One of the first times I really, truly became aware of mortality was when Bob Monkhouse died. Yep, silly old Bob Monkhouse. I was a total TV kid and Bob was almost like a member of the family. I watched all of his crappy game shows, laughed at all his crappy jokes. A guy like that on the telly never really grows old; you don’t hear about them having a cold or cancer. The makeup covers the wrinkles. So when they suddenly go, it’s a shock.
Shock is key to the grief over Bowie. We had no idea he was ill. He was only 69. He had an eternally youthful face, like an alien child. If he can die, we can all die – and who knows what awful things we’re incubating inside? Moreover, when Bowie goes – the music stops. There’s nothing new to look forward to. Bowie’s appeal was, in large part, his capacity for reinvention. Bowie 1966 was different to Bowie 1975 and to Bowie 2015. We all took it for granted that we’d get to see Bowie 2020. And we’re all a bit angry that we won’t.
Bowie provided the soundtrack to many people’s lives. When an artist like that dies, people think about their youth and where it’s all gone. I’m glad that he died after my father did because my father would’ve been very upset. He was a fan, had all the albums. For working-class men of my father’s generation – growing up in grim, postwar Britain – Bowie and the glam crowd said that life didn’t have to be monochrome. You could be whatever you wanted to be. Wear a feather boa in the bath if you want. Nothing since has matched the democratic, lush world of glam rock (except, maybe, the New Romantics). My father once played his Bowie albums for me and I fell instantly in love with them – so I have Bowie to thank for a moment of closeness. They had a big sound but the lyrics were intimate. When you’re an awkward teenager, life feels as though it’s lived “floating in a tin can.”
When Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney go, some of the best things about being British will go with them. The past will shut down; a bit of history will end. Bowie carried that kind of significance. Cry away, I don’t blame you. It show’s you’re human and you’ve got good taste in music.