Sunday 24 January 2016

Farewell, Jareth

It's taken me a while to write this, because I'm not ready to accept it. But that's life and death and that's how it goes.

When I was toddler-sized, my favourite books were Spot's Birthday Party by Eric Hill, Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl and Jan PieĊ„kowski - and Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak. My elder sister recalls hiding her fear of the story in order to read it to me over and over again as only a toddler can demand, and I think it's her love for me that is why I loved the story so much: I knew if I was ever taken by fairies, she would, without question, be there to bring me home. I have never doubted that.

So move onward a few years, and I'm watching TV. I think I must have been around 8 or 9, because I remember it as being a large, colour TV and we didn't have a colour TV until I was 8. I missed the beginning of the film I was watching, this was long before the days of pressing a button on the remote (what remote?!) to see what you were watching, and we didn't have a TV guide. I was entrhalled, but I had no idea what film it was that had me so spellbound.

Fast forward to my third year of uni. I was home alone and bored, nosing through my housemate's dvd collection. She was a huge Bowie fan, and at this point my only known exposure to him had been the mother of my French exchange student asking "Iz eet pronounced 'Boh-ee' ou 'Bough-ee'?" so I'd been enjoying educating myself on his music. But it was the dvd shelf that stunned me, because there was a film there that looked so familiar. I was sure, but afraid to be sure, to the point my hands were trembling as I put it on. 

There was one scene I remembered most vividly: the Ida character and some goblin reaching a garden by climbing up a ladder and out of a flowerpot to meet a wiseman with a talking hat. Turns out I remembered it wrong: Sarah and Hoggle don't climb out of a flowerpot. But Labyrinth was the film that I had been seeking for somewhere around 15 years.

What I'm saying is, I was late to discovering the depth of the importance and power of David Bowie, but his impact on me was no less for it. I want to write one day about why Labyrinth is an important film ("You have no power over me"), but not today: Bowie is an amazing actor as well as a wonderful musician and the Jareth character is truly sinister, but today I wanted to talk about Bowie.

I find I still don't have the words. 

I was angered when I saw a newspaper headline (I think the Sun) "Shock Bowie Cancer Death". It was not a shock: Lemmy's death was a shock, but Bowie's we knew was coming. Or at least, I saw the announcement 18 months or so ago but no paper followed the story and I managed to convince myself it had been an internet hoax. Just because the papers hadn't realised how much he meant to the world didn't mean his illness wasn't known. I've been similarly annoyed by the people who say, on listening to his latest single, "It's like he knew he was going to die!" Well, yes.

Oh, but I know my anger is the frustrated anger of the bereaved. And as with Sir Terry Pratchett last year, I feel a bit weird that I'm feeling bereaved at the loss of someone I never met. And that makes me feel weird, because somehow I've always known I'd meet David Bowie, a conviction I can't trace the root of (unless it was in that long quest to find the film...) and I'd never lingered on the thought long enough to question it until now, but the convistion is strong enough I'm beginning to wonder if there is an after life.

He was able to fluidly change himself time and time again. He was an openly bisexual person in a world of very few bisexual rolemodels. He was gender fluid in a gender binary time. And that might not seem important to everyone, but representation does matter, and he didn't just represent: he was loved. Is loved. And the huge musiccal legacy he has left us is something I am grateful for.

I feel sometimes that it must help when the person you love who's died is famous. When people close to me have died, there's been this seismic shift in the world to which most of the world seems oblivious. Not so for Bowie. Not so for Alan Rickman (whose generosity in supporting young talent from poor backgrounds and his commitment to equality needs to be more widely known). Not so for the rather striking number of famous deaths since Christmas.

Does it help to know the world mourns with you?

I didn't know what Bowie meant to me until now. It doesn't seem true that I'll never meet him. 

Farewell, Goblin King.


  1. It is a desolate world without him but I can put on my iPhone and listen or watch him and the world is good again if only for a little while....

    1. There's a meme going round that I really like, pointing out the age of the universe and hour lucky we are that we got to be in it at the same time as Bowie. There's something to that. And his musical legacy is phenomenal!