The Grief Police
January 21, 2016 2:42 PM   Subscribe

The rise of grief policing. The notion that there is but one way to grieve, and that deviation from that way is wrong. Grief policing was on display recently, during the aftermath of David Bowie’s death. Camilla Long, the film critic for The Sunday Times, witnessed the outpouring of emotion posted online as people learned, and tried to make sense, of Bowie’s passing. She did not like the way they mourned. Their grieving, she suggested—or, well, “grieving”—was self-indulgent, and, like so much else on social media, purely performative. “Bowie Blubberers,” she called the grievers.

Grief, in the popular imagination, is a sadness to be experienced and carried and borne as silently and as stoically as possible. And yet mourning, too, has a public face: condolences, wakes, the sharing of memories and sympathies. That juxtaposition leaves many confused about how to celebrate the dead, how to comfort the living—how, in short, to grieve together.

One recent consequence of that collective drifting, especially as the confusion expands to digital platforms, is the rise of grief policing. The notion that there is but one way to grieve, and that deviation from that way is wrong. The tendency to tell mourners that, essentially, they’re mourning too much, or not enough. The desire to restore order to a practice that has become, culturally, chaotic.
posted by narancia (108 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by cobra libre at 2:45 PM on January 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is a really interesting article. I wish they explored more of the changes in grief after World War I, though. And I still think there's this thing where it's OK to mourn a celebrity publicly, but there's assumption your friends will want to share in the grief, but there's not as much acceptance for public mourning about a private death. Aside from the virtual week that takes place immediately after a death, you don't see much social acceptance of mourning for them a month, two months, three months later.
posted by corb at 2:50 PM on January 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


...and I thought the dumbest media reaction was ppl angry that that Bowie didn't announce he was sick.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I feel like that article is conflating mourning-of-people-you-know with mourning-of-people-you-feel-like-you-know-because-they're-famous. I am not sympathetic with the grief police, but I think they're concerned with the latter, and it has more to do with ideas about celebrity than with ideas about grief.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Long is being an asshole, but I don't think the general idea that there is an element of performance inherent in social media that leads people to amplify or overstate their true feelings or opinions is wrong.

Social media encourages us to express ourselves in ways that get the most attention, or to fulfill certain expected roles or poses. These are ancient human tendencies, but now we have an instant global audience which exacerbates it. You don't get the most attention for being calm and reasonable, you get the most likes and follows and retweets for being loudly angry, bitingly snarky, overtly grief-stricken, etc.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2016 [25 favorites]


I admit to having been a bit confused and taken aback by my own emotional response to Bowie's death. When Jim Henson died, I was entirely beside myself and had to be sent home from work that day because I was so ruined. When Fred Rogers died, I went into a bit of deep personal mourning because who that man was in the world meant so much to me. But with Bowie, it was actually a complete surprise to me how much it affected me. Somehow David Bowie meant a lot to me in my world, more than I had realized when he was alive, and while I don't feel any shame about the levels of my grief at his passing, I was still surprised by my own response.

Also, fuck anyone who says anyone's expression of grief is somehow inappropriate. Feelings are feelings, and there should never be shaming about feelings unless they are being used to manipulate others.
posted by hippybear at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2016 [66 favorites]


One recent consequence of that collective drifting, especially as the confusion expands to digital platforms, is the rise of grief policing. The notion that there is but one way to grieve, and that deviation from that way is wrong.

I think this takes the argument to far. All the examples of grief policing cited focused specifically on public exhibitions of grief related to the death of a public figure and made specific criticisms--that they expressions were insincere, or fatuous, or trivialized the importance of death.

An argument that "doing this is the wrong way to grieve" is nowhere near the same thing as saying, "There's only a single correct was to grieve," and I didn't say any evidence that the critics cited were making the latter argument.
posted by layceepee at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2016


Last night, I was the only one up. My wife had gone to bed with the flu, my daughter was long conked out, so it was just me, puttering around the house, doing dishes, folding laundry. I had my earphones in because I didn't want to wake anyone else. I was listening to Bowie's final album, something I'd done since its release. I was sad at Bowie's death, but it didn't feel like a personal blow like it was to friends who were super fans.

The album came round to the last track, "I Can't Give Everything Away," and I just lost it. Just slid to the floor crying. I listened to those lyrics and and that voice and wondered his wife and daughter, how much it hurt to lose someone that important to them, and to have this parting gift...how wonderful and awful that must have felt. And I thought about my own daughter and wife, and how I wouldn't want them to feel what Bowie's wife and daughter felt and...

Crying and grieving and mourning and all of that are parts of being human, and to hell with anyone who says what the proper way is to feel.
posted by RakDaddy at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2016 [45 favorites]


1. Everyone can grieve in the way which damn well suits them, and there's not a thing wrong with that.
2. Some of us grieve celebrities because they were genuinely a part of our lives, even if we weren't a part of theirs.
3. Fucking learn what 'vomitorium' actually means.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:03 PM on January 21, 2016 [31 favorites]


I don't think the general idea that there is an element of performance inherent in social media that leads people to amplify or overstate their true feelings or opinions is wrong.

This is pretty much my opinion. People die. I find comments like "I thought he would live forever!" absurd. Like, really? You literally thought David Bowie was immortal? Are you stupid?

But it's hard to convey emotion via text messages and people want to communicate how they feel so they vastly overplay their grief. And combined with the performative elements of social media, voila.

Now, if you actually did cry at Bowie's death, hey, I'm not judging, feel those feelings, I just think that most people are exaggerating their emotions.
posted by GuyZero at 3:03 PM on January 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


“Bowie Blubberers,”

Try saying that three times quickly...while you're grieving.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:05 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


"I thought he would live forever" doesn't mean someone thought David Bowie was literally immortal. It means that the idea that he was ultimately just a human who would eventually like the rest of us was never really a thing they thought about.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:06 PM on January 21, 2016 [37 favorites]


I have no doubt that there was a lot of bandwagon-jumping-on and grieving-for-likes in the aftermath of Bowie's death. It may be impossible to determine which was which, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:07 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Was this written from an Ann Coulter sock puppet account?
posted by Oyéah at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


While I will admit to shedding tears over David Bowie's death, in part because as RakDaddy mentions I thought immediately of his family and their loss, I also lost my own Bowie. "My Bowie" was certainly illusory and mythologized and had virtually nothing to do with the real human being. But having grown up listening to so much of his music, and having had a wide range of responses ranging from pure, instant connected joy to the music all the way to befuddlement and a certainty that I was simply to thick too be getting something that must surely be as brilliant as all his other work... Whether Bowie's music taught and directed me, or whether it was merely a soundtrack to serendipitous epiphanies (surely both at different times), his death made his works' importance to me and my understanding of it much more immediate.

I posted one link to one of his songs on one (off-brand!) social site. It helped me to feel connected I suppose, to others who were grieving the loss of "Their Bowies".
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:09 PM on January 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


This is pretty much my opinion. People die. I find comments like "I thought he would live forever!" absurd. Like, really? You literally thought David Bowie was immortal? Are you stupid?

I'm sorry, but if you think people thought that literally, you are literally performing the action you are berating them for.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:11 PM on January 21, 2016 [35 favorites]


I've never grieved a celebrity like I grieved Bowie. I've never, ever cried like that over a dead famous person. Part of that is probably because I'm going through intense shit in my own life and losing Bowie like that, right NOW, to CANCER, feels like a particularly cruel, personal FU from the universe. (And yes, I know that the universe did not kill David Bowie with cancer just to hurt me.) But Bowie wasn't just any old celeb. He wasn't just a guy who had a bunch of hit songs, or a guy who starred in some movies. He was this endlessly fascinating character who never went away, he was always making music and starring in movies and doing all this other stuff too, and you could watch him getting older and figuring out who he was now. He stirred up literally decades of debate and changed a lot of minds. He said so much about gender and sexuality and love and authenticity and drugs and aging. He wrote songs that spoke to generations of people across all walks of life, and he was a fascinating actor who appeared in a lot of beloved cult films, AND he was a media personality who was a reliably great interview. AND he was glamorous as hell, and he sexually awakened a whole lot of girls, boys and other folks. He meant so much to so many people, is it any wonder the grief is so immense?

(I find myself in a strange place, as I grieve this very famous person, where I look at the covers of the gossip rags at the grocery store checkout and I resent that he only merits a little picture or he's not there at all, at the same time that my grief does feel personal and private and I'm tired of having it constantly stirred up again by all the tributes. The world's grief feels like it's not enough, and it's too big.)

There have certainly been celebrity deaths I didn't care about, and it got a little tedious listening to people go on about the person. And sure, maybe sometimes people make a big show of their grief for whatever reason. But I think it's pretty asshole-y to assume that just because you're not gutted over somebody's passing, everybody else is just being a big whiny baby and/or they're faking it. It's funny that Camilla Long was saying everybody else needed to grow up, because her tantrum sounded a hell of a lot like a kid who is struggling to understand that other people aren't her and their feelings matter too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:13 PM on January 21, 2016 [37 favorites]


That diatribe from Long has a short sense of irony, no? How performative of her, especially the "[m]an the fuck up and say something interesting" bit. If she'd say this to someone's face, that would be althogether a different experience. Alas, it's in a series of tweets, aimed at no one in particular but A Personal Audience very specifically.

I think that's the most interesting part of the article, truthfully, that the examples of "grief ombudsmen" (great coinage, btw) seem to be shouting into the same void as those whose grief they're criticizing without noticing it. That wouldn't be notable if these ombudsmen weren't making their privileged position such a cornerstone of their authority, as in the gag-inducing "it's only poor education" quip.

I'll second hippybear here--Bowie's death was a surprise, and came at a time when I'd been talking about and listening to Bowie a lot with like-minded friends (because of his album release). To have those two appended was, as best as I can say, artfully apocalyptic from one of the few voices I think could receive such a description without need for irony. I mean, I'm still listening to a Bowie album per day--as are the deejays on KCRW--more than a week later. It feels odd. I feel odd. I don't know what that means other than it's a good opportunity for reflection in public, private, among friends, what have you.

That goes the same for thoughts like the one from the article about using social media as a memorial ("Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?"). Less than a year ago, a very close friend--my first out gay friend ever--died suddenly, and his biological family took it upon themselves to shut his partner out of everything that followed. This included the effort his partner made to turn friend's Facebook page into a memorial, which he couldn't do because they were not married (and could not have been in our home state at the time). So, the biologicals had it deleted lest it become some queer sin party spot. In response, the queers made our own memorial online, and it has become a wonderful depot for thoughts, pictures, anniversaries, and even organizing get togethers.

So when I see in my social media feed someone spreading an image macro saying, "Be like Bob, don't act out on your feelings about an artist's death, because that is lame," I can't help but think of Friend, and Bowie, and everyone else, and roll my eyes at the cavalcade of thinkpieces that will be forgotten long before Friend or Bowie.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:13 PM on January 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


It is a bigger world now, we share more of both the grand and the mortal. Grief shaming the planet? It seems a trifler is off.
posted by Oyéah at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think this takes the argument to far. All the examples of grief policing cited focused specifically on public exhibitions of grief related to the death of a public figure and made specific criticisms--that they expressions were insincere, or fatuous, or trivialized the importance of death.

It might be worth thinking through just what one is mourning when a famous person dies.

Some people are mourning the person in a way similar to mourning someone they actually knew - perhaps they did know David Bowie, or were obsessed with him as a teen and so have a strong sense of him as a person, or David Bowie in some way fits into a "real person" slot in their imagination.

But I think mourning for famous people also pulls up a lot of other emotions - realization that you're getting older, realization that David-Bowie-aged people in your life are also going to die, foreclosure of certain ideas about your life ("there will never be another David Bowie album" standing in for "I will never [do these things]").

Or mourning for lost people in your life, or lost times. Maybe David Bowie's music pulls up strong memories of a person you cared for who has died, or a person you cared for who is estranged, or a time that was happy and is forever gone.

Or for a state of the world, or for a condition of possibility. Like when the last person of a particular political generation dies, for instance, and you feel like it's the formal end of a particular political dream and you have to fully acknowledge that. Like when Paul Wellstone died - I wasn't even a Wellstone fan, but it was a bad day for this state, and I still remember it very sadly.

Death is a weird thing and it makes people feel weird ways.

Okay, some people mourn for likes, or to feel like they are sharing a moment, but whatever - fussing about that is like fussing about how one person at the reception took two cupcakes, and didn't they know that everyone was only supposed to have one? It's getting all worked up about a small transgression that is trivial in the grand scheme of things, unless you're actually somehow personally involved.

I keep thinking about how sad I feel when I think about a person I never even knew, the artist David Wojnarowicz. Even if he hadn't died in 1992, I almost certainly never would have met him. Even if I had met him, well, he was legendarily prickly and I'm not a fascinating and charismatic artist, so it's not like we would have been friends. And yet I feel really sad that he's dead - not just that he won't produce any more work, or sad in the remote way that I feel about so many creative artists in that milieu who died of AIDS, but actually sad that David Wojnarowicz himself is dead. What am I feeling? I have no idea, except that it's actual feelings of sadness, not a put-on or a flash in the pan.
posted by Frowner at 3:22 PM on January 21, 2016 [38 favorites]


corb: "...but there's not as much acceptance for public mourning about a private death. Aside from the virtual week that takes place immediately after a death, you don't see much social acceptance of mourning for them a month, two months, three months later."

There was a piece on NPR recently about dinner parties for 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a parent but find their friends are too young/inexperienced to relate to their feelings of loss.
posted by bentley at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, but if you think people thought that literally, you are literally performing the action you are berating them for.

Fine. To be less hyperbolic, it strikes me as hyperbolic. And insincere. But yes, I do get that some people aren't being literal in their expression of grief. That was the actual gist of my point.
posted by GuyZero at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also think that expressing grief is a way of stopping time - if you keep expressing grief, it's like you keep the person with you and you can be assured that they won't be forgotten. In this way, expressing grief is the function of a fan, because it's a way of perpetuating the presence and memory of the artist.
posted by Frowner at 3:26 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well, Long is a Murdoch employee, so of course, she'd be a right-wing bully "contrarian", like Clarkson, Gill, Mensch and so on.
posted by acb at 3:37 PM on January 21, 2016


"Feelings are feelings, and there should never be shaming about feelings unless they are being used to manipulate others."

Except for all those feelings that we do shame people for, - oh you know hate, anger, disgust, desire (when unreciprocated).. Whenever people talk about "feelings" they seem to have already limited the field surreptitiously of all the "bad" feelings which it is ok to police. But who draws the line? isn't the line already policing?
posted by mary8nne at 3:37 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Grief is a weird beast. I wasn't much affected by Bowie's death, and can't think of a celebrity death that would affect me in that way, but then I had a lot of relatives, and my parents, die by the time I was 40; my grief bar is set pretty high.

You can't really understand, much less judge, someone else's grief, though. When my mom died, it was a different grief than when my dad did, a lot quieter, I assumed because I was older and it wasn't such a shock. I was mostly numbly sad. But then a few months after her, a friend of my husband's committed suicide. I was never close to this guy, actually kind of disliked him, but for some reason his funeral shredded me in a way my mother's didn't. I'm sure some of the other attendees thought I was a relative or ex or something of his because I just melted down uncontrollably and had to take myself outside. I knew, logically, it was all tied up in feelings about my mom, or something, but I had no control over it. I felt stupid at the time.

But I also remember weird waves of sadness when my dad died, sometimes years later, set off by the dumbest things. We don't really have access to the controls when grief happens, at most we can ride it out.
posted by emjaybee at 3:37 PM on January 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


Count me among those completely blindsided by my response to Bowie's death. With few exceptions (Robin Williams being the standout), the most I've really done is felt a passing wave of sympathy, maybe tsk tsked. I don't understand it. His status as a beacon to outsiders, maybe. His continuing presence in the cultural firmament, ok. (Those chord changes? His melodies? I sort of think those subtle, unexpected changes, in perfectly constructed songs, have something to do with it...) What was it? I was a casual fan. I felt like someone kicked me in the gut for about four days, and I'm still spending time, daily, listening to songs I loved, discovering new ones, reading about his life... I really don't understand.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:40 PM on January 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


It was interesting, on a certain level, to compare my grief over losing David Bowie, who was an artist I admired but that's all, and losing David Hartwell, who I'd talked to and drank with many times.

On one level. Otherwise, this fucking year can fucking die.
posted by eriko at 3:41 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


unless they are being used to manipulate others.

That's a really tricky line to draw sometimes, though. Part of the purpose of feelings is to help us notice and deal with problems. Kids express their feelings specifically to manipulate their parents: kids cry because they have needs that aren't being meet and they want their caregivers to know so, if possible, they can meet their needs. If you disconnect feelings and their expression from their connection to real world situations and experiences, you neutralize them, they become meaningless. If somebody stands on your toe and the pain makes you cry out for them to move, is that a manipulative expression of feeling or an honest one? I'd say it's an honest feeling, and an honest attempt at communicating something you have every right to communicate. But you could less charitably describe it as manipulative if you chose. To me, if there isn't some conscious secret agenda to an expression of feeling, it doesn't really make sense to call it manipulative. It's healthy emotional expression if you're yelling "That hurts! Get off my toe!" at a person actually standing on your toe, even if there might conceivably be secondary reasons for expressing the feeling.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:41 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I do think that as a society we are really really bad at allowing people grief. We don't like to admit that death is inevitable, and in western culture we want it to happen out of sight. At one point I did a lot of research into Victorian mourning customs and came to the conclusion that many of them were healthy. Wearing black isn't just a way to honor the dead, it's a way of telling the world not to expect too much from you for a while. These days if we put on mourning for even the funeral, well-meaning relatives will tell us that the dead person would have wanted us to be cheerful. And we're expected to be back to normal days after the burial.

This said, isn't Long just a troll?
posted by frumiousb at 3:42 PM on January 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


This is baffling to me, honestly bringing me up short. Of all the forms of bad behavior that people get up to that are uniquely enabled by the internet, "creating (what I perceive to be) an insincere expression of grief over a celebrity's death" is the one that set Long off? THAT's the one? After gamergate? Hacked celebrity nudes? Online bullying? We're gonna get all worked up because someone claimed to be sad about David Bowie and we don't find that plausible?

Fuck that noise. People, by and large, mourn the celebrities whose work or public persona meant something special to them. Granted, it's not like mourning a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a friend, but it sill represents a loss, a real loss. There may those who...fuck, I don't know what you'd call it even, that doesn't reek of condescension, but let's use the "grieve for likes" formulation somebody used up above. There may be such people. But even those people are reacting to what sense they operating in the public mind, and trying to find some value by communing with it. I refuse to believe that the numbers of straight-up poseurs are at all significant.

And for the ones that are out there...so the hell what? What's it to me, or to anyone else? There's no such job as Sincerity Cop.
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:42 PM on January 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


The very worst thing in modern culture, IMO, is the notion of "Wrong Fun." That there is a completely correct way to experience something, and any deviation from it is plain wrong. So much wrong, that it's offensive to the thing in question and to the other people experiencing it correctly.

This goes all the way from wine snobs to Comic Book Guy pedantry to identity politics to religion to political correctness run amok.

If someone insists you're having Wrong Fun and should change your behavior, wish them well in their life on Asshole Island.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:43 PM on January 21, 2016 [21 favorites]


Grief policing makes me very, very angry. The responses to Vin Diesel's ongoing reactions to Paul Walker's death by singing songs, or Richard Tillman's climbing up on stage at his brother's funeral, carrying a beer, and literally speaking truth to power - that's their way of dealing with grief. It may be ill-considered or "inappropriate", but it's their pain, and their way of dealing with it. How dare anyone try to censure or second-guess the sincerity of someone dealing with a loss?
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


(Yeah, me too, on Bowie. I thought I was over exposed to him and just sort of over him, but his death gave me feels.)
posted by saulgoodman at 3:45 PM on January 21, 2016


His status as a beacon to outsiders, maybe.

I think this is it, mostly. It's been surprising and touching to me, the number people for whom Bowie was their secret patron Saint of Misfit Toys.
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:46 PM on January 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


I have no idea who Camilla Long is, but she sounds like an asshole.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:50 PM on January 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


These days if we put on mourning for even the funeral, well-meaning relatives will tell us that the dead person would have wanted us to be cheerful.

That's never happened to me nor have I ever seen it.

You're confusing weird people you know for people "these days."
posted by jpe at 3:52 PM on January 21, 2016


I was a lot sadder about Bowie than I would have predicted, but I wouldn't classify it as grief. I was just really into him when I was young, so he had an outsized, kind of formative role for me. I've actually met him, even. But I didn't know him and I'm not going to pick up the phone to call him before I remember, I don't have to go through his closet, or any of the other things I associate with the grieving process.

I was just a little sad and I spent some time relistening to some older albums I still knew by heart and just sort of being nostalgic for a while, thinking about mortality, how old everyone I know is getting, and how cancer can even get rich famous rock stars with access to the best healthcare available. But that's me. Other people are doing other things.

I can kind of see being annoyed with people who are grieving performatively for something that is a personal loss to you, so if it were his family and friends criticizing it, that'd be one thing. But it's not, and it's weird.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:52 PM on January 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I have no idea who Camilla Long is, but she sounds like an asshole.

She seems to be the Rex Reed of the UK.
posted by cazoo at 3:56 PM on January 21, 2016


I find comments like "I thought he would live forever!" absurd. Like, really? You literally thought David Bowie was immortal? Are you stupid?

Yes.

We're all stupid. We all forget about individual mortality, forget that every last damn thing we're doing with our lives, every last bit of the landscape we live in is a sand castle by the ocean.

OK, "stupid" is harsh. It's arguably an adaptive trait not to dwell on this. Then every once in a while David Bowie dies and reminds you, which is also adaptive. Memento mori.
posted by namespan at 4:00 PM on January 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


That's never happened to me nor have I ever seen it.

Oh. Well, then. Anything else you'd like to dismiss out of hand based on your vast experience?
posted by Ipsifendus at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


There was a piece on NPR recently about dinner parties for 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a parent but find their friends are too young/inexperienced to relate to their feelings of loss.

Oh, man, I wish something like that had been around when my mother died. At the time, I got in touch with the Motherless Daughters people to see if they had a local group. Their response was that they were really intended for people who'd lost their mothers as girls, and that since I was 24 I was enough of an adult to be able to handle it on my own. (That may not have been the exact wording, but it was the message I took away from it.)
posted by Lexica at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


When my favorite cat died three years ago, I had no context for understanding what I was going through. I cried every day for three months - at least once every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I could not make sense of it and when I finally went to my therapist about it, she and I spoke about grief at length.

The thing she said was that we can't control what we grieve over. I'd lost my beloved grandfather some years before and had cried for a day or two (I miss him every day, but it was different with my cat). I felt guilty that I was so deeply wounded by losing the cat in a way I hadn't been when I lost a human who was extremely important to me. But, as I mentioned, we can't control what we grieve over.

She said some people grieve over pets, inanimate objects, political decisions and, yes, people they don't even know. Anything we hold dear and lose is something we could potentially go into grieving over. Its just kind of the way that the human mind works.

Anyhow, before one writes an article condemning what people are grieving for, it might behoove one to do a little research into the subject. Otherwise, saying "stop performing your grief" to people who are genuinely in pain is a little like telling we depressed people to just cheer up.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2016 [21 favorites]


I had a hard time with all the Bowie STUFF and people who with kind intention were tagging me in it and posting it on my Facebook wall. I removed myself for the most part from media for a while, because I felt inappropriately angry: it was the one time it would hurt to see, instead of being lovely; how could I possibly want to be reminded again and again, how thoughtlessly cruel it seemed. But I knew that wasn't remotely fair. So I cocooned, and stuck to favorite comfort audiobooks, and niche topic podcasts.

(I'm not perfect. My brother messaged me something about Kanye and a tribute album. I said "Reflect on what impulse compels you to show me that.")

My grief is wholly selfish, it's mourning someone whose works were the constellations of my interior world. There aren't many musics that enchant and inhabit me, maybe only a dozen, and Bowie is like five of them. I didn't need to have a personal relationship with the man to be glad he was in the world, or to imagine the grief of his own experience, or his family's.

And my grief isn't the only way to feel or to express appropriately. Just, it's important to be able to remove oneself from people whose style of expression feels jarring instead of companionable. Because they're entitled to their own way of being sad too, and no one deserves to have their grief performance evaluated (unless in retrospect after they've been convicted of the murder I guess.)

It took me a while, but when I felt inclined to stick my head out again the thread here was a comfortable place. I still don't care to listen to any music at all yet. It feels so theatrical and demonstrative for me to talk about it. But that's more an issue about my own baggage about devaluing my voice, not propriety applicable to other people.
posted by Lou Stuells at 4:12 PM on January 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Feelings are feelings, and there should never be shaming about feelings unless they are being used to manipulate others.

The thing about such hyperbolic expressions of grief (or other passionate feelings) is that there may in fact be an element of manipulation. Along with signaling to sympathetic viewers, to build up a kind of camaraderie, reinforcing an online community. Because of the limitations of text based communications, emotions (grief and beyond) get amplified for emphasis, and in this kind of feedback loop among peers, there is often the urge to express the feeling again. If you can't reiterate a shared feeling in a uniquely clever way, the easier path is to simply be hyperbolic. It only takes a few folks to up the ante before outsiders might read the conversation and feel that the emotions have gone over the top. It becomes reinforcing, a manipulative process. And if someone comes along to say it's gone over the top, hurt feelings are bound to be a result.

Of course, this isn't to say your feelings are wrong. Just that it will absolutely look weird to outsiders if feelings are expressed hyperbolically.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


fussing about that is like fussing about how one person at the reception took two cupcakes, and didn't they know that everyone was only supposed to have one? It's getting all worked up about a small transgression that is trivial in the grand scheme of things, unless you're actually somehow personally involved.

Cupcakes are serious business, though.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


A lot of this public grief over the deaths of public figures squicks me out. How healthy is it to have that strong an emotional connection to someone you never met and you only interacted with as an audience to their art? How genuine is it, when that message of grief is being spread through a medium tending to public performance and signals of social cohesion?
posted by 3urypteris at 4:16 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Music is often the soundtrack to people's lives. They often mark the good and the bad moments. They are there when things get rough, but also when they get better. And the artists end up being associated with that.

When Benjamin Curtis died, I felt like shit for days. One particular SVIIB song helped me cope with something that had been slowly killing me inside for months. He (and the Deheza sisters) never met me. Yet, they helped me overcome a very shitty part of my life when nobody else could. If that is wrong, then fuck being right.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:20 PM on January 21, 2016


So wait, is this the thread where we can discuss collectively making off-color Bowie jokes and hide out behind the words "Too Soon?" since some people may or not cope with grieving through dark humor?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:23 PM on January 21, 2016


How healthy is it to have that strong an emotional connection to someone you never met and you only interacted with as an audience to their art?

Assume I'm simple. Explain how it's not healthy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:30 PM on January 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


How healthy is it to have that strong an emotional connection to someone you never met and you only interacted with as an audience to their art?
I dunno. Do you have any reason to believe that it's not healthy? It seems to me that art touches people at a pretty profound level, and it's not weird to grieve someone who has had that kind of effect on you. Why should people only grieve those they knew personally?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:31 PM on January 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


Looking at those tweets, it seems clear that Long is an asshat. But is what she did - tweet to her followers, no tagging - really a form of policing? She didn't harangue the mourners, or sic people on them, or otherwise interact with them at all. Certainly her actions will have no impact on future grieving. Were it not for the rebuttal article we may never have known she said those things. Her sentiment is sotdgy and mean-spirited, sure, but I question her actual impact.

Incidentally Bowie's passing didn't really move me, partially because grief for him was already so well-represented and partly because he never really spoke to me as an artist. Alan Rickman's death, however, made me very blue.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:35 PM on January 21, 2016


This is pretty much my opinion. People die. I find comments like "I thought he would live forever!" absurd. Like, really? You literally thought David Bowie was immortal? Are you stupid?

There is a way in which celebrities have become the cultural touchstones of our worlds, the shared people who we react to and think about through the stories they create. The people who are celebrities become larger than themselves through the reflected passion, confusion, joy, and rage of the people who react to them - us.

I think that's often what people are saying when they say, "I didn't think he could die." They are referring to how David Bowie the cultural touchstone seemed an eternal presence in their psyche, and the reminder that he could die was a surprise because he seemed bigger than that.

And in a way, they're right. The man, David Bowie, who presumably none of us know, who had a private life we weren't invited into, is dead - but I can turn on Labyrinth and re-experience one of the foundational stories of my life. He exists within me, as a person who created a character who helped make me who I am.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:55 PM on January 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


When Scott Miller died in 2013, it was deeply personal and painful for me -- maybe worse, because the fact that it was suicide was only a rumor then. I understand 100% his family's choice not to speak of it at the time. His fans were, after all, not actually his friends, and he always walked the line between being a public and private figure. Still, the uncertainty amplified the sorrow.

I remember on this one obituary, some shitstick commenter accused his community of mourners of being phonies, trying to up our indie cred by making a big noise about someone nobody had heard of. If I'm ever tempted to judge a mourning fan, I remember that, and I stop.
posted by thesmallmachine at 4:55 PM on January 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Bowie used 50 years of training at being an international art jedi to pilot a small one-Bowie artfighter into our collective emotion fortresses and shoot a grief torpedo into our unshielded exhaust portals
posted by Sebmojo at 4:57 PM on January 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


I don't believe one can deny that an expression of grief has strong cultural roots. The expression of grief is for the living. It seems a healthy thing, to have a convention for the public mourning of public figures, where we can drop the everyday labels and simply stand there together to salute the passing of someone we knew, if perhaps only to admire from a distance. We can get back to booger-flicking after the funeral. Who are you to tell me how to feel about Dave van Ronk's passing? When President Kennedy was shot I was at bayonet training, so my feelings were tuned not just to outrage, but the notion that we might be at war in a few days with the Soviet Union....I guess you older folks reading this page remember how that stuff worked back in those days. Point being that highly contextual, intensely personal, probably idiosyncratic circumstances define my grief, and the way it gets put out there for others to see.

But the pain and loss have an internal architecture, and grief is the vehicle we use to examine it. In my world there are four or five people who died fifty years or so ago. When all who knew them die they will be relegated to names carved in stone in some public place, or pictures in inherited family albums--turn the photo over to see the names. Yes. This was my grandfather's brother. He died in some war. That's pretty much the way of things. Not many of us are Achilles, or Presidents of A Country, so we fade away, and when all who knew us are dead, so we are also. It's getting harder every year, but think about them now and then, and I'll remember them as long as I'm able. It's my job, a losing proposition, but they would do the same for me if they could.

Family wakes are sort of the interface between public mourning--hat in hand over the breast at the funeral--and private; the private impact ranges from ho-hum another one bites the dust to when your breath comes in terrible gasps and you cannot imagine the world without him, and now he's gone, and he's taken with him his pieces of your life. In the weeks ensuing you get a grip, and get used to the void he used to occupy. Inevitably, a couple of Easters down the road your mind flips over a page and you have the keenest urge to point to something and wait for the way his eyebrow lifts as you share the moment. Then the moment is gone and the rest of the day is shit on a stick.

I see the world sliding into a future without me. Kids and post-kid types have a culture of themselves, and it excludes me. lol luv &hugs is not me any more than emoticons are, but it is them. Can't fight progress; knuckle-bumping from back in the 70's was about as much of those in-group signals that I have left.

MeFi has dots. We say so, and it comforts us, the way it comforts us when we all sing together at the funeral. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe it's just a cyber-thing that I happen to be linked with. It's all good.

Camille Long is fine. She has an itch that isn't getting scratched, and I hope things work out for her. I'll try to outlive her, though, and when she dies I'll mourn in my own way, maybe get in line to piss on her grave. I hope she understands.

Power to The People.
posted by mule98J at 5:05 PM on January 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


How healthy is it to have that strong an emotional connection to someone you never met and you only interacted with as an audience to their art?

Depends on whether the relationship you have with that person whose art you like is healthy or unhealthy, I'd say. I have a problem with the kinds of relationships people sometimes form with celebrities myself (how fans often don't seem to see the artists they admire as real flesh and blood human beings, but only as objects or commodities, a kind of unhealthy relationship to an artist that the commodified nature of art and celebrity in our society seems to magnify). But humans have always had celebrities and celebrity culture in some form. If it's a sickness, it's one we've had as long as we've got records to say. The balance has shifted a little too far to the side of dehumanizing or idolizing celebrities in our celebrity culture IMO, but celebrity culture seems to exist everywhere humanity has ever been throughout history, so it seems strange to think of participation in it as unhealthy on its face.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:08 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


some people may or not cope with grieving through dark humor

Oh, man. That really gets to the distinction I'm grasping for with what I'd call grieving and what I wouldn't, because I've seen a lot of people using that as an excuse for telling tasteless jokes about tragic news stories, that they were 'working through' things with gallows humor, despite it not being their thing to work through. You know, teenagers in Ohio or some shit telling Katrina jokes while New Orleans was still underwater, things like that.

Or I think most people would agree that the woman who lied about being in the WTC on 9/11, despite not having gained from it materially, was pretty fucked up to hold herself out as a victim, particularly to real victims. And I'm always a little sketched out by those people who make it a point to 'remember' the victims from big news stories, not knowing whether they or their families would have wanted that.

Different things, including the death of public figures, affect everyone differently, but there are people who seek out attention by attaching themselves to others' stories, which you'll probably recognize if you've ever been on the wrong side of someone doing this backwards.

Obviously, a lot of this is less applicable to the death of a public figure, where most of the people talking publicly were not concretely, personally affected the way friends and family were, but it is probably appropriate to consider how your public expressions affect others who are as or more affected by something than you are. And I'd argue that gallows humor should largely be the domain of those closest to the events for at least some time.

(Also, I make exceptions for cases like when massive asshole politicians who materially made people's lives worse die, and the affected people want to do some grave dancing.)
posted by ernielundquist at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am gradually coming around to the idea that some few rare particular pieces of art and some few rare particular artists can meaningfully shift the world. I mean, it's all dependent on context, I'm not buying into any lame great man theory or anything. No one person ever brings forth any wholly new idea. But still, some artists and thinkers can shift the world by showing us new aspects of what was already waiting for us in the world.

David Bowie was very, very good at showing the world how it is Bowie-like. By making the Bowie-like features of the world visible (and by showing us through his personal example how to Bowie very, very well) he meaningfully changed the world, just by indicating all the latent potentialities that we had previously overlooked, and that had been previously suppressed.

Now that Bowie is gone if we want to keep Bowie-ing we've got to figure it out for ourselves, and that is a hard thing for everyone with any interest at all in making the world more Bowie-like. It's a personal loss, regardless of whether or not we actually knew the man himself.

oh! you pretty things was the best song of the 20th century and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


I think musicians are kind of special in this case, because one of the things a musician does for their fans (and even casual listers) is to tell them "here. you belong here. you may be a freak and loser, you may be royalty, but, for the duration of this song, you belong here." And for people who have heard that message, it becomes really deeply embedded, even if you stopped listening years ago, so the grief is as deep as that belonging.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:27 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


A person died. That alone is enough to be sad about, even though it happens every second. Death makes us sad. There is nothing unhealthy about that.

Then this man who died was an artist who touched a lot of people who are now starting to get old. His death came as a complete shock - then we learn it was from Cancer, a disease that seems to be affecting more and more of those of us who are getting older. On top of that he released music and videos about his own coming death that were incredibly beautiful and powerful.

How could anyone fail to be moved by all that?
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:33 PM on January 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


(On top of that, I spent the week between Christmas and New Year's a few blocks away from Bowie's apartment, with my best friend from college who has stage 4 cancer and who had taken a turn for the worse, and I had no idea that similar things were happening just a few blocks away, to David Bowie)
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:39 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


People, by and large, mourn the celebrities whose work or public persona meant something special to them. Granted, it's not like mourning a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a friend, but it still represents a loss, a real loss.

Sometimes it's worse than mourning a person you know, if you're me. This will seem extremely dumb and trivial, but arts and culture are kind of the core of my fucking daily life, and that's not hyperbolic. I feel as deeply and profoundly attached to many works of music, writing, film, TV, visual arts as I do about immediate family members or romantic partners -- or much more deeply and profoundly in some cases. That's always been the case for me; it's just how I'm wired. All of my very earliest, most vivid memories are of songs and movies. All of my early and many later memories of family members revolve around art: my mother reading me wonderful books, watching The Wizard of Oz with her, staying up late with my older sisters watching Easter Parade at age 5 and being thrilled by the word "rotogravure," listening to my sisters' Beatles albums and Hollies 45s or going to concerts with them.

A lot of people seem to think of arts and cultural works, experiences, and events as merely disposable diversion or entertainment or consumer goods or something, but some of us have serious, committed, intimate, longterm, hugely meaningful emotional, spiritual, imaginative, and sensory relationships with these "things" and by extension, the people who make them. In the specific case of Bowie, why would I not feel strong gratitude and admiration and fondness for someone who created a record (or 30 of them) that I have loved wholeheartedly for FOUR DECADES, especially an artist who has that same sort of relationship with culture, whose work and image address the strangeness of being that sort of weirdo, and who has also done a lot to support, promote, and advance the arts in general?

It has little or nothing to do with popularity or fame or thinking one has a personal relationship with the "celebrity." Often it has nothing to do with people at all; I've been (no joke, honest to Pete) grieving the cancellation of Hannibal for five months, and the emotional experience and process of that for me is EXACTLY like coping with the premature death of a friend or pet. And yes, I realize that pretty much everyone else thinks that's stupid.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


> How genuine is it, when that message of grief is being spread through a medium tending to public performance and signals of social cohesion?

I cried a lot when I was alone after my mother died - I was among the very first of my friends to lose a parent, and mostly they didn't know what to do or how to help or share.

I've cried with other people (virtually and in person) when other people I've loved or had an impact on my life died. Crying alone is not better or more virtuous for not being public; crying with other people is not automatically performative. Knowing that I am not the only person feeling diminished or alone or saddened by someone's death has value, and is comforting. It was moving and wonderful to see my facebook feed fill up from all quarters with people expressing their memories of what Bowie's presence (his music, his art, his existence) meant to them. The number of people who said something like "I saw a video of his when I was 12 and realized I could grow up and live and be weird and that was okay!" was astonishing, people I never would've guessed felt that.

And what is wrong with social cohesion??
posted by rtha at 5:56 PM on January 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


All else aside, is Cheap Trick singing the post title for everyone, or just me?


.... How about now?
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


Having emotions? How gauche.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:59 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is like Rule 34. No matter what it is, if it's online someone will be outraged by it. I guess we could call that "Rule 35".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:01 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of people seem to think of arts and cultural works, experiences, and events as merely disposable diversion or entertainment or consumer goods or something, but some of us have serious, committed, intimate, longterm, hugely meaningful emotional, spiritual, imaginative, and sensory relationships with these "things" and by extension, the people who make them.

And this applies to other emotions than grief as well. On a music forum where I hang out, there are a whole lot of people including me who were absolutely beside ourselves and falling all over the place with joy and excitement and anticipation starting on October 24, when the surprise news dropped that Bowie's Blackstar was coming, through the release of the "Blackstar" and "Lazarus" singles and videos, to the album release on Jan 8 and after. It was like a 2 1/2 month long pony party. Of course January 10 broke our fucking hearts!
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:12 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oyéah: Was this written from an Ann Coulter sock puppet account?

Coulter seriously dropped the ball on the "griefarazis" schtick by failing to work in the clever portmanteau "whine-eleven".
posted by dr_dank at 6:16 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Days after one of my favorite musicians, Mark Linkous, killed himself, Corey Haim died. And I remember feeling mad about that -- not that Corey Haim died but all these people wanted to talk about him and not Linkous.

I definitely had some friends who were fans of Haim (especially in The Lost Boys) so I got why they might be sad. But so much of it seemed like "I have heard of this person who died! You have too! We are now sharing an experience!"

I know Bowie meant a lot to a lot of people in a lot of different ways and I can't necessarily fault people who loved him in Labyrinth and didn't really know him from anything else. But sometimes I do feel like there's this weird thing were people just want to feel a part of something -- even if it's mourning -- so they participate.

I know people should do what they gotta do. I'm not telling anyone to not express whatever grief they have in whatever way the want to. But I've also seen this with non-celebrities -- when a person in a social group has died, there is a weird "I have to prove to you how sad I am" dynamic I'm not really into.

I tend to mourn people pretty privately, though -- whether they are friends/family or "famous" -- but I get that's me. If mourning publicly makes people feel more connected and comforted, I can't fault them. But I don't want them faulting me for not doing that.
posted by darksong at 6:43 PM on January 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've been favorite-ing comments in this thread like crazy, and I rarely favorite. Some really nice thoughts there, folks.

In an interview just after Bowie died, one of the Venture Brothers guys described him as the father he chose. That messed me up all over again. I'm happy with the father I've got, but I definitely chose Bowie to be my something. To be my Bowie, I guess. And he never let me down in that regard.

Joey Michaels, I was similarly wrecked when my cat died. I think it's because our cats can become our kids. I felt this deep connection with my little guy, he was so tiny and silly and vulnerable, and it was my job to make sure he was safe and happy. Watching him waste away from kidney disease was agonizing, and I can still melt down when I think about the first moment when I knew he was gone. The fall of that little head.

Cool Papa Bell, I couldn't favorite that comment about "wrong fun" too hard. It's something I have to watch for in myself, this feeling like people are just being duped by a lot of modern pop music (for example) and the joy they take in it is false and bad. I have to remind myself that their joy is their joy, and joy's not a bad thing.

To show just how complicated and personal a fan's relationship with Bowie can be: I'm trans, and Bowie is one of the only people who ever made being a boy seem cool. There are plenty of songs about how awesome it is to be a girl, but the relatively few songs about how cool it is to be a boy struck me as misogynistic and macho and yuck. I hated being stuck as a boy, and the stuff other people celebrated about it did not click with me at all.

But Boys Keep Swinging, god damn. I didn't see the video until many years after it was new, but even then it was a life-changer. Bowie sneers and poses and makes being a boy seem so great, and then he totally fucks with your head by strutting around in sexy monster drag, but instead of him transforming into a woman it's like the drag is an expression of his raw, defiant boy-ness. For a little drag queen in denial like me, Boys was a revelation. Being a boy wasn't a thing to be ashamed of, and you could be a boy or a girl or somebody in between. It was a choice, and that choice could change.

I finally saw the Blackstar video a few days ago, and it wrecked me all over again. It creeps up on you, it's slow going in the beginning and you may feel (as I did) that you're kind of indulging a dying man as he noodles around with this sad, sickly, jazzy stuff. He seems like a ghost already, with the blindfold and that eerie old voice.

But then the music gets funky and Bowie rises up and starts to hit those glam rock poses, snarling and queeny. Holy shit.

It was one thing seeing Bowie as this spectral presence, a wisp of himself, but to see Ziggy Stardust one last time, to see him reach out of the grave to thumb his nose at you... it's grotesque and heartbreaking and so, so beautiful. Not a man, not a woman, not living and not dead, always the alien who is so terribly human and frail. He was telling us something about fading and dying, the same way he told us so much about youth and gender.

I don't know if I'll ever watch it again. Once was too much, and just enough.

Thank you, narancia, for giving us another place to talk about our Bowie grief some more, and how it's changing as the days go by. The last thread was getting stale, as it must, but people aren't done with this.

We're moving on, of course. But this was Bowie, damn it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:02 PM on January 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


I have to admit that I've felt kind of awful about the fact that David Bowie's death didn't really affect me all that much. It was a surprise, to be sure, and he was an amazing person, but it just didn't touch me on anything approaching the level of what people have described.

I haven't talked about it with anyone except my partner because I don't want it to be perceived as shutting down the grief other people are feeling and expressing. It could be one of those things that sneaks up on me years from now (I remember Richard Feynman said he didn't cry about his wife's death until some time later when he saw a dress in a storefront and immediately thought of buying it for her). It could just be that I don't occupy that mental space.

Ever since Bowie died I've been thinking about the possibility that I'm some kind of cold jerk, but it may be that for everything he was to so many people, he wasn't that to me - and that maybe that's OK, maybe I'm not some weird outsider jerk who just never got it. Or maybe I am. I've given some thought to artists whose deaths would or have affected me, and maybe they're people who reached me the same way Bowie reached so many others.

Anyway, I remember my dad talking about the minute of silence that all the radio stations had when John Lennon died. There's nothing new about this kind of grief, and I certainly can't imagine that there's anything wrong with it. It's great to want to explore how people see celebrity and death and so on, but judging people for it is just jerky.
posted by teponaztli at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a very interesting conversation, in part because I experienced a very different type of "grief policing" in connection with Bowie's death. This post from The Frisky lays it out: a woman who was a teenager in the seventies told the story of how she lost her virginity to Bowie when she was fifteen. The fact that she consented to it and recalls it some four decades later as a postive experience (TW: she had some not-positive experiences with Jimmy Page) are, in the view of the grief police, meaningless; to them, a fifteen-year-old (in fairness, some of the third-party accounts claimed she was thirteen) cannot possibly consent, ergo Bowie was a rapist. By their telling, that's all that should matter, not "Bowie helped me come to terms with my sexuality" or "Bowie's experimentation with different genres and styles of music led me to broaden my own musical tastes" or even "I've been using one of Bowie's personas as my online identity for over a decade."

And the thing that really gets me with this is that this somehow only became important to note, for these people, because Bowie died, and quite a few people are really, really affected by it. I understand what darksong is talking about above, but I also think that there's a complementary phenomenon where people who weren't into Bowie, or Mark Linkous, or whomever, feel really put out, because they didn't feel part of this big national/international mourning. If someone says that an important part of their life is gone, does that mean that you've been missing an important part of your life, potentially, and don't even realize it? Are you like the blind-from-birth person who has no understanding of colors? Is there a sublime joy in possessing the Bowie-sense that you will never know?

Well, maybe. I mean, I haven't been able to hear in stereo since I was about three, and there very well may be some aspect of music that I'll never get, even though I really, really like music. And I get that feeling of being left out of something, that loss and resentment. And I am not in any way trying to minimize the feelings of people who are really offended by Bowie's behavior; in fact, a lot of my thinking on this was prompted by a conversation with a friend who was preyed upon by an older man when she was a teenager herself. I hadn't known about the groupie thing, but I had known about the Nazi thing (also mentioned in the link above), and that's not something that can be simply or completely written off to all the coke he was doing in the mid-seventies (mountains, by his own account). I've conceptualized it as being similar in a way to the drunk driving I used to do before I sobered up: it's justly illegal, and I could have hurt someone by doing it, and it's a good thing that I stopped, but I didn't hurt anyone, and that matters. And I hope that, when I die, someone doesn't show up to my funeral and try to shut people down by saying, "Fuck him, he drove drunk."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


How healthy is it to have that strong an emotional connection to someone you never met and you only interacted with as an audience to their art?

How healthy is is to strenuously deny that art can have a profound emotional effect on humans?

Not very healthy I would say, and contrary to everything we know about why we make art and why we seek out art that speaks to us. To say that the criteria for grieving an artist is to have known them personally is to be utterly ridiculous.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:20 PM on January 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Anyway, I remember my dad talking about the minute of silence that all the radio stations had when John Lennon died. There's nothing new about this kind of grief, and I certainly can't imagine that there's anything wrong with it. It's great to want to explore how people see celebrity and death and so on, but judging people for it is just jerky.

My Mom had just gone back to work when Lennon died, and we had an ex-hippie babysitter who came over every day to get us breakfast and make sure we got on the bus. I remember that she opened the newspaper, as she did every morning, and saw the headline. She put her head down on the table and sobbed like her heart had been ripped out. I stood there, helpless. What was she crying for? Youth, innocence, the hope of peace and her girlhood dreams. I understood something then about grief that I've never lost--

All our deaths are about us, really. I was shocked and sad when Bowie died because he had been such a big part of my life. The fact that he was an imaginary part only sort of matters. It's different than when my parents or my daughter died, of course, because the memories are more at a remove. But when we mourn, we don't mourn for the dead-- we mourn for ourselves. And sometimes something like a pet or a celebrity or whatever breaks that certain something and we mourn as though they were our blood.

And don't forget, sometimes it's easier to grieve in a supportive crowd. Or easier to process a death which isn't so close to the heart. This Christmas one of my cats died and the other was diagnosed with cancer, and I have been crying daily. In contrast, I could hardly cry at all when my daughter died. It was too huge and I knew I couldn't be comforted. So I focused on my now ex and my friends who needed reassurance and work and everything else. I realise letting go of these cats now is part of letting her go-- something I clearly never got around to doing .

I think a celebrity death can be like that- too- a safe outlet to cry and mourn the other losses we either can't or won't articulate.
posted by frumiousb at 7:38 PM on January 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'd never heard of Camilla Long before I saw the "man the fuck up" tweet, but I did take some small satisfaction out of immediately blocking her. Fuck that noise.

I am a musician because music affects me in a deeply emotional way. I've spent my entire life trying to figure out why, but it is what it is. If there is a god/spirit of the universe, I commune with him/her/that thing through music. Not often, but once in a while, when I am playing, a window opens. Not often, but once in a while, when I am listening, a window opens. I can no more explain to you why David Bowie's music/lyrics in particular were a thing that happened to open that window for me any more than I can explain particle/wave theory, or why gravity affects every single thing in the universe simultaneously, and it's not my job to explain it to you, anyway. If you don't get it, kindly move along and leave me alone.

I am not going to apologize for my public expressions of my grief, I am not going to "man up" and be embarrassed by my tears, however they may come. I'm a hopeless romantic who occasionally gets momentarily crushed under the weight of our collective mortality, and if my saying so strikes you as disingenuous or histrionic, then that's just because you don't know me. Your loss.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:43 PM on January 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


I don't really feel bad when a celebrity that I don't know personally dies. I don't care about their feelings or whatever. But for a persona like Bowie or Lemmy, it does make for a moment to reflect upon their careers and the impact on how their art influenced us.
posted by ovvl at 7:49 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


It is OK to be sad about Bowie. It is OK to not be sad about Bowie. It is likewise OK to be sympathetic to or irritated by the public displays of others. These feelings we have or don't have are totally natural and our own and completely outside of the purview of anyone else. Do you think Bowie gave a fuck what anybody thought about his art or feelings or personal life or interviews? Probably not. Getting caught up in this is pointless. Cry, don't cry, write about it, keep it inside. Just don't nitpick.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:58 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The album came round to the last track, "I Can't Give Everything Away," and I just lost it.

Dude. This happened to me on about the 10th listen, the time I chose to play that song for my wife, who hadn't heard it yet. When it finished, I tried to croak out "what a perfect way to end a..." And I couldn't finish because I was suddenly too distraught to talk. I am a blessed man - she hugged me & let me sob for a moment without judging.

Dear lord, he left the last chord unresolved...
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:59 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


If anything bugs me about the deaths of public people, it's how every single other public person is now like required by law to instantly issue a statement or expression of grief about it or play a tribute cover and gets the stinkeye in some quarters if they don't. Hey, maybe Kate Bush or Morrissey or Weird Al Yankovic or whoever doesn't feel like Tweeting or talking to Pitchfork about Bowie. Maybe they don't give a shit, or maybe they are private people who prefer to keep that stuff to themselves.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:13 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I really don't get/haven't felt grief over a celebrity's death, but at the same time, I really don't *have* to. People clearly feel, they feel strongly, and that's enough. Nothing good comes of policing people's reactions. Their reactions don't have to be my own.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some deaths are too big and up-close to open up the flood of cleansing sorrow. Maybe we have to soldier through, or they were a complicated and unresolved relationship, or the sadness is eclipsed by relief if the loss was an end to suffering, or something else. They don't leave us unaffected, but numb and stunned instead of scrubbed out by raw sobs.

Then someone dies who was in movies you loved when you were twelve. Or your cat dies, and it was just a cat but it was a simple uncomplicated love, happy every day to be with you. For the actor or the cat, you fall apart all out of expected proportion. I think sometimes cats and strangers serve as surrogate releases for the grief catharsis we can't purge from those other kind of deaths.

That's one big reason I don't like the idea of critiquing someone's grief response; you never know how many other sorrows it's carrying by proxy.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:34 PM on January 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


Cheap Trick

The grief police they live inside of the net
The grief police mock when my eyes are wet
The grief police are coming here to shame oh no...

I'll just show myself out.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


There's nothing new about this kind of grief, and I certainly can't imagine that there's anything wrong with it.

I agree that there's nothing intrinsically new about it, and right or wrong is for others to debate, but there is a difference. Contrary to the article, I don't believe that the web represents a return to "old" forms of grieving. Elvis Presley and John Lennon's deaths were amplified, to be sure. But theirs were celebrity deaths in the era before the mega-magnification and redistribution of information that is made possible and is a direct effect of the web and social media. The reactions to David Bowie's death (including mine) were surely amplified and made more intense by the magnified attention and redistribution of details and memories and grief on the web and social media, regardless of whatever meaning his persona might have had to me personally (or anyone else). I know that I nearly lost it when I read a bit in the Guardian by Graham Coxon, who said how much a particular lyric in the song "Ashes to Ashes" meant to him, and it was the same particular lyric that had always meant so much to me.

As crass as it may seem, there is perhaps now a network effect of public grief -- in which once it achieves a critical mass, the grief has more perceived value to everyone the more it is distributed and the more people express it. Camilla Long seems to have missed that point in her urge to despise everyone for grieving in a way that she finds repulsive.
posted by blucevalo at 9:16 PM on January 21, 2016


> you never know how many other sorrows it's carrying by proxy.

Whew, yeah. That. Thank you.
posted by rtha at 9:24 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Bowie's death hurt me. And the public grieving helped me understand my emotions. Oh no, love, you're not alone. Here, and elsewhere, I felt connected to other people on the fringes of normal. It was a thing, and I refuse to let anyone tell me otherwise. To be on the outside and feel connection with others who feel the same... That's not performance, that is genuine comfort.
posted by Ruki at 9:39 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I came very, VERY close to making this a front page post, but I've kind of written a novel about Bowie on Metafilter lately so I'll just leave this link here for any other Bowie fans who need a smile: Bowie imitating Springsteen, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and more.

It's really funny, and the freaky thing is how his impressions transform the same song so it almost sounds like something these artists could have recorded. His take on Springsteen makes this sound a lot like a 1980s Springsteen song, for example, but then when he does his Tom Waits it sounds remarkably like something off a Tom Waits album of the era. Same backing track, but a whole different feel. And his Iggy Pop is just the best. (There's one impression that seems to waver between Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, but the article says it's Anthony Newley!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:00 AM on January 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


People, by and large, mourn the celebrities whose work or public persona meant something special to them. Granted, it's not like mourning a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a friend, but it still represents a loss, a real loss.

The problem with a lot of the arguments above that focus on the role of the "art" as justification for the grief fail to note that in fact the existence of all Bowies works are completely unchanged by the death of the artist. The "art" is not the "artist".

The song 'Ashes to Ashes' still exists when the artist dies. That is the whole point of artworks and one of the classic ideas that motivate artists - the concept of a artists legacy. I think the grief about an artist's death cannot really be justified by an appeal to the impact of works of art. And particularly with Bowie, he really hasn't had much impact culturally for 20 years or so. Its not like he was going to write "Young Americans" again.

I am quite a fan of Bowie's early works, there are some great, amazing songs there. But I felt no grief whatsoever for Bowie. He as an individual has no impact on my life, the loss of his physicality is independent of my ability to enjoy his works.
posted by mary8nne at 1:14 AM on January 22, 2016


I wish they explored more of the changes in grief after World War I
Agreed, but I think if she'd pushed it too much further the analogy would have broken down completely. The point with changes in collective mourning brought about by World War I was that all of the mourners had lost someone close—a husband, a brother, a father, a son or daughter. Yes, they were all mourning together around new ritualised monuments (cenotaphs; war graves), but these hundreds of millions of mourners were mourning tens of millions of dead: their own flesh and blood. The hundreds of millions mourning Bowie are mourning one man, whom a tiny handful knew personally. That difference of scale and context is vast, to my mind, and completely vitiates the thesis that "we are returning to older forms of collective mourning." At least to my mind.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:22 AM on January 22, 2016


It's a world-wide wake, all welcome. Come as you are, BYO links.
posted by valetta at 2:01 AM on January 22, 2016


I came very, VERY close to making this a front page post, but I've kind of written a novel about Bowie on Metafilter lately so I'll just leave this link here for any other Bowie fans who need a smile: Bowie imitating Springsteen, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and more.

Oh, man, this is awesome. This might be a terrible derail but I have to know if this is right: 1. Bruce Springsteen, 2. Marc Bolan, 3. Tom Waits, 4. Lou Reed, 5. Anthony Newley, 6. Iggy Pop, 7. Neil Young
posted by thetortoise at 2:17 AM on January 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


With Bowie, it's pretty hard to separate the persona from the art. The persona was part of the art. You could argue that the persona actually was art.

I've been thinking about John Lennon's death, which is one of the first public events I remember and which hit tiny me pretty hard. My parents were big Beatles fans. It's true that there was no social media, but it's also true that old media was a much more potent and unifying force at the time. It was different and probably less performative: people listened to the radio and watched TV, but it was harder to participate in rituals of grief. But there was definitely a sense of shared grief, or so it appeared to tiny me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:21 AM on January 22, 2016


If anyone deserves an over the top Performative mourning period it's Bowie. He basically scored his own histrionic funeral with that new record, frankly NOT throwing ourselves onto the coffin would be in poor taste.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:36 AM on January 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Last Friday I caught PM on BBC Radio 4 at the point where they discuss reader feedback on the week's programming, which unsurprisingly was full of complaints about Bowie-saturation of the airwaves from disgruntled non-fans. I'm sure Long was with them in spirit, feeling that it was disturbing her routines of TV-viewing, newspaper-reading and Twitter-stream-following.

I just wondered (or rather, snarked loudly at the radio to nobody else in the room) what deaths of public figures they would consider worthy of more than a passing mention in a single day's news bulletins? Because I can't think of too damn many. Living in Britain, I know that when the Queen dies we'll witness an extended period of public mourning and endless analysis, even more than we did when her mother died in 2002. If David Cameron died tomorrow, we'd see the same. But as I said to my son, who was also trying to make sense of why the response to Bowie's death was unusual (because he's 8), David Bowie was far more significant than David Cameron. A hundred years from now, Bowie's best work will endure, while Cameron's name will be a footnote known only to historians. We remember Edward Elgar, not Herbert Asquith. I would personally see Bowie as a more significant figure than the Queen, come to that, and I say that having carried her face around in my pocket every day since I was a child, stamped onto small round metal discs. Her face might be everywhere (if you live in the Commonwealth), but she hasn't made stuff.

But there will be plenty of public expressions of grief when the Queen dies, and I won't think the people who take part are "insincere", whatever being "sincere" in this context is supposed to mean. If you feel moved enough to express your shock, I'll assume you're sincere about it. Especially as Long is talking about Twitter - it's not as if it takes more than a moment to tweet your feelings.

I haven't been moved by other celebrity deaths to quite the same extent as this one, but there are plenty of artists I mourn, even though I wasn't there to experience the colllective response to their deaths. I was 12 when Lennon died, and too young to get it, but a few years later became a Beatles fan, and had plenty of cause to feel sad that he was gone. When I got into Sibelius, I felt sad that he died without competing his 8th symphony, and even some sense of loss about that, yet he died in 1957 at the age of 91, a decade before I was born. But those were private reactions, with no outlet for public expression that I could take part in, because the collective moment had long passed.

The scale of this reaction wasn't just because of who Bowie was and what he represented. Long and the other "grief police" (Giles Coren was another) are completely overlooking the impact of the circumstances surrounding Bowie's death, probably because they weren't paying attention themselves. I was never a Total Fan the way some are (though I'm fast becoming one), but was enough of a fan that I'd bought his comeback album in 2013 and had his new release on my buy-soon list. I'd been paying attention to the birthday celebration articles that had been appearing in the press only a few days before. I was reading reviews of Blackstar. When I switched on the radio that Monday morning and heard his name, I thought at first that it was about that (and thought it a little odd, as his birthday had passed), which heightened the shock when I realised it wasn't. If Bowie hadn't been in this late flurry of activity, but instead had died in 2012, the collective response might have felt quite different; his death still would have had an impact, but without that same sense of losing an artist who still had more to give. In that way, it had something in common with Lennon's death, which happened while he too was promoting a comeback album after years of silence.

Even though Long expressed dread about what will happen on social media when McCartney dies, I suspect it's going to feel a bit different, and I say that as a much bigger Beatles fan than Bowie fan. McCartney spent a chunk of the 1990s going back over the archives, which did some of the work of preparing us for the inevitable. Bowie in his late 60s made one of his most startling new albums in years; and then blindsided us all by dying two days after its release. There aren't many precedents for that in the history of popular culture, and if that isn't worthy of comment then not much is.
posted by rory at 3:00 AM on January 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


She's a grief griefer?
posted by persona au gratin at 3:18 AM on January 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


1. Bruce Springsteen, 2. Marc Bolan, 3. Tom Waits, 4. Lou Reed, 5. Anthony Newley, 6. Iggy Pop, 7. Neil Young

Is 2 Bolan? That was the one I initially took for the Newley but thought sounded more like Tom Petty or Dylan. Now I'm sure 5 is Newley, but I don't know who 2 is. I got curious about the song he's singing, but I did a search for "when the fire broke out on the Rio Grande" and the results were all about this article.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:21 AM on January 22, 2016


Is 2 Bolan? That was the one I initially took for the Newley but thought sounded more like Tom Petty or Dylan. Now I'm sure 5 is Newley, but I don't know who 2 is.

Oh yeah, that one I'm sure of; nobody else does that peculiar sheep's bleating tremolo (and lord knows Bowie heard Lady Stardust himself sing enough times to manage a creditable impression). I'm least sure about 7, but the article mentions Neil Young, and that sounds right.

On topic: Like so many others here, I've never reacted to a celebrity's death the way I did Bowie's, and I've been grateful for the giant MeFi thread and all the personal stories. I thought about writing something on parasocial relationships and how celebrities act as signifiers, but that seems ultimately less honest than just saying that Bowie personified the fabulous interstellar weirdo in all of us, and isn't that worth mourning? His albums were the ones I listened to when I was 16 and coming out and had no idea what sort of person I was or could be, and with the years I just love them more and more. The MeFi thread even got me to mellow on Let's Dance and Tin Machine. I think the world could do with more sincere expressions of grief, not less.
posted by thetortoise at 3:53 AM on January 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


"With Bowie, it's pretty hard to separate the persona from the art. The persona was part of the art. You could argue that the persona actually was art."

But the problem is that the particular Bowie "persona" that is focussed on in so many of these grief tributes is a persona from 1960-70s. It is a Bowie from history that is already disconnected from the physical biological body of the man who played those personae.

The persona is not the biological. The persona did not "die" last week. That Bowie persona still exists as a cultural artifact as much today as it did a month ago before the biological death. When was the last time the man David Robert Jones, actually put on, performed these old personae of "Bowie", say of Ziggy Stardust? ...1980 perhaps? I went to a Bowie concert around 2005 and found it all rather empty. The Bowie that existed in the music of the 1970s was no longer present.

I also visited the Bowie exhibit at the V&A, that the exhibit of the persona of Bowie would not really need updating today since the death attests to the irrelevance of the continued existence of the biological artist to the work.
posted by mary8nne at 4:03 AM on January 22, 2016


I can only speak for myself here, but the thing that hit me hard about Bowie's death was that he had been active creatively in the last few weeks. There was an off-Broadway musical, and as many have mentioned, songs and videos as powerful as anything he's ever done, so it seemed to me that he was about to be a more relevant part of my life, and that has been cut short.

I mean, I didn't go to any sing alongs or leave flowers by his apartment building, but I've been very sad, and listening to all of his work (some of it awful, yes) and it is comforting to know I will have access to all that until I die, but still, a flesh and blood mortal man who I am very grateful to died, and that is sad.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:26 AM on January 22, 2016


And particularly with Bowie, he really hasn't had much impact culturally for 20 years or so.

As someone who finds Heathen and all the albums proceeding it to be far and away his best work, and his most profound, I could not disagree more. He released a truly amazing album days before his death, for Christ's sake!

Its not like he was going to write "Young Americans" again.

Thank god for that. He developed and grew as a musician, instead of trading water. That is no small part of what made him special.
posted by Dysk at 5:43 AM on January 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


One thing I dislike about the Internet: the plethora of articles saying You're Doing it Wrong. I ignore them. Probably doing that wrong, too.
posted by theora55 at 5:52 AM on January 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


...the death attests to the irrelevance of the continued existence of the biological artist to the work.

I can't fully articulate why this isn't sitting too well with me right now -- I get your point. The music & films live on. But I've known 2 worlds my adult life -- the one with Bowie in it, & the one without Bowie in it, & I'm finding the second one somehow permanently different.

Maybe it's being older, & faced with my own somewhat-impending mortality. Maybe I'm making it all about me, and maybe this is a little out of context, but in his own words "Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here – the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle." I think he got how art is supposed to affect the audience and was aware of the affect his art had on his audience, so we were to him, part of the art as well. When a work of art becomes intensely personal to the audience, it seems natural that their feelings would get mixed up with the artist as a persona.

By all accounts I've heard/seen/read Bowie was a pretty great guy. I have met people who have had their careers profoundly positively changed by their interactions with him, & in a small way those changes also reverberated in my own art & life -- which is a backdoor way into second-hand grief maybe, but again, it is what it is. Having him permanently absent from the scene makes my world permanently different regardless of the permanence of his art, may it live forever.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:00 AM on January 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


The song 'Ashes to Ashes' still exists when the artist dies. That is the whole point of artworks and one of the classic ideas that motivate artists - the concept of a artists legacy. I think the grief about an artist's death cannot really be justified by an appeal to the impact of works of art.

If people were saying, "I'm grieving because this art meant so much to me and now I can't enjoy it because the artist has died," you might have a point.

But that is not what people are saying, or why they feel a sense of loss.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:02 AM on January 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


To be less hyperbolic, it strikes me as hyperbolic. And insincere.

I know where you're coming from. I'm not inclined to celebrity worship in the least, or even fandom, really. Although there are a few artists whose work was very important to me in those sensitive teen years* - like some others here, I did have a deep-dive Bowie phase (see also Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen). Their songs offered particular spaces for my feelings to resonate, and I think helped articulate them, probably in a few ways. I spent hours and hours resonating like that, sometimes with the same few songs. Bowie in particular offered so many different emotional registers and attitudes. Deliberately, even:

"A song has to take on character, shape, body and influence people to an extent that they use it for their own devices. It must affect them not just as a song, but as a lifestyle. The rock stars have assimilated all kinds of philosophies, styles, histories, writings, and they throw out what they have gleaned from that." (From a conversation with Burroughs, Rolling Stone.)

I don't know what I understood about his references at the time, but certainly, particular ways of being were communicated and received, through specific words and progressions and stylistic elements. All that happens on a sensory / sensual level, and it unfolds in time - all of which makes this kind of communication very immediate and intimate-feeling, especially for someone young and looking for intimacy.

But yeah, when Kurt Cobain died, I remember rolling my eyes a bit at the wailing and remembrance. That kind of grief at the death of a celebrity seemed to me to be a technical impossibility, absent some kind of fakery.

And it's true, I haven't listened much to Bowie since my 20s, probably. He was just around (everywhere, still), after that. Which is why I've been totally confused by the strength of my response. (I didn't really do much talking about it outside of the memorial thread, though, it was mostly between me and Spotify.) But a lot of the reasons people have suggested make sense to me.

Though, in my case, I really don't think it was mediated grief about other kinds of losses. I think I've been sad because the individual who gave me those important spaces and feelings, and had been living during my time, died. (Even though those songs were written in the 70s and 80s, and heard by me in the 90s, and he left in the 10s. Yeah, like Frowner and GenjiAndProust said, there's a kind of freezing that happens, probably.) And yes, his full artistic and existential engagement with his death - as an actual person, and persona, and cultural icon - was powerful, to say the least.)

...the death attests to the irrelevance of the continued existence of the biological artist to the work.

This is logical, but we don't always process things logically, we often use the logic of metaphor, stories, dreams - sounds and visions. (not to be totally cheesy about it. but it's true.)

*when, remember, the memories formed are strongest, because they're the most invested with emotional and attentional energy. The brain bits involved with music perception are also heavily implicated with emotional processing, too, and music and emotion are connected in interesting ways.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 AM on January 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


But the problem is that the particular Bowie "persona" that is focussed on in so many of these grief tributes is a persona from 1960-70s. It is a Bowie from history that is already disconnected from the physical biological body of the man who played those personae.

That may be true for some folks, but I don't think it's the case for most. First of all, Bowie has had about 30 different personae du jour, but the overall career-long uber-persona of Weird-Ass Bowie the Restless Creative Innovator is the one most serious devotees of his work are attached to, rather than Ziggy Bowie or Thin White Duke Bowie or Berlin Bowie or whatever. And that Bowie has been with us all along, and was powerfully present from Oct 2015-Jan 2016. If you go look at the earliest YouTube comments on the "Blackstar" video in November, you'll see hundreds of people saying in effect, "OH MY GOD, HOORAY, WEIRD BOWIE IS BACK! SO GLAD TO SEE HIM AGAIN!"

Heck, he made 5 new demos in December that he won't get to bring to fruition, so sure, we still have his works and have his persona around in spirit, but he was an active productive artist right up to nearly the day he died. If he did Blackstar at 68-69, who knows what he would have come up with at 69.5 or 70?

The fact that early iterations of Bowie come up a lot in tributes doesn't mean that's all people are grieving; it's just common in elegies/eulogies in general to look back on when we first got to know any dear departed. If you lost your lifelong best friend, at the funeral you might very well mention memories of the day you met on the playground in 3rd grade, especially if it was a dramatic or life-changing moment. But you miss the whole person and treasure the entire length of your relationship.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:10 PM on January 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I appreciate separating the art from the artist. For the purpose of 'that movie wasn't bad' or 'these books are fun' it's good enough and often necessary. But I'm not sure you decide deliberately where to draw your lines; it's visceral. To make an analogy in the opposite direction, I didn't decide not to enjoy Cosby albums anymore; objectively, 'chocolate cake for breakfast' should be just as funny as ever, but I've got no taste for it anymore.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:23 PM on January 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


My main good connection with my father was that I inherited a lot of his taste in music, and enjoyment of cooking, and that listening to music while cooking was a worthwhile activity. Dad passed away in Dec. 2011. I associate Christmas and New Years with my father's passing.

Dad was a Bowie fan. He played me Bowie songs when I was a little kid, and commented every few of years up until he died, "David Bowie just keeps putting out great new stuff." David Bowie's music was a way I connected with my father,

When I grieve Bowie, I grieve the loss of a connection I had with my father. Whenever I listened to Bowie while cooking, it was mixed up with thoughts of Dad.

Alzheimer's patients who can't remember their spouse's name can remember songs from when they were kids. Music isn't just this thing we enjoy. Musicians aren't just strangers we get entertainment from. Music touches the deepest parts of who we are, and how we grow.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:00 PM on January 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


When Bowie vibrated at a frequency I could understand he was a fine actor who brought nuance and character to his roles. When he tweaked his bandwidth a bit he was a gritty version of sex drugs and rock and roll just as it was moving past metal and into places I've never been, didn't know anything about. He went from my understandings to the unknown unknowns, and I would never have guessed at the furniture that inhabited those rooms in the cosmos. Sometimes freaks from those places would rise up to huzzah, but they were opaque, and I had no clue what they were about. When they sat back down they slipped from my awareness, except perhaps as shadows if they turned up on the evening news.

What manner of person can slip from one universe to another that way?
posted by mule98J at 10:56 AM on January 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


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