There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.
Celebrity has a strange and sometimes profound way of infiltrating into our mundane lives.
When rock icon David Bowie died of liver cancer in January 2016 it was a shocking loss to so many of us. It still is. For weeks and months after his death, I found solace and sadness in his final masterpiece, Black Star and tried to dissect his thought processes on life and death beneath the layers of complex lyrics. The empty hole left when a living legend passes hurts to the core whether it be Robin Williams, Kobe Bryant, or Bowie himself. I believe much of it has to do with us having to come to terms with their own unique flaws and challenges they experienced in their own lives…whether it be addictions, disease, infidelities, or mental health issues. When they pass away, they become much more human to us. They are no longer untouchable.
Bowie’s final decades were spent in what seems to have been a loving marriage to a beautiful, strong woman with two children who seemed to have loved him back just as deeply. During his life he inspired a vast and eclectic range of artists along the way and will continue to do so even though he is no longer physically amongst us. But Bowie worked through his art up until the bitter end. He left this world with possibly his most personal and critically acclaimed collection of songs that seemed to scorch so deeply into his soul. No doubt they are dark, but there is also hope enveloped within the lyrics as well. Through the last months, weeks and days of his life. He also worked tirelessly on his musical, Lazarus. It was as though he felt he had so much more to do and with a great sense of urgency.
And just as many of us were coming to terms with Bowie’s death, Prince died just a few months later in April, and then George Michael passed away on Christmas Day. For those of us who lived through their music in the 80s and 90s it was almost too much to bear. A part of our own lives seemed forever gone and many of us mourned the loss of our youth. The younger generations today could equate this to losing the likes of Taylor Swift, Adele, and Drake all within a single year. Imagine the loss.
The great thing about David Bowie is that he was not about celebrity. He was an artist’s artist, a unicorn with a bright streak of lighting emblazoned upon his back…a rarity in our world today. Nowadays, many celebrities come out with short-lived makeup or fragrance lines, design a capsule collection, or invest in a new brand of tequila or champagne…common and financially savvy ways for them to add to their investment portfolios. David chose roles in films such as Basquiat, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Labyrinth. Yet, he can also be seen in Zoolander and a witty and memorable role as himself in the tv show Extras (see below) with Ricky Gervais. Serious with his art, yet not too serious with himself. We can forgive him for his 1980s Pepsi ad with Tina Turner (and forgive her too) or his Vittel water endorsement because he made up for those minor commercial blips in so many other enriching ways. It is important to remember that Bowie was also a painter and sculptor, took strong stances against racism long before people woke up and it was front page news. He was also one of the innovators of the ‘Bowie bonds,’ a lesser known, but groundbreaking contribution to the fields of business and finance. And remember BowieNet? His personal internet service which launched in 1998 through his own portal for fans? What on Earth did Bowie NOT do???
Bowie, Prince, and George Michael were controversial trailblazers, each with very different aesthetics and approaches to their art. Those losses in 2016 still leave gaping holes for so many of us, but not only for the reasons you might expect. They seem to have put a spotlight on the death of the artist and the explosion of celebrity. Something so many of us are exasperated and often disappointed with. Which is part of the reason why so many of us still hold on to them as tightly as we can.