told him what I’d done.
There’s something cold and clinical about realizing your parent’s mortality. Just like there’s something bitter and heartbreaking when we realize our heroes are mortal too.
Turn and face the strange.