Oh, No Love! You’re Not Alone
“I never thought the death of someone I've never met would affect me like this,” is the common mantra of civilians when a celebrity dies. But why? Why must there be a divide between “them” and us? They eat, sleep, create, and breathe the same way “we” do until that poignant day when they, and everything they did, ceases to be. The only difference is that there are a lot more people who’ve heard their name than say, mine. We grieve because something or someone that has touched our lives and changed our perception can no longer continue doing so. We should be affected by the death of those we deem untouchable because the very fact that we’ve heard of them is what makes them real and their legacy tangible.
I was hesitant to write anything about David Bowie—his passing or what he meant to me. Literally millions have found inspiration from him so anything I could add to the conversation would be trite, boring, maybe even sycophantic. I mean, the man released an album and died two days later. There’s no way he couldn’t have staged that better, the man who required all eyes on him at every grand evolution period of his life. Why contribute when silence seems so much more fitting to the “true” fan? Except in a weird, beautiful way, his death obliterated the true from the passing and made us all one. This unity is what births the cult of celebrity and the seamless way Bowie managed to transition that from life to death is breathtaking.
Today, it’s customary to see a flurry of activity whenever there’s a big shift in the norm. Natural disaster, acts of human cruelty, and celebrity deaths among them. But what separated Bowie’s death from every other was just how many people and how many genres of people, so to speak, spoke up. From the rebels to the quiet ones, from the girls to the boys to the ones that don’t know if they’re girls or boys, every incarnation of Bowie struck a chord with someone. In the end, it didn’t matter if you were a rocker or a mod or a mocker; Bowie allowed you to be someone else and yourself. It seems fitting that at the candle-lit vigil by his Soho home in New York, the only noise that could be heard on that stoop came from the portable speakers someone brought with them blasting “Changes.” He made art that changed lives, and after his death, we wanted to return the favor even if it just meant laying orange flowers at a spot he used to frequent.
As a performer who allowed us in only on his terms, despite playing the world like the perfect showman he was, Bowie highlighted his boundaries by requesting a simple cremation and no service when it came to his death. But it’s only natural that we, as his fans, wanted a bigger finale because that last goodbye is closure. It’s how I start contemplating a world without the secret, wild, completely irrational hope that I might run into him since we both happened to live in the same city. Time resets with death, but we are so lucky to live in an age of social media where the world is not divided by oceans and distance, but bonded by the power of words and technology.
In the days after his death, the hashtag #RIPBowie and variations of it allowed all of us to remember, laugh, cry, and contribute our little bit to sending off the single man who touched us so. Stories of how his music saved lives, transformed lives, created new lives breathed love into the space grief carved out. There is no shame, no embarrassment, and no guilt in allowing ourselves to express the emotions that come naturally when even a celebrity dies. That’s what Bowie fans know—maybe more than anyone else—because it was our misfit king who reassured us when we needed it. During the darkest days when his light went out, we still had his words to unite us once more: “I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with pain. You’re not alone.”
Leyla Hamedi is a pop culture writer living in New York City. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including MetalSucks and Noisey, covering subjects ranging from women in metal to the Istanbul music scene. She is the editor and translator for the international record company Onearth Records and currently reviewing the Mick Jagger-produced HBO show Vinyl for PopMatters. She received her MFA in Screenwriting and works as a story editor for the screenplay company Coverage Ink. Always aiming to seamlessly weave music into the various forms of prose she works in, she won the Grand Prize in the New York Screenplay Contest for her script Holi Cow, a coming-of-age story about a girl’s quest to find herself through the music of David Bowie.