A week on and while the raw pain has eased slightly, the shock and sense of loss remains.
And while I slowly begin to feel better, I realise that I still see traces of him everywhere:
The tributes and concerts and parties and film screenings and club nights continue, although I still don’t feel quite ready to join in.
This letter from a palliative care doctor struck a particular nerve:
Many people I talk to as part of my job think that death predominantly happens in hospitals, in very clinical settings, but I presume you chose home and planned this in some detail. This is one of our aims in palliative care, and your ability to achieve this may mean that others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled. The photos that emerged of you some days after your death, were said to be from the last weeks of your life. I do not know whether this is correct, but I am certain that many of us would like to carry off a sharp suit in the same way that you did in those photos. You looked great, as always, and it seemed in direct defiance of all the scary monsters that the last weeks of life can be associated with.
And again, I think of my dad, and again, I am sad.
There was at least one real moment of joy, however. Imagining Giles Coren’s frustration at having to wait until the Saturday before he was able to publish his piece in the Times, and knowing how heartbroken he must have been when he realised that Camilla Long had not only beaten him to it, but was also invited on to Question Time by the programme’s unimaginative and grubby producers.
There are many problems with Coren’s article, the main one being that it was ever published in the first place. But let’s just take a moment to look at a few of them.
I described the response to Bowie’s death as “hysterical” and it was.
The hysteria was positively Diana-like (indeed the two had much in common – all skinny and sad, obsessed with hair and clothes, desperately shagging everything that moved) and that is because Bowie (like Diana) appealed to hysterical people. People who make a massive great fuss about the teeniest thing.
The idea that this, bullying, unpleasant, short-tempered man-child who once went into a four-hour meltdown on Twitter because he misread the terms and conditions of a service he signed up to should have the audacity to lecture anyone on how to keep their emotions in check shows such a colossal lack of of self-awareness that you wonder how he is able eat a bowl of soup unassisted, having apparently been born without any proprioceptors.
His is not an anti-Bowie piece, he repeatedly states. He “had six or seven of his records on vinyl as a kid”, He bought Hunky Dory and “the first Ziggy album” when he went over to CDs (although he didn’t bother with the rest of the back catalogue, explaining that “nobody buys Station To Station twice”). He even “downloaded the odd Bowie song” after his collection went digital, although by that time he was 40 years old and “a bit old for pop music.”
So what is his objection to the way that people responded to Bowie’s death? It seems that it all comes down to Coren’s own sense of insecurity, worthlessness and fear. But even then, Giles is unable to articulate this in any way that makes any kind of sense.
“All that guff about how Bowie liberated gay people,” Coren writes. “That’s just tosh.”
“That liberation has been far too gradual, tidal and culturally momentous a thing to lay at the feet of one (as I said, excellent) singer.
There’s a straw man, waiting in the sky.
I’m not sure anyone was really suggesting that one individual was personally responsible for all of the advances in the gay rights movement during the last few decades. I think they were just saying that he was an influential figure in that battle.
Because when I was a teenager I didn’t want to wear androgynous carnival costumes or do coke or paint a zigzag on my face or be a girl or a spaceman or kiss other boys. I didn’t even want to dance (I still don’t, dancing is for idiots). I just wanted to do my homework, play football, eat Chipsticks, watch Swap Shop, maybe go to university, then get a job, get married, and get old.
And for most of history, that would have been okay. But then David Bowie came along and made my tastes and aspirations seem laughable and bourgeois. He made it feel not okay to be hard-working, square and middle class. Personally, I found his stupid clothes, daft little personas and grotesque sexual incontinence completely terrifying, but I wasn’t allowed to say so. So the only place for those feelings to go was into self-hatred and a deep sense of my own social inadequacy.
Oh, Giles, David Bowie isn’t to blame for your feelings of self-hatred and sense of social inadequacy! That’s all your own work. Stop being so modest. Credit where credit’s due.
But there is a slight contradiction here is there not? Bowie could only have possibly have made life more difficult for people who didn’t want to wear androgynous carnival costumes or do coke or paint a zigzag on their face or be a girl or a spaceman or kiss other boys by making it easier for people who did want to wear androgynous carnival costumes or do coke or paint a zigzag on their face or be a girl or a spaceman or kiss other boys.
And the only way that making it easier for people who did want to do those things could in fact make it more difficult for people who didn’t want to is if those people were so self-obsessed and emotionally insecure that they would see someone else’s liberation as a personal attack on their own.
That is why Giles doesn’t like Bowie. Because Giles Coren is a scared man. And like lots of scared men, he is scared because finally all of the certainties that laid the foundations of his worldview are being challenged and he is unsure of his place in life.
And “nobody buys Station To Station twice”? Seriously, what a twat.
But of course, he doesn’t actually believe what he says. He even admits as much himself:
It is rare to see someone admit so openly to their own grasping venality that part of me almost wants to admire him. But then I regain my senses and realise that he’s an absolute bell-end.
Now, let’s all agree to never think about the pointless little typist ever again. He’s invisible and dumb and no-one will recall him.
My Facebook and Twitter timelines are filled with people talking about which of his albums they’ve been playing the most this last week. Listing their favourite albums and songs in order. But I’m not yet able to think like that. I’m only able to listen to Blackstar, over and over again. What am I searching for? Meaning? Answers? No. I don’t think so.
There are, of course, subreddits and Tumblrs and blogs and newspaper articles trying to decode the album. Where is the Villa of Ormen? Does “Blackstar” relate to a form of cancer lesion? An Elvis song? The transistional phase between a star and a singularity? ISIS? Citizen Bowie has turned us into a million Jerry Thompsons.
And this seems to be how things are going more generally anyway. Like everyone else on the internet, I’ve been watching Making A Murderer. Before that, like everyone else, I was listening to Serial. Both shows have inspired wild speculation among their fans, with laptop detectives eager to crack the case.But while Making A Murderer perhaps steered viewers too far in one direction, Serial was a bit more subtle in its approach. It wrong-footed a lot of people because they misunderstood the question the programme was asking. People thought (and in the first few episodes were maybe led to believe) that this was a programme asking “Did he do it or didn’t he?” when actually it was “Would you have found him guilty or not guilty?”
People thought Serial was a puzzle when really it was a mystery. And trying to fit the final piece of a puzzle into the missing hole of a mystery never works. It never quite fits, no matter how close it is, there is always a gap of uncertainty. People watch a film like Mulholland Drive and think it’s a puzzle they can solve. Their solution? “It was all a dream.”No. I’m not having that. Why take a work of such complexity and reduce it down to something so reductive and perfunctory? Why not just accept the mystery? “It was all a dream” is a cop out. It means you’ve run out of ideas and you’ve run out of energy and you’re just looking for a convenient way out of your flimsy attempt to make sense of something you couldn’t possibly begin to understand.
There’s a quite extraordinary interview that David Bowie did with Chris Evans on TFI Friday back in 1999:
I asked (the other) DB about it on Twitter once:
So strange and irrelevant that you may feel I’ve collapsed. Just let me go.
And then I think of the incredible sassiness (he got game) of that final third section of Blackstar.
I can’t answer why
Just go with me.
As humans, we seek answers. It’s what shields us from our greatest fear. Ambiguity and ambivalence and uncertainty make us feel uncomfortable and itchy. We want to find out the significance of Rosebud, of Blackstar, of the solitary candle. We need to find those answers because the alternative is terrifying. What if it’s all just unknowable? What if there are no answers? What if there isn’t a secret code? Where does that then leave us?
I can’t answer why
But I can show you how
And I think of Tony Visconti during the recording of Blackstar and I think of him asking Bowie if this was a “farewell” album and I think how Bowie just laughed at the question.
Here was a man being asked the most fundamental of questions by one of his most trusted collaborators and friends, and he refuses to give an answer. And I think that he didn’t give an answer because there isn’t an answer. Because it isn’t a puzzle to solve. And I think that he really meant what he said in that last song.
Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent
I can’t give everything
I can’t give everything away
I can’t give everything away
And I think it’s OK that we don’t have an answer and it’s better that we don’t have an answer because how could you try to reduce his life and his work into a single thing? An answer? Wouldn’t that just be so disappointing? Because he wasn’t a puzzle. He was a mystery. And he could never give everything away.
But then you think about him again and it all seems so improbable that he ever existed in the first place and only one explanation seems to make sense.
It was all a dream.