Twice this year I have cried actual tears for the loss of people I have never met. First Bowie and now Prince; 2016 is not turning out to be a good year for artistic legends.
Admittedly, I am emotionally fairly free. I have cried following the deaths of those I have barely known, but most likely these were tears for the pain of their loved ones left behind. I have also been known to cry at death in the news, but perhaps this is because of the general inhumanity or injustice of certain events as opposed to the often untold individual stories.
These tears are more selfish than that. I cried at the news of the loss of these artists because they have provided the backdrop to many of my memories.
Bowie was frequently played by my parents as I grew up, and I found my own love of his music in my teens. ‘Hunky Dory’ has never really not been played. And now, in a full circle state of affairs, Bean loves Ziggy Stardust. Although, apparently, this is entirely different to loving David Bowie if you are four years old and cannot see past the make-up. How can they possibly be the same person when ‘Ziggy is too pretty to be called David’? But, artist identity aside, her ‘Starman’ is undoubtedly about Tim Peake taking up residence on the International Space Station. And if Ziggy plays guitar left-handed then she can definitely use her different scissors with pride.
The songs that spoke to me now speak to her. Lyrics I remember clearly from my childhood are now beginning to punctuate hers.
The passing on of a love of a certain artist is clearly not unusual. My love of Prince came not from a family member, but instead from an older neighbour when she leant me a box of cassettes while I was still at primary school. At the time I probably would have loved anything those cassettes contained. How could I not have wanted to like the music of a girl who painted graffiti on her bedroom walls (albeit immediately prior to planned redecoration) and dyed the majority of her clothes purple in a water butt in her driveway? But independent of any external influences, ‘Kiss’ stood out on one of those cassettes and remains able to transport me back to the exact details of rummaging through those old cassettes so long ago.
Music is a constant in my hanging of memories on the pegs in my mind. The work of people I have never met helps me remember things clearly, make sense of things and bond with those around me. How can it matter that I have never met these creators and performers when their words run through the events of my life?
Of course, my song hung memories extend beyond the music of the legends that are Bowie and Prince. But their deaths have prompted my thinking about the importance of music in our lives.
I pressed play on the CD player in my room immediately before feeding Bean for the first time after leaving hospital, without a thought as to what would begin to play. It was the last album I had listened to before having her, Bob Marley and The Wailers, ‘Feel Alright’. But without any thought, the first song that played, ‘Stir it up’, was perfect. I can hear it when I think back to our first few minutes together in our own environment. Stir it up she did, but in that moment everything was as it should be. I was relaxed, warm, and grateful for being sat on my bed feeding my six day old baby. Listening to that song never fails to make me feel happy and safe. The album stayed in my CD player for the coming days and continues to remind me of little details of that time; her hiccups, her froggy legs as she lay in her moses basket, and the sunny time of year. I worry that without the intertwining of my memories with the prompt of hearing certain songs I would forget these details that make me so happy.
Then there is this memory I have of Bean, just turned age three, dancing freely to ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac. We were on holiday in Brittany, it was windy but warm and our giant prawns were cooking on the barbecue. We were having a lovely time in a beautiful location. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, but would soon begin to set on the wrong side of us as we looked North, out towards the sea. I don’t think I will ever forget some of the details of that holiday, but I cannot think of any of it without my mind jumping to Bean dancing to that song.
Not all my memories married to songs are so pleasant, but even then songs have only ever served to help a situation. Some songs have been seemingly ruined by their, often accidental, accompaniment of a sad time. But they never really are.
I cannot imagine life without other peoples words and feelings so easily accessible in their music. Wondering what they meant by their lyrics, and if it is the same as my interpretation and what I am feeling.
These true artists who are sadly no longer with us will live on through the love people have for their work. Their words, the feelings their music brings, and an appreciation of their talent, will be passed on to our babies. Bowie’s affirmation that throwing homework on the fire is perfectly acceptable is all the encouragement I need to do exactly that. Only we will not be taking the car anywhere, we will instead spend the time listening to great music that is good for our souls.