Monday, January 11, 2016

If Nobody Has Any Objections

Regular readers will know that my usual tone here is one of affected cynicism leavened with cursewords and the occasional bout of scatalogical rambling.  I have other talents too - I can do world-weary resignation or caustic sarcasm as the need arises, and I also do a decent line in lachrymose sentimentality, even if I do say so myself.

I can apply any of this to just about anything and, had you asked me yesterday about, say, grand shows of emotion following a celebrity snuffing it, you'd probably have got one of those types of responses.

So you can probably imagine how surprised I was to find out this morning that I was really, genuinely upset to hear that David Bowie had died.

I don't mean upset as in bummed out, or anything.  I mean proper quivery-lip, no-I've-got-something-in-my-eye, hoping nobody raises it at work upset.  It feels a bit like an old friend has died, one that I haven't spoken to for many years, but still liked to know he was around and doing his thing.

To say that this is unusual would be putting it mildly.

I've been having a think about why this is.  I was a big fan of the late Jack Bruce, for instance, but I wasn't anything like as wobbly when he died in 2014.  So what was different with Bowie?

At first, I thought it might be Dave's seeming permanence.  Compared to other aged rock stars, Bowie retained the looks and the credibility.  Jimmy Page looks like somebody carved an effigy of Worzel Gummidge out of a boiled ham.  Madonna looks like last night's Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Dylan looks like somebody taught a goblin to play the harmonica. 

Bowie was different, kind of invulnerable.  The older he got, the cooler he looked - craggier, crazier, more and more Bowie, basically.  And while that's true, it doesn't have much of an emotional resonance, so it couldn't be that.

Then I thought about the years when I was really into Bowie's records, my eighteen-year-old self slotting a Bowie's Greatest Hits tape into an old ghettoblaster in my bedroom and battering a scuffed acoustic guitar into submission, trying and failing to overcome my own spectacular lack of talent.  But that's hardly a warm, fuzzy memory.

The more I thought about it, the more that I realised that my clear memories of Bowie were from childhood - of scratchy old LPs playing Life On Mars in the living room on bath-nights; of blaring car radios on family trips to zoos and playparks in summer; even of Dave prancing around the set of Labyrinth, chewing on the scenery, while my brother and I watched from the rug in front of the coal fire.  My folks love Bowie.

Well, the old heartstrings twanged away at that, alright.

Bowie might have been the alien and the androgene to everybody else but it looks like to me, although I'd never quite appreciated it, he was also as much part of my childhood home as the pictures on the wall and the wee stone dog on the hearth.  That's what the trembly-lip stuff is about really, about family and home and happiness.

And well, maybe that is a bit sentimental and sappy.  Maybe it's quite self-involved and not really about the man himself, but it's not such a bad thing for him to have brought to the world.

Quite a nice way to be remembered, I think.

Anyway, a wee conceit here, to finish up.  Dave has a cameo in the movie Zoolander, where he pops up unexpectedly to volunteer as a judge in a daft fashion contest.

"If nobody has any objections", he says, looking weird and fucking cool as usual, "I believe I might be of service".

The image freezes; a snatch of the riff from Let's Dance plays and the words "David Bowie" zap into the frame.

Ever since, I've always enjoyed kidding myself that this wasn't even a special effect.  It's just what happened, any time that David Bowie showed up unexpectedly somewhere. 


dsquared said...

I think the reason is simply that he made emotional music. I was a big fan of Motorhead during exactly that impressionable period of my own youth (which is, of course, funny rather than poignant because adolescent boys' emotions don't count and aren't interesting, not unless they're exactly the right kind of gay). But even though Motorhead (and the Bhundu Boys, whose gradual tragic annihilation through AIDS and poverty deeply saddened me but didn't really move me as much) were very important to me at the time, you can't feel the same kind of grief when thinking about them because the soundtrack isn't right. Whereas with Bowie it's all there - if you're in a mood to feel sad while thinking of him, there's swelling strings, minor chords, sudden switches to minor key, all the repetoire that film music uses for the same purpose.

organic cheeseboard said...

Part of this is that it was very unexpected - the illness was kept a secret, meaning that this comes as a real surprise, especially because as you say he continued to look so fresh, and had continued to make half-decent music and to keep active artistically in other ways.

DSquared is also right, though, that the music is a catalyst - I heard buskers playing Bowie songs yesterday and felt really moved, even though I'm not a very big fan really. Kurt Cobain dying (when I was 13 iirc) had a similar effect for I think similar reasons - there was so much there in the music that felt immediately relevant.

But if certain, less emotionally affecting artists who nonetheless mean a lot to me were to suddenly die (say MF DOOM) I'm not sure there'd be as much to immediately feel so moved by.

organic cheeseboard said...

Curiously I've not seen Ollie Kamm or any of his mates whining about the prominence of Bowie on newspaper covers today, in the way they did at length when Michael Jackson died and was given less space on front pages...

andrew adams said...

The Decent waggy finger is currently being aimed at people being rude to David Cameron and George Osborne for the statements they made about Bowie. Not Kamm AFAIK but the other usual suspects.

organic cheeseboard said...

Wonder what's going to happen when Morrissey dies eh?

andrew adams said...

Wow, his fans will be really miserable when that happens.

Maybe his devotees on the Decent left will hold a memorial dinner in Nandos.

flyingrodent said...

I think the reason is simply that he made emotional music.

That's probably true. There are plenty of songs of his that sound nostalgic and poignant, and not quite so many Motorhead ones that do. Folk who want to moon around their houses getting teary-eyed won't be short of options.

I was thinking yesterday about snippy comments that some who-are-they-then columnists made about celebrity deaths and narcissism. The basic point they were making was that the tearful tributes were largely all about the people making them, to which I can only say - of course they were. And so what?

That is kind of the deal between the public and entertainers - you give them money, they give you a bit of colour and excitement as a backdrop to your everyday goings on, and then they spend your money shoving drugs up their nose. And when one of your favourite entertainers dies, everybody feels all nostalgic about the good times they had.

It's hardly a terrible thing, I'd say. I've actually been quite impressed with how social media has handled the Bowie tributes - sharing their favourite photos and video clips and stories, and generally being warm and pleasant to each other about it.

There's been a very enjoyable air of goodwill about it all. It's mostly been quite dignified and heart-warming and nice, which is pretty much the opposite of my usual experience of e.g. Twitter, not least because Twitter is full of people like me.

Wonder what's going to happen when Morrissey dies eh?

Nothing that won't be Morrissey's own fault, I expect. The really terrifying prospect is this - what's going to happen when the Queen dies?

I've been dreading that one for about fifteen years now.

Chris Williams said...

Me too. At least when the Queen dies, we will be able to blame Morrissey somehow for imagining it, so there's that.

For me, the main Bowie tearjerk is 'Kooks', precisely because I used to sing it to my son when he was very small and couldn't sleep.

However, I think that there's more to it than the emotional level. By virtue of being super-talented and later, interested and interesting, Bowie managed to make an impact in a large number of different spheres. One aspect of my current day job involves helping to rustle up intelligent clickbait pieces by academics for a certain nationally-hegemonic distance learning institution, so that what I did was much of Monday. The thing is, it was easy: film, gender, fashion, high art, SF, politics, Europe - there are any number of ways that Bowie interacted with these, and not in a shallow photo-op way either: he got stuck in, did his homework, made art, and helped others do so too. Thus, lots of us are likely to have a moment when they made the connection between their own high-end complicated art niche (with me it's probably SF) and Bowie's work. He did things properly. He was also clearly international in a way that most popular-thing stars are not. And he also made sure to come out of semi-retirement to create some great art just before dying, so we knew what we were missing. So millions of people have an inkling of loss. Yes, 'Eight Line Poem' makes is easier to indulge that sense (and why not?) but I think the reason for its ubiquity, especially among the freaks, the heads, the queers, the arty people - us lot - lies elsewhere.

Igor Belanov said...

Why all the cheap shots about Morrissey?

I won't be blubbing when he dies because I don't know the man, but his work means a lot more to me (and many others) than Bowie's ever would.

dsquared said...

the illness was kept a secret

Clues were there. I got a tingle of the spidey sense when “Where are we now” came out and spent a morning with a stopwatch establishing that the word “dying” appears exactly at the midpoint of that song.

flyingrodent said...

Why all the cheap shots about Morrissey?

Probably because he's a bit of a Marmite kind of guy, and his output/reputation are matters of dispute, rather than consensus.

Or that's what I was assuming, at least.

ejh said...

his output/reputation are matters of dispute

You sure about that? I mean I wouldn't personally class him with Bowie (not so much range, I'd say) but surely with both of them we can point to a period of work that's at least generally lauded. It's not as if everybody puts Bowie's seventies albums in the same order, or even likes all of them.

flyingrodent said...

Yes, I wasn't thinking so much of e.g. The Smiths' albums, which I've always liked, so much as the fact that a lot of people really, really don't like Morrissey personally, for whatever reason. He's a controversial character in a way that not many musicians are.

Organic cheeseboard said...

I brought up Morrissey because he is beloved of quite a few Decents, but in addition David Cameron genuinely claims to be a fan, unlike his newfound love for Bowie. Was mainly bringing it up to wonder whether or not the Decent Rational Hatred of Overreaction at Celebrity Deaths will remain when Moz snuffs it. Sorry if that seemed tasteless. But someone obv understood hence the Nandos ref.

Can't really work out who my generation's equivalent of Bowie in terms of the effect of his death would be.

flyingrodent said...

Ah right, that makes a lot more sense. I was thinking of why I would be a bit fearful of that particular social media meltdown - that's what a few years of reading the NME will do.

Phil said...

I'm still rationing my exposure to the music. I accidentally heard the first beat of "Sound and Vision" today and immediately muted it - I'm not sure I'm ready yet for how that will sound now. (Or "'Heroes'", or "Ashes to Ashes", or "Station to Station", or "Space Oddity", or...) So far I've listened to "Conversation Piece"*, "Art Decades"** and "Hallo spaceboy"***; tomorrow I'm planning to broach "Everyone says Hi".

*A very old B-side which I only discovered a couple of years ago but now feel is my song; it's about a lonely self-doubting academic. (It may actually be about a lonely self-doubting academic committing suicide, but I'd already taken the song to my heart before I spotted that interpretation.) It's lovely, anyway - despite its grim subject matter, it exemplifies the generosity & warmth which Bowie so often communicated - and I recommend tracking it down.

**Years ago I sampled the double beat at 0:03 for my email alert.

***Courtesy of Phil AVPS.

KBPlayer said...

"The Decent waggy finger is currently being aimed at people being rude to David Cameron and George Osborne for the statements they made about Bowie. "

Oh dear. And I was going to post my own tribute to DBowie at Decent HQ (aka Harry's Place) but didn't because (a) I don't have anything clever to say about him; and (b) they already had a piece about him.

And my waggy finger is pointing at people who were dicks about those who were upset about his death (eg Burchill), also defending Scots Nats, who mostly were sharing clips and reminiscing about gigs, not going into crap cybernat mode.

Like a lot of people, I wasn't huge fan of his but was still saddened by his unexpected death. I thought he'd be around for a few years, still putting out stuff. And a load of the songs came flooding back.

@Chris Williams - interesting points.

Billy Bragg has pointed out that he and Rickman were of the working class boys to art school generation (Ray Davies the same, though older) and that may not be happening any more, what with the cost and the debt.