Last month, the passing of David Bowie was met with a spontaneous tribute under a mural of the singer in Brixton, where hundreds sang, danced and cried together. One year after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, fans assembled outside the Forest Lawn Memorial Park to mark the occasion.
There were fans who had an image of Jackson tattooed on their person
There were fans who had an image of Jackson tattooed on their person. One travelled from Adelaide to attend Jackson’s unofficial memorial in Los Angeles. At a dedication to Bowie outside the Ritzy Picturehouse in London, red-eyed mourners each carried a bouquet of white lilies, bending to place them delicately within a sea of others.
Occasionally, this may be branded modern indulgence; in the absence of considerable grounds for unhappiness, we may relegate our capacity for sorrow toward the deaths of those we have not met. But, I imagine this is too simplistic an outlook.
There was a need to be a part of the world of re-tweets, likes and shares that morning.
I don’t doubt the role social media plays in affecting our emotions when a musician dies. I remember scrolling through clips of Whitney Houston posted by fans on social media, when I woke up to news of her passing one Saturday some years ago. Her ‘One Moment In Time’ performance at the 1989 Grammy Awards and ‘I Look To You’ music video from her final album in 2009 were especially poignant. There was a need to be a part of the world of re-tweets, likes and shares that morning. It was a continuous wave of unanimity so unlike the individualism of day-to-day social media posts; a community of shock, sadness and memories of the nights that ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ made.
By sharing our thoughts and making Facebook a little more connected, we reminded each other of our shared cultural experience; we may never have listened to Whitney together, but we understood that our worlds, our youths, would have been somewhat different without her music.
Music has the capacity to instill in us the power to embrace fragments of ourselves we would not otherwise have embraced, to discover solidarity in our differences, and to find ecstasy in rhythms that underpin the best of times. In music, we discover elements of bliss, of life, and of grief. It invariably alters our surroundings, and our moods and movements adapt to its rhythm. And, often, music makes us feel less alone.
Over the wave of tributes to David Bowie, we were reminded that his music moved, inspired and changed us. We realised that so many of our memories were enfolded in his work, and that it was entirely possible to find oneself in a song.
So we grieved. We grieved for the loss of the life that shaped parts of ourselves. And we grieved that we would never experience anything quite like him again.