The year has taken many celebrities and artists from us; it almost seems as if they are leaving us at a greater rate than non celebs. But of course that is not the case. We feel their passing as if it is a personal loss. And it is: the loss of childhood, teenage-hood, the loss of love, or the loss of a particular time that can never be relived, missed opportunities that can never be grasped. We associate these losses with particular people, songs, houses, objects, places.
So am I mourning the loss of David Bowie, a person I never met, or am I mourning the memory of times, of places, shared chaotic households and shared lives, little responsibility and everything possible; a time when a friend camped out for front row Bowie tickets and was so excited on the night that he drank himself stupid, and our vision of the police carrying him away was the last thing we saw before the concert started. I don’t see that friend anymore, haven’t thought of him in years, but I thought of him when David Bowie died, thought his grief would be insurmountable. I was shattered. I walked around saying to myself, ‘David Bowie is dead,’ and I played anything I had of his, which, strangely, wasn’t much. I sent messages to people, ‘can you believe it!’ and we sat hunched over social media trying to work out the why, the how, as if it could made a difference. But of course, it didn’t. And we’d all managed to somehow turn his death into being about us; our loss, our grief, our personal memories and associations.
And then Leonard Cohen died. And the memories and associations whirred into action and cut through the stunned silence like the light through cracks. My mourning for L. Cohen was a reminder of earlier times, when things were bleaker and darker, and what I’d found in his melancholic brokenness was an uplifting darkness, a belief that the light does indeed get in.
This is not to say that the other artists and celebrities who’ve left us this year haven’t touched me in some way, but these two left me speechless with thought and memory for some time.
Celebrity deaths are about us, or at least the grief is. We are allowed to grieve our own memories, and if a celebrity had a hand in the creation of the memory, then grieve away. The new year will bring more losses. We can’t prepare for them because we don’t know who they will be. But they will come. And we will grieve for them as if we knew them personally.