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David Bowie, 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

Oh no, don’t say it’s true.

It was early Monday evening, 11th January 2016 when the news of David Bowie‘s death broke here in Sydney. I wasn’t even following Bowie’s Facebook page at the time, but something on that sultry summer’s evening made me go looking for it, and, lo and behold, only a few minutes earlier they’d put up the announcement. As you can see from the screenshot below, just ten minutes after the initial post I shared it in a state of disbelief.

I then took a shower. It might sound like a strange thing to do, but it felt like I couldn’t get my breath and hoped the running water would shock myself out of what seemed like a terrible dream. When I returned to the Mac, I still hoped it was some ghastly hoax but, of course it turned out not to be the case; his son Duncan Jones’s tweet confirming our worst fears.

I think part of the reason the death of the Dame hit me so hard is that, very regrettably, we’d not talked for 15 years (this article and a slight difference of opinion about the content of the BowieStyle book put paid to that), and, coupled with the timing just two days after the release of Blackstar on his 69th birthday, it made everything seem like we’d just been transported into this hallucinogenic nightmare state. When I saw British Telecom’s tribute to DB atop London’s BT Tower, followed by the mass sing-songs in Brixton, it’s the only time I ever wanted to be back in the city and country of my birth rather than my newly adopted homeland, Australia.

The last 20 years have seen quite a number of my favourite performers pass on. Prince, Amy Winehouse, Steve Strange, Lou ReedDonna SummerPete BurnsDusty SpringfieldMichael JacksonFrank Sinatra and of course, George Michael to name just a few. I guess It’s doubly ironic that I was lucky enough to witness all of them in a personal capacity – some on stage and some just off – with the exception of the Chairman of the Board: probably the greatest all round entertainer that ever lived, at least on the American side of the pond. But also someone in their eighties who’d already retired by the time I started trawling through his enormous 60-year back catalogue, so Ol’ Blue Eyes simply wasn’t able to make such an indelible impression on the younger me as the Thin White One.

Sinatraesque to the end: Bowie’s last photo session in 2015, New York, New York

I think that even if we never knew any of these musicians personally, we still feel a certain connection to them through their music. Any sense of loss someone may feel is, I think, relative to how invested that someone is/was to that particular musician and, of course, their recorded output.

I’m sure each and every one of these artists did more in their lives than what ten Joe Schmoes (like me and you) did collectively. The music these guys left behind for us to enjoy is their greatest gift, so I think that helps people get over the loss they feel, and also stay connected to that public figure – even if they didn’t know them personally.

It also brings forward feelings of a part of your childhood being lost forever, ruminations on your own mortality and, if they are still with us, most certainly the mortality of your parents. My father turned 70 just last month, with my mum becoming 69 a few days later. 2016 was an absolute pig of a year in so many ways, forever remembered by many of us as the year of unbearable loss.

Let’s hope 2017 is a good one.

Steve Pafford, Sydney

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