“If time has a chariot
It moves blindly into the dark
Its charioteers face backwards
Familiar with the road traversed
Knowing as the past recedes
That life and love can’t be reversed…”
From He Made the Lame Blind by Bachchoo
David Bowie’s death has inspired a flood of verbiage from people who claim to have been on his bandwagon these last five decades and are now desperately clambering on to his hearse. Here’s a fragment from a Guardian journalist’s encomium: “David Bowie is not dead. Nor can he ever be. What he gave to me is forever mine because he formed me. He was my lodestar: in the years when I was trying to become myself, he showed me the endless possibilities. He gave us everything… all the ideas and a specific one — of life!”
It goes on. This person, one Suzanne Moore, is a Guardian columnist.
Here’s another: “In all the cold, silent, black emptiness of space, we were the ones who had David Bowie. And he had us. He invented something just as astonishing as a currency, or a medicine, or a machine, or a circuit or a city. He was an emotional statesman — a president of possible futures Thank you, you beautiful man. Thank you for giving us us…” That’s Caitlin Moran from the Times. Is it really cold, silent and black in their offices? No central heating or lights?
The 50 more I can quote are not from some idiot’s amateur blog, but even from the BBC.
Bowie was a singer with poses and pretentions who sometimes wrote nonsensical lyrics, for God’s sake! He didn’t invent medicines or formulate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. So what then is the fuss about? His real name was Jones and changing it to Bowie was his first stab at creating the illusions which formed his career.
I wasn’t a fan but did buy his records in the ’70s and ’80s. Several of my British friends were quite taken with Jones, posing as Ziggy Stardust or a spaceman whose ship gets jettisoned and who, if one thinks further than David’s inconclusive lyrics, would have died of hunger, thirst and asphyxiation in a spaceship hurtling for all time through space. Not very constructive of a personality or of hope.
Bowie entertained me, as any other songster did, but I never understood, and don’t to this day, why a fellow who writes and sings songs is compared as Bryan Appleyard does in the Sunday Times, to a character called Tancredi, in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa novel, The Leopard, who “saw that everything had to change to remain the same”.
Perhaps Appleyard had followed Jones’ career and knew that when he returned to Britain after a tour of the United States, where he no doubt made a stack of cash, he pronounced his admiration for fascism:
“I believe very strongly in fascism,” said Jones in 1975, “You’ve got to have an extreme right-wing front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up.” I suppose this is the sort of opinion, which would probably make Donald Trump blush with envy, which secured Appleyard’s approbation. Jones went on to say that “Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars…”
If he meant by that that Adolf could win zeig-heiling adoration from gatherings of thousands of people by regurgitating the mantras, myths and lyrics they had congregated to hear, then his classification of Hitler is apt. If he meant that pop stars are the legislators or even dictatorial forces in the world, then he was deluded.
Of course I have been to very many pop concerts, from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley and perhaps 50 others, but I find myself bewildered by the surrender of self to songsters which the teenage girls crying, screaming and offering themselves to rock bands seem to do. Bewildered also by grown commentators who seem quite normal when they write even controversially about politics or the about the National Health Service and then turn out this shameful bilge when a pop star dies.
Perhaps my bewilderment is one symptom of my bi-culturalism — of which there are many. I suppose you can take the boy out of Pune, but you can’t take the Pune out of the man.
And yes, I know that there is an irrational adoration of actors and cricketers in India. I have been in public, for instance, in the company of Aamir Khan! I have passed Amitabh Bachchan’s house in Juhu, Mumbai and seen the hundreds of people hanging around on the street for a glimpse or a darshan.
India doesn’t really have any pop stars. We have very many singers in films and very many classical and semi-classical musicians and they command huge respect and adoration, but not, I think, with the same fervour that Suzanne of the Guardian and Caitlin of the Times profess in their abject homage.
Most music, even pop music, comes from a culture. Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday were the post-slavery voices of Black America. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was an innovator in the Sufi tradition of Qawwali, Bob Marley was the rebel from Jamaica and Lata Mangeshkar is every projection of the majority of Indian womanhood of several decades.
The Beatles are the embodiment of the post-colonial cultural revival of Britain. I don’t understand the lyrics of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds… or Yellow Submarine, but can sing along with them. No harm done. Strawberry Fields and 50 other Beatles’ songs are evocative of a real Britain, its petty streets (Penny Lane), lives and ways of loving.
David Jones/Bowie branches out into surrealist territory. Perhaps he is the voice of a generation that wants to leave the earth and live in the stars. Here’s what the normally sensible Will Gomperz of the BBC said:“…he was able to reflect the world back to us, and not only make sense of it for us, but to guide us…” Gomperz fails to say how....