I don’t know when the end begins. For many years of our lives, most of us are, apparently, immortal. My generation knows only too well that there will be early demises – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, Ian Drury, John Lennon: characters, stars; call them what you will. I remember being particularly saddened a couple of years ago, just when I thought I’d got used to it all, by the death of James Gandalfini – a particularly nasty trick when I’d been such a late convert to The Sopranos.
And, talking about my generation, we’ve experienced first-hand those other shocking wake-up calls: Jack and Robert Kennedy, when one was not yet old enough to read American politics; Diana, when we were of an age to hate the financial unfairness of royalty, but not yet mature enough to deal with innate sadness that made the whole country be nicer to each other for a week.
Unexpectedly, when we hit sixtyish, our personal friends start dying. These are not folk who’ve passed a lifetime of indulgent excess. There’s no lesson to be learned and this is a terrible shock. How very inconsiderate of them to notify us that, despite being children of the sixties, and thus not only up there with the game changers, that the game is, after all ,not infinite. What a nerve these people have with their strokes and their heart attacks and their cancers. Get a life!
Bowie never warned anybody about anything – he just did it. No surprise then that we didn’t know he was ill. What would we have done with that information anyway? We wouldn’t have rushed out and purchased his new album – we were doing that anyway. His death was as his life’s work: unexpected and shocking.
A couple of years ago, we went to the Bowie retrospective at the V & A. How wonderful to write that sentence. How amazingly different from all the other modern deaths that the V & A chose to commemorate this icon. How brilliant that the Archbishop of Canterbury was the first to offer his plaudit on Radio 4 this morning.
When we speak of Bowie, we speak not of small or temporal things. The world mourns.