Everybody dies. It’s a simple truth, but one that human beings will go to great lengths to avoid. The news broke at work, through rumour and Twitter, that Prince was dead and immediately people started saying that it was such a shock, that they couldn’t believe it and remarking on how sad it was. I was pretty indifferent because, a) I’m not a big Prince fan and b) my mum died six weeks ago, so I’m not really that cut up about someone I don’t know. I’m not saying grief is a game of Top Trumps, but perhaps a little bit of perspective would be useful here. Whether it’s Prince, or Victoria Wood, or Gil Scott-Heron, or Lemmy or Ronnie Corbett or David Bowie, calling it a tragedy on Facebook is overstating it to an almost insulting degree.
I’m going guess that whatever the last Prince album you bought was, it almost certainly wasn’t recorded in the last twenty years. Ditto Lemmy. I don’t have a clue what Victoria Wood was up to for the past decade, but I’m guessing was pretty similar to what she had been doing for decades before that. Ronnie Corbett was, I suspect, telling jokes and playing golf most of the time, which made him happy so I can’t really complain. (I was, however, quite delighted with the Daily Mail’s mouth-frothing headline “WHY WASN’T HE KNIGHTED?” the day after the news of his death broke. Their manufactured outrage over the death of a well-liked entertainer being my almost-favourite inappropriate front page, second only to the September 12th 2001 edition of The Daily Sport, which read: LORRAINE KELLY NUDE RIDDLE.) Whatever these celebrities were like as people (and let’s assume they were nice, kind, loving and loved) they hadn’t actually produced anything vital in years.
David Bowie is supposed to be the exception to this slide into irrelevance and I’ve listened to both The New Day and Black Star probably one and a half times each. From what I gather, people like these albums because they’re like the ones Bowie recorded when they were young.
Adam Buxton released two hours of podcasts about how he dealt with the death of David Bowie. I listened to all of it and wasn’t really any the wiser afterwards. I can’t think of a single celebrity dying that shocked me, because I didn’t know them and although their work may have touched me, I never once thought I knew them or that they were part of my life. That seems to make me the exception from most, which isn’t to say I’m exceptional, only that while I understand the connection people have from the things they read, hear and watch, I don’t really understand why the people behind those things are so interesting. It’s the thing that’s interesting, not the person who made it. The thing! The thing!
(I’m using the word ‘thing’ way too much here, but I hope it’s forgiveable.)
It seems that what people are mourning isn’t the passing of a friend, or the loss of a talent. What they’re sad about is the fact that the people they took for granted, the figures who seemed so permanent as to be totems rather than human beings, are finite in their lifespan. And if they can go, then none of us are safe.
Honestly, I don’t need to be reminded of this fact. I have watched someone take their last breath and heard their heart stop beating. So excuse me if I don’t *hug* your status update or RT your platitudes, because this is just the way of things. People die so that there’s room for the new ones. The proper response to the passing of someone who’s work you loved isn’t to get all mardy about it, but instead ask yourself who is filling the gap they left in the world. Who is making the music that moves you? Who is making you laugh, or cry or change your thinking with just a few words, carefully chosen and put in the right context? Have a look around. If there isn’t someone creating those things, taking those chances that you think need to be taken, then perhaps you are the person you’re looking for. Maybe the responsibility is yours and you should grasp it, before you, too, fall into the void.
Time is short.
What are you doing in the meantime?