I was recently at a farewell event for a colleague and friend at which a number of very moving speeches were made about the impact this person had had on a number of her staff.
I was struck, not for the first time, by how sad it is that too often we only properly celebrate people when they leave – life, work, country. And there were obvious parallels with my recent experiences…
If only we were as careful to ensure that the people around us really understood their value on a daily basis.
Then after an exceptionally hot Sydney day, my daughter and I were in the car heading to the beach for a walk and a refreshing swim when I interrupted our conversation to turn the radio up and hear the first news reports about the death of David Bowie.
I was brought up in a household in which classical music ruled – with an exception made for The Beatles and Bread*.
This meant that my discovery of David Bowie in my late teens was entirely my own, particularly the albums that would have been made when I was a small child. I think I was first intrigued by some of the scandal surrounding his music videos, which were banned from Top of the Pops as they were too explicit. I still haven’t see the video for China Girl – although I might google it when I’ve finished this – largely because we did not have a television. However, this led to an interest in his older stuff, and his music has continued to be high on my play list throughout my life. Young Americans is in my top 5 tracks of all time.
In September I went down to Melbourne for a girls weekend with a friend and to see the Bowie exhibition that had started out at the V&A and then travelled the world. At the exhibit I was fascinated to see the extent to which he had been influenced by other musicians, composers, writers, artists, designers, fashion and the theatre – and the extent to which he had in turn impacted on them himself over his long career. The design of the exhibit made it possible to see these links in a very tangible way.**
The place was packed – booked tickets only and a sell out.
So famous people these days are in the rather unique situation of knowing just how highly they are regarded without having to die first – although even David Bowie might still have been surprised by the extent to which his passing is currently occupying my Facebook feed. The downside of this I suppose is that they also have access to a level of animosity that before the advent of social media I’m sure was not experienced by the famous nor the infamous, if not only because it would have been too labour intensive. But these days, it must be very easy to spew your vitriol anonymously into the Twittersphere – and many people do***
However, all this makes me wonder. Am I doing enough to ensure that the people who matter to me really know? I tell my children frequently – sometimes many times a day – that I love them. But there are so many people who are important in my life. Do they know?
There might be the start of a New Year commitment there…so if I start making you feel awkward by waxing lyrical about how great you are, you’ll know why.
*I actually really like The Beatles. Obviously. I feel a bit awkward about revealing that I have a soft spot for Bread too, as this is not so obvious. Don’t judge. We all have dodgy musical pasts. Don’t we?
**It struck me while I was there that although the focus in our household on classical music was wonderful and was the basis of my love for music, it may have been part of me missing out on some really interesting social and cultural developments – and was probably compounded by not having a television. I think my parents automatically devalued the work of people like David Bowie – just assuming that they had little to offer. But the exhibition reminded me of some of the best lectures from my English degree, which helped us to see the direct links between literature, art, music, politics and so many other parts of culture. If it’s still touring you should go and see it. Also David Bowie is (was) tiny. Like Kylie Minogue sort of size. Most of his costumes I could only fit one leg in. Seriously.
*** check out famous people reading mean tweets on YouTube. Hilarious. People are vile…