Call me square, but I have little or no idea what David Bowie, who has died, did to achieve the status of an icon.
He may have been an ‘icon’ in the world of pop music, but that hardly ranks as an achievement; anyone who ever had a hit single is so revered by that gullible community of impressionable teenagers and superannuated groupies. Not that the world of pop should be singled out for criticism in that respect. Any ‘celebrity’ who warrants a two-week run in the gossip columns of the Daily Mail is an ‘icon’. Anyone famous for being famous – or perpetually drunk – qualifies in those mind-devouring pages.
Alright, Bowie did far more than many, perhaps even most of them, to earn his status. But what, exactly? He sang a few songs that had some critics falling over themselves to hail as ‘shape-shifters’ – whatever that might mean. My shapes have not been shifted. It’s also true that, over the years, he titillated tabloid readers with a romantic derring-do that drew attention to his rampant promiscuity and ambiguous sexuality. And although I have no deep moral objection to either condition, of what possible interest could they be unless they redefined society’s thinking or redefined an art? Some obituarists will no doubt claim they did both. In that case I can only plead ignorance.
Yes, I know, I know, he truly is an icon – a pioneer of the phenomenon some call Britpop, a revolutionary in tastes of dress and style and our perception of gender, a shaper of the era we lazily refer to as the New Age, blah, blah, blah. Personally, I just didn’t get it.
Nor, offhand, can I name a single one of his albums or records. That will surprise no one who has read the preceding lines. Yes, of course I’ve heard of Ziggy Stardust, but it’s just one of those names that float about in that part of my consciousness that is an ocean of trivia. I’m damned if I know how it got in there in the first place, only that it remains, unconnected to any opinion or perception, just a boat loosed from its mooring. A bit like, say, the War of Jenkin’s Ear, of which I recall only that such a war was fought, but not by whom or for what.
All of this, I realise, paints me as an old fuddy-duddy. It may even mark me as a close-minded cultural reactionary. Come to think of it, I used to accuse my father of precisely those defects.
But I don’t care. To both charges I have become accustomed with age, and to which I even derive a source of defiant pride.
I see from the newspapers that such pop luminaries as Madonna, Gene Simmons, Kanye West and the Pixies have already posted tributes. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? The Prime Minister has added his regrets and condolences, of which the same can be said, especially of a man whose public relations advisors can’t remember whether he supports Aston Villa or West Ham United, a confusion that arises, presumably, because they play in the same team colours.
I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Bowie has died. For all I know he was a nice man to know, a good friend to his colleagues, and in the end a fine husband and father.
But however many acres of print that will now attend his passing, this does not, I submit, fall into the same category as the death of Mozart. Or even Frank Sinatra.