SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Cancer scores a hat trick on creative men

WELL it’s certainly been a hat trick for cancer — stealing talented, creative men aged 69-70. Lemmy, David Bowie and now Alan Rickman. 

Come on, cancer, couldn’t you have picked a few we wouldn’t miss? Donald Trump is 69. And Rupert Murdoch is eighty bloody four.

All across the cultural landscape, we are mourning David Bowie above all others. Lemmy might have had 280,000 Motorhead fans watching his memorial service live-streamed on YouTube (I was one of them, convalescing at home after my own bout of anti-cancer surgery), but it was Bowie’s death that rocked us. A librarian friend made an elaborate shrine to him in her local library. Brixton had a spontaneous street party in his honour, the local cinema honouring ‘Our Brixton Boy, RIP’. Thousands of flowers and candles created a sudden vivid memorial outside his apartment building in New York.

Bowie’s is the first public death that ever made me cry in private. Not just a little bit of throat-lumpening, but proper sobbing into a wad of loo roll. I thought it might be all the post-operative medication I’m on, until I realised loads of my (healthy, undrugged) friends were crying their eyes out too. Facebook was crying. Twitter was crying. We were all crying, because we loved him and we will always love his music. It was that uncomplicated.

And then the grief fascists stepped in. One unpleasant hack got themselves trending on Twitter thanks to a series of tweets of unparalleled cynicism suggesting that the grief of Bowie lovers was fake, competitive, and social-media induced. (The tweets in question were disproportionally abusive, which is why I can’t be bothered to include them here).

You don’t have to personally know someone to be touched by their life and death. This was never more evident when Diana Spencer died. Middle England was in paroxysms at the loss of its ‘People’s Princess’. And even if the idea of a ‘People’s Princess’ seems as oxymoronic to you as it does to me, I still felt terrible for her kids, because they were her kids.

I remember hearing older generations pinpointing where they were when JFK died — these were people in Ireland who had only seen his grainy image on those antique black and white tellies. And still they were touched. As they were when Elvis died, even though really Elvis had died a long time before he dropped his physical body.

Bowie is our generation’s Elvis, albeit a super-conscious visionary, making even his death a poignant work of art (“Look up here, I’m in heaven”). There are petitions to have him honoured by putting him on stamps, bank notes, naming stars after him, and – my favourite – renaming the planet Mars ‘Bowie’.

And still those idiot grief fascists miss the point and tell us what to feel. Imagine a stranger crying over your death — is that not the ultimate accolade? Families are obliged to cry — but millions of strangers?

Mission accomplished, Major Tom.


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