It’s been a rough week, you guys. First we lost David Bowie and then Alan Rickman. Both died unexpectedly, both at age 69, and both of cancer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fuck cancer. So much. Rest well, gentlemen. You will be missed.
Here’s the problem I’m having at the moment: my instinct is to write some sort of heartfelt piece about how much these fine artists’ work meant to me. I want to talk about that stuff because that’s how fans mourn. It’s simple. And it feels like gratitude when we do it. I suppose it is, actually.
However, it also feels like me talking about myself. Again. My adopting Bowie as a personal saint and role model. How Rickman’s performance in Dogma changed my view on religious satire, which helped solidify my views on religion in general. Not having a relationship with these people outside of adoration, that’s really my only option. Still, it feels selfish and hollow to talk about me right now. And the internet is full of that shit almost immediately every time this happens.
That’s the real point, I think. Not that we all have an individualized experience with these semi-strangers, but that we’re all thinking about those experiences together. Somehow in our self-absorption we feel more connected. You know for a fact that, while we were all sitting alone with headphones on, a billion people were all listening to the same voice at the same time. The world sits shiva on Twitter. The future is fucking weird. Just weird beyond description.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m not going to do that whole “the first time I heard a Bowie album/saw a Rickman film” thing that I usually do (Diamond Dogs and Robin Hood, respectively, though, just for the record). Because I’m sick to death of talking about myself, frankly. Especially teenage me. She was a dick.
I’ve been reading stuff about Rickman all morning and almost every article has something about Harry Potter in the headline. Without a doubt, Snape is his most well-known character, and probably the one he’ll be remembered for by anyone too young to know who Hans Gruber was. Much in the way I was reluctant to talk mostly about Spock when Nimoy died, I think reducing Rickman to Snape and only Snape would be a mistake. That’s not my intention, but follow me for a second.
My generation had a pretty juvenile and petty social structure. We still operated on a sort of Breakfast Club level – if you’re labeled X, you can’t do/like/wear A, B, or C. It’s fucking ridiculous and I’m glad that mindset has largely dissipated (both among us old folks and with the whippersnappers I know). Harry Potter was, in my experience, a huge player in that culture shift. Anyone can be a Potter fan, because they’re great books and that’s all that matters. As it should be. Snape is, weirdly, a kind of avatar for that whole idea. In the Sharks/Jets, Capulet/Montague, Hatfield/McCoy sense, Snape was a big fat traitor, not only to the Slytherin/Gryffindor feud but also to the Death Eaters. He was a double agent in some real good versus evil shit. And he did it for love. He’s the villain with a heart of gold, the sheep in wolf’s clothing. Also, he was the kid who got bullied and pushed around and had his heart put in a blender and fed to him by the girl he couldn’t have. He’s probably the most important character in that series, besides Harry (or Neville, depending on which theory you choose to believe about the Chosen One). Rickman brought that character to such astounding life, made him flesh and blood and love and hate and tears. That’s something that anyone can point to now and say, “Here. This. Do it like this.”
(Now I’m going to have a lit major moment. It’s not good. Just grit your teeth and we’ll be done with it soon.)
Where Snape was a bunch of big ideas narrowed to a single point, Bowie was a bunch of big ideas emanating from a single point. (See, that didn’t hurt too much, did it?)
Bowie, too, was a character. Not just a stage name, but a public persona, a constantly changing fabrication. Which is how he could do anything and everything and get away with it and make it beautiful and strange, while still maintaining some private, authentic, original self. But the influences of his work are everywhere. He’s like air or space or something. Important, but impossible to pin down with words. One of my young cousins asked me who Bowie was. I described him as “the emperor of the weirdos” and just told her to look him up. I mean, where do you tell someone to start? There’s so much. Like Rickman/Snape, I’m hesitant to use Ziggy Stardust as the shining example of his work, even though, again, it’s the one everyone knows. The thing I love about Bowie is that he ostensibly gave zero fucks about what anybody thought of him. He was one of those guys who seemed to live and breathe art and, more importantly, served as inspiration for subsequent oddballs to do the same. I want to say he “gave permission” but I think he might have found that gatekeeper role distasteful, given that gatekeepers are obligated to sometimes say “no, you can’t come in.”
Anyway. I don’t know. This post feels inadequate. I apologize for my comparing and contrasting. It’s probably the worst structure for this conversation, but I can’t help it. I think in analogies. And these guys have a pretty big intersection in my personal architecture. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, but there’s something really comforting about the idea of great artists and thinkers together, young and healthy and beautiful, doing what they love without all the bullshit that comes with fame and business. Do you know that Tori Amos song “Happy Phantom”? Or the Stephen King story “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”? I’d like to think it’s something like that. I don’t really believe it, but man, doesn’t it make you happy to think about?