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Floating off


There’s more to the wall-to-wall coverage than Bowie’s artistic brilliance, reckons Gaw.

About fifteen years ago a colleague told me this story. He and a mate were walking down a New York street when a pop star in an open-topped car crawled past. It looked like John Taylor so, being young and having had a drink, they started singing Duran Duran songs, waving and dancing. The car moved on in the traffic before stopping at some lights. They caught up, walked alongside. The pop star turned to them and said, “I’m David Bowie, you c***s”.

The last few days have shown why Bowie was entitled to feel a little scornful of anyone who could confuse him with your common-or-garden pop star. Few figures from any walk of life could command such media coverage. But I don’t believe it’s all down to Bowie’s musical accomplishment, his influential image-making. For today’s Top Generation, the people that run the media at the moment – decide news running orders, front page headlines, commemorative documentaries, that sort of thing – Bowie represents more than a musician and more than a style icon.

The ‘60s through to the ‘90s was a period when a new popular culture came out on top. At the beginning, you had to work pretty hard to listen to the new music, to find the latest street fashions. By the end you had to work even harder to escape them. Bowie was a leader of what now looks like a cultural revolution and the foot soldiers run today’s post-pop media.

While he still lived you could pretend that the heroic era of rock and pop innovation happened only just yesterday. But nothing puts the seal on things as definitively as death. So reading the papers, watching the news, it’s no wonder a note of disorientation is present in the dismay: today’s Top Generation senses its mortality, that it won’t always be in touch with the new thing, own tomorrow’s world; that it too will be history one day and perhaps soon. And it’s particularly tough when youth was what it was all about.

The twentieth century seems to be floating off in a most peculiar way.

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14 thoughts on “Floating off

  1. seamussweeney1@gmail.com'
    January 15, 2016 at 07:36

    When my aunt died aged 71 I recall a sense at the funeral that, for her contemporaries, this was one of the first deaths of someone who had reached the three-score-and-ten, and while there had been plenty of other deaths in that circle before, all had partook of the tragedy of prematurity. Obviously these days 70 is the new 50, or is it the new 40, or possibly even the new 30 – but there is a sense with Bowie dying at 69 of cancer that from now on today’s Top Generation will be dying not in tragic, early ways, but because it is the way of all flesh.

    • Gaw
      January 15, 2016 at 15:31

      Yes! And, good God, January can be miserable, can’t it?

  2. January 15, 2016 at 13:14

    And leaving the surviving Top Generation members in a world that resembles their world slightly less every day.

    • Gaw
      January 15, 2016 at 15:36

      Yes, the digital generation are getting ready to be top. I suspect their ‘thing that the old fuckers don’t understand’ might be games (‘video’ games, as we used to call them).

      • Brit
        January 16, 2016 at 14:27

        My age-group already waxes nostalgic about early 1990s video games like Street Fighter II and Super Mario Kart on the SNES. I was speaking to a 21 year old chap the other week who was being similarly nostalgic about the Playstation 2!

  3. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    January 15, 2016 at 16:45

    And leaving the surviving Top Generation members in a world that resembles their world slightly less every day. Any resemblance went west years ago, except birth and death, those unchanging benchmarks, the proximity of which comes more and more into focus with every passing Christmas. Considering Bowie’s alleged appetite it’s amusing, don’t you think, that he died in his sixty ninth year.

    • seamussweeney1@gmail.com'
      January 15, 2016 at 19:38

      Perhaps the Station-to-Station era all white milk-and-cocaine diet will be the next frontier of Crank Dieting . .

      • Gaw
        January 17, 2016 at 08:04

        Perhaps the sales pitch could be: “Look great right up until you die an early death” But seriously I wonder whether his health troubles over the last ten years were down to the massive drug use.

  4. law@mhbref.com'
    Jonathan Law
    January 15, 2016 at 17:32

    That’s wonderfully well put and goes a long way to explain the rather strange edge to this week’s mourning (something I had felt but not really understood). “Dismay” and “disorientation” seem to be keys terms here, and I suspect there’s a lot more of both in the pipeline. As we begin to pick up speed towards 2020 it’s pretty clear that we must be entering the Twilight of the Rock Gods — the very last stand of the generation born in or shortly after the war. Jagger, McCartney, Dylan — I hate to be morbid, but I’m sure the papers have their 16-page special pull-outs all ready to go. The world will certainly feel different without those guys.

    Odd to think that it’s only a generation back that F.R. Leavis raised a big hoo-hah about The Times even recognising Jimi Hendrix with an obituary; for him, evidence that the educated elite had finally given up the fight.

  5. mail@danielkalder.com'
    Daniel K
    January 16, 2016 at 04:19

    Yes, I think you’re onto something here. The day he died I started talking about with a young colleague, but then I realized she was probably born the year Black Tie White Noise was released, and probably developed her own musical tastes around the time Bowie disappeared from view. So he was a name, but not a lot more than that. I felt a bit like I was talking to her about Gene Autry.

  6. Gaw
    January 17, 2016 at 08:01

    Jonathan, Daniel – I’m glad others have the same sense.

    I think it’s broader than the Twilight of the Rock Gods though. The 20th century had a very satisfying narrative arc, having turned out all right in the end for most people in the West, with people like Fukuyama theorising this. That’s not looking so certain now and I think the disorientation is arising partly because of this. Too many assumed constants of a new world order are breaking down – the end of the great ideologies (nationalism, socialism) and the return of religious politics, American global leadership and European unity, constantly increasing economic growth and disposable income, the progress of Western democracy. I believe the death of Bowie tapped into this feeling of our moving, perhaps unexpectedly, into strange and uncertain waters.

    I’m aware of the disorientation as I can’t help feeling it myself! Most recently I’ve been astonished that my supposedly defunct knowledge of ancient leftist politics has become relevant again.

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