David Bowie: Heroes (& Villains)


I recently wrote a piece for my other love, The Football Ramble, about the minefield that is celebrating a sporting achievement by someone who espouses unconscionable views or, as is more likely these days, inappropriate sexual behaviour.

You can read it here, if you care to, but I know many of you instantly drop into a coma when football is mentioned, so I’ll precis it.

I conclude that there has to be a separation between achievement and the individual, because the alternative is to fully endorse everything the subject has done in their life, even if you don’t know about it.

It’s not a comfortable position, especially when you’re dealing with the likes of Tyson Fury, but what alternative is there? To not admire anyone or anything ever, in case the person involved turns out to have views that differ from your own?

I’ll take my chances, if that’s ok.

Embed from Getty Images

This subject has reared its head again this week upon the death of David Bowie and the outpouring of grief that followed.

I didn’t know David Bowie. Those of you who know me will confirm that, mainly because you’ve heard my Michael Stipe story and are fully aware that if I’d ever set eyes on a piece of ground Bowie had walked on, I’d have claimed responsibility for at least two of his albums.


But when I heard the news on Monday morning, I was upset. I didn’t cry, but I posted my condolences on Twitter and listened to Blackstar before 10.00am. I thought about life and death, existence and grief.

I thought a lot about grief.

Until this precise point in our evolution, grief has comprised a conceit we’ve never thought to question. There’s never been a need to question it. In order to be sad about the death of another, you had to know them. It’s both functional and necessary. If we felt every death as strongly as we feel the deaths of those close to us, we’d all be perpetual quivering messes, unable to move from the computer and the repetitive refreshing of news screens so we could prepare another statement of despair in 140 characters or less.

But a lot has changed in the last fifty years or so. So much, in fact, that if I was feeling a little more charitable, I might excuse those people who missed the specific development I’m going to address.

You know, the ones who use the social media mourning as a springboard to launch their disdain at the wall to see what sticks. At best, criticism of me and my kind for expressing emotion over something they personally don’t care about, at worst, an allegation of the individual in question’s improper conduct.

What you guys singularly fail to understand is that I’m mourning the David Bowie that I constructed. The David Bowie who, among many many others, sound tracked my journey through the dark, frequently terrifying and always utterly confusing cave system that is adolescence.

Not the man.


Everyone who gathered at the impromptu altar that sprang up in the grounds of BBC 6 Music on Monday was mourning a different David Bowie, their David Bowie, and the stories, memories and songs we contributed melded together to form an effigy of the man and his music so bright, he could probably see it from space.

If you were a fully formed emotional being at birth, your adolescence will have been a clear eyed period of educational enrichment, career planning and monitoring hair growth with a detachment that at the time I would have envied.

Now I just feel bad for you.

Because while you were doing you, I was a mess. Often, the only thing that got me through the day was a voice, a melody, lyrics that hung in the air like an arm reaching out from a lifeboat when I’d just swallowed my last breath. Dreams. Hopes.

I needed that to survive and even though I’m a grown up now with my own set of keys, bins to put out and no time to stare at the stars in awe and wonderment, I will instantly regress to fifteen and hopeless again when I hear that plaintive riff at the beginning of Heroes.

It shows me how far I’ve come. I survived.

The sensation is indescribable, so we write things on Twitter and play his songs while you complain about contrived grieving, nonchalantly enquire about allegations of sexual misconduct and tell everyone who’s listening that you don’t really care.

I know who I’d rather spend the day with.

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