Archive | January, 2016

Harold and Bowie.

22 Jan

I went to a funeral yesterday. It was held in a small, obscure Methodist church in north-east Derbyshire. About 50 to 60 people turned up to mourn the loss of a long standing member of their congregation : Harold W——. He was 89 years old. He’d enjoyed a good, long life. Harold’s passing was mentioned in a short announcement in the local paper: The Derbyshire Times, along with the deaths of around 30 others who had also lived in the area. It was not featured in the Nationals and did not dominate 24 hour TV news for a day. Harold’s death will sadden a few score family members, friends and acquaintances, but tens of millions of the wider public were not even aware of his life, never mind his death. As the cricket commentators might say: “He didn’t trouble the scorers.” This is very different from the sudden, unexpected death of the pop star and performance artist, David Bowie, in the same week. Bowie had also led a good, long life but was only 69 when it ended.So part of the big reaction to his death was because it was regarded as being premature. He still had to reach the average life-expectancy and still had a lot to offer.

So 2 deaths of 2 Englishmen in the same week in mid-January, 2015. The loss of one life was mourned by a few but ignored by the many. The other was mourned by the many and ignored by very few. Even those who did not  like the music of Bowie would have been very lucky to escape the knowledge of his passing. There was saturation coverage on television and in the press, and a general outpouring of vicarious grief on social media. So why the massive difference in the reaction to these 2 sad deaths?

That question is easy to answer of course — it’s the consequence of fame. We live in an era of stars, superstars and so-called celebrities. Their lives are presented in great, constant detail to us  by the media. We know their likes, dislikes, activities and movements. We hear about their love affairs, marriages and divorces. We even hear about their weight problems and slimming regimes. One has to feel sorry for them really as the price of their fame is the loss of their privacy. Thus, it’s not surprising that it’s big news when one of these “stars” dies. It’s almost as if their death is just their latest contribution to the entertainment industry. To be fair to David Bowie, in his latter years he largely shunned the publicity machine. He kept his illness confidential, withdrew into obscurity in New York, far from his British homeland, and made his last 2 albums in secret. Maybe at the end, even he had grown tired of constantly having to parade in front of cameras and perform on the public stage. Maybe even great fame palls in the end. I admired him and liked his many different styles of music. I was also intrigued by  his multiple personas. He was very clever and creative. I admire his stance at the end. He had a quick, quiet cremation and denied the hungry media the opportunity for another mass feeding -frenzy. In doing this I think he maintained his dignity and integrity to the very end. In this sense I think he showed himself to be a real star. His legacy was his music and his writing. He also left millions of vivid memories for people all around the globe.

But was David’s death more important than Harold’s. Is the significance of a death measured by how many people were touched by that person in his/her life? Some may think this is true. However, I would argue that quality far outweighs quantity. Harold led a quiet life in one area. His passing didn’t cause many ripples at all. But he was  a faithful husband in a long-term marriage, a good father of 2 daughters and a son and a loving  and much loved granddad. He touched these people deeply not superficially. These were quality relationships. Harold  won great respect for his work as manager of the local Cooperative store, his long term union work and his lifelong support of the local Methodist church. He was much valued as a friend including by both my parents who shared meals, trips and holidays with him. Naturally, David Bowie had these close family and work relationships too and also probably had numerous close friends. I am not saying he was superficial by any means. So in the relationships that count, Harold and David were equals. To me, their deaths were of equal importance. The anguished outpourings of  people who only knew Bowie through a piece of vinyl, a picture in a pop magazine, an image on a TV screen or a distant dot on a stage, cannot compare with the genuine, deep grief of those who knew him in the flesh and with whom he had formed intimate, meaningful relationships.

Maybe I’m being pedantic. I’m just stating the obvious really. I know that people are not always treated equally in life. The famous few get a lot more attention and preferential treatment compared to the anonymous masses. I know we need “stars” — people to inspire us and illuminate our lives. ( I’m talking about real, talented stars like Bowie here, not the has-beens on “Big Brother” or “I’m a Celebrity.”) Bowie was a hero to many people in many ways. Yet Harold was a hero too. He enriched the lives of those who were closest to him. he worked hard, kept his family provided for and was successful in his career. He won the respect of many. Thus, in my eyes they were equal, and will be missed in equal measure by those that knew them. In one way Harold outdid Bowie. In one crucial respect he was not equal. He lived a full 20 years longer. The tragedy of David Bowie was that he still had a lot to offer and, up to his final illness, still had the drive and energy to create more memorable works of art.

Harold, I think, was happy that he had achieved his major goals in life. In the end, the ailments and physical restrictions of the ageing process, cut deeply into his quality of life. His beloved wife had pre-diseased him by over a decade. He was in need of daily carers and had lost much of his independence. Maybe he was relieved to slip quietly away in the end.

So Harold and David-two sad deaths in one week. Two completely different, contrasting lives lost in the same short space of time. There was a vast difference in the reaction to their deaths, but they will both be equally missed by those who loved them.