Bowie, Lemmy and Mortality

Yesterday passed in something of a whirl, David Bowie had died and I did not really know what to do with myself. At first I wanted to sit around and listen to his records all day, but after playing the two Changes albums I thought that getting out and doing something would be more constructive.

So I did what I always do these days when I want to clear my head, I went for a walk; with a Bowie Spotify playlist I had recently put together plugged into my ears.

As one classic and innovative song followed another, three of them in particular brought tears to my eye, ‘Scary Monsters and Super Creeps’ (my favourite of his), ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Heroes’. It struck me all over again what an amazing pop star he was and how he only achieved what he did by taking risks and being true to himself. The death of someone I had never met had never had an effect on me like Bowie’s had.

I had also been on a similar sort of walk a week earlier, listening to the music of Lemmy: a very different personality but still highly influential and hugely respected; also because he was true to himself and his instincts.

The deaths of two people who are so huge in my own cultural milieu is something I am finding it hard to come to terms with. Sure people who were important to me culturally have died before: Joe Strummer and John Peel both went far too soon. Add to this those from all generations who died young: Jim Morisson, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse for instance. This is something different though, because Bowie and Lemmy were key people in the generation before mine (I am 51), and we can now expect this sort of news to become increasingly frequent.

Bowie and Lemmy both knew that they were going to die. Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ album, released just two days before he died, is a remarkable requiem for himself; while Lemmy wrote as long ago as 2011 “Take the wild ride, teach you how to fly/ Be on my side, hate them long goodbyes/ Don’t believe in miracles and I won’t even try/ I know the law, I know how to die” (How To Die). Add to this Julien Temple’s film about Wilko Johnson, who was diagnosed with inoperable cancer only to be given a reprieve two years later: a remarkable meditation on both Johnson’s and that generation’s attitudes to death. The generation that did not want to die before it got old is now dying, or preparing to do so, as it is passing into its 70s.

By yesterday evening my unease had not abated and I felt irritable and listless, and went out for a second long walk; this time listening to Bowie’s Blackstar album.

As I explored what could yet prove to be another landmark album from the great man I came to the realisation that yesterday was probably one of the most significant in my life, because it was the day when I psychologically stopped moving away from my birth and started moving towards my death. This perhaps sounds morbid, but I do not think that it needs to be. Nothing changed for me physically, and actually because of my weight loss and higher fitness levels I feel younger than I have done for years, but I do recognise and accept that I have in all likelihood passed the halfway point of my life.

By the end of that second walk I did not exactly feel settled but I did have a greater sense of hope. Hope that I in all likelihood still had a good few years left in me yet, and a belief that there is still time to live and do something truly remarkable. I have no idea what that might be, but I feel closer to it than I did a week ago.



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