There’s been no shortage over the last few days of people putting their contribution into the non-existent until they started it debate about whether ‘we’ (the huddled masses) are allowed to be sad when ‘famous people’ die, prompted by the death of David Bowie. Apart from a couple of spectacularly ill judged tweets from one side of the spectrum and a few ‘here’s my article on why it’s ok’ tweets with links I haven’t clicked on, I haven’t read any of them. With this in mind there’s every chance that everything I feel like saying has already been said multiple times in considerably better ways by considerably better writers. However I’ve been prompted and as you can see from the dust and cobwebs on this blog, I am not in a position to look a gift prompt in the mouth.
I’ve mentioned in a previous blog my dislike of the word ‘celebrities’ but I’m going to again use it throughout this as shorthand for ‘people who are famous because they’re good at a thing or a combination of things’. The first reason why I think it’s absolutely fine to be touched by the death of a celebrity is because at a basic level we’re a consumer of what they produce, and we have enjoyed our consumption of it. We are allowed to feel sad if a much loved restaurant closes down or they stop making the biscuits that have been our favourite for 20 years, purely because we know we can’t have any more of that thing we enjoyed. Anybody who has ever written an article nostalgic for a defunct chain of shops or a forgotten brand should be automatically barred from writing sneering articles about people reacting to the death of a celebrity – something which would have removed at least one of the originators of the ill-judged tweets I previously mentioned from having their hat in the ring in the first place.
Secondly, as Donne has already made perfectly clear and so again isn’t up for debate by any columnist trying to get their profile up, no man is an island. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Not a difficult concept. If we accept we’re all humans clinging to the same rock hurtling through space (I understand there are some American presidential candidates that are struggling with this at the moment, but generally there’s always at least one American presidential candidate struggling with a very basic concept at any one time) then it is perfectly natural for us to be very slightly touched when we hear of the death of another of our number if we feel even slightly connected to them. If we hear that Ted who works behind the counter in the paper shop has dropped dead we’ll say “Goodness, Ted? I was only speaking to him on Tuesday when I bought a packet of bin liners. Poor old Ted” and at least once or twice more over the next couple of days we’ll suddenly think of him. That’s the case for somebody who is just part of the wallpaper of our lives, who isn’t family or a friend but just a person we see and talk about the weather with. I don’t think that’s a British thing (though talking about the weather might be, apologising for it definitely is…) but a universal human thing. That sadness is allowed to be increased exponentially when the person is somebody who has produced something that has made us laugh or made us cry, or who has represented a pivotal moment in our life, or who we have looked up to or respected or adored.
Then of course there’s the clincher, art. There are actors who I would feel sad at the death of because some of their performances have stayed with me for life. I’m sure some people are moved in the same way by painting or sculpture or other art forms. But of them all, I think music probably touches the most people. Definitely people are ‘in to’ music at different levels, but even the most casual music listener probably has favourite pieces, or songs from some key songs from key moments in their lives. Many of us have songs that we revisit whenever we’re in a particular mood, or have purely nostalgic songs where hearing it will always take you back to that summer with that boy – I definitely have both. When you become a fan of somebody’s music, and you continue to like what they produce and become a fan of them themselves, you can very easily allow their music to become the soundtrack to your life. If you’ve made up to somebody’s records, broken up to their records, got married to their records, introduced your kids to their records, or simply just sat in your room and loved them you’re allowed to mourn them. You may not have been friends, but they or what they produce has been a friend to you and of course you’re allowed to be sad that at the very least that friend won’t give you anything new again. Add charisma of the performer, or the fact you liked their sense of humour, or the way they dressed, or you fancied them when you were 14 and the chances then are that a little bit of who you are today has been influenced by them. Then of course you’re allowed to be sad.
Of course you don’t need a random blogger with virtually no followers who wasn’t that in to Bowie to tell you that it’s ok to disagree with a couple of paid rent-a-gobs who get their kicks out of being controversial who have told you that you’re not allowed to be sad, and that you definitely shouldn’t be sad on social media (I mean ugh, why go round functioning and getting on with your day but sharing your sadness with other like minded people. You animal :p ). But I do feel it’s fair to reinforce to those that are still on the fence that music does tend to have quite a profound effect on people, and so sometimes losing the people that made it sucks. I’ll leave it to Frank Turner if you have 3 minutes spare to play the tune underneath, as fundamentally I think he makes a key point…”I still believe that everyone can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won”. And even if you disagree with the blog it’s a cracking tune.
(chances are it won’t be showing as a video until I’ve edited this 14 times, so if it’s not, click the link)