On Monday, the radio solemnly announced to me over breakfast that David Bowie had passed away after a battle with cancer. I was really shocked, he seemed immortal – but I guess I mistook the immortal nature of his music for the man himself. Nobody lives forever – and nobody wants to (we’ve all watched ‘Death Becomes Her’, and nobody wants to go there…!)
Yes, I feel very sad about David Bowie. I like his music, I know his songs and I think he was one hell of a personality. Witnessing the very public outpouring of grief on TV and social media has been something quite different - it’s given us an insight into the lives of some of the people who felt influenced by him, and shown that so many thousands of people LOVED him. He was different, and he gave many people the confidence to allow themselves to be different too. He stood out amongst others of his generation for his crazy yet workable combinations of art, fashion, music and constantly evolving identity. More importantly, he achieved what he set out to do. His passing has made me reflect on the fact that, sadly, there is inevitability to everything in this life. Fortunately, many musicians, like Bowie, manage to create a tremendous back catalogue of records that I’m certain will be listened to for hundreds of years to come. The sadness I felt when Amy Winehouse passed away was much different, as the world will never know what else her incredible voice was capable of. I’ve witnessed many grown men shed tears whenever the death of Kurt Cobain is mentioned. Likewise, a generation of (mostly) males are still left crestfallen by the mysterious disappearance of the Manic Street Preachers’ Richie Edwards. For so many, there is so much left to do.
I remember clearly the creeping sadness that immersed me on 23rd May 2004, whilst I was sitting in a university lecture theatre getting on with another fairly uneventful day. I suddenly received a text message from my friend Jana in Latvia, telling me that Mumiņš from Brainstorm had been killed in a car crash. Over the previous four years, I had listened to Brainstorm’s music on an almost-daily basis. I felt like I knew the band so well (which just seems absurd now!), and to hear that one of the band had passed on felt like the death of a family member. The world would never know what else those five individuals would be capable of creating together. I don’t know how I got through the lecture without crying, and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the university computer room trying to decipher Latvian newspaper reports. Rest in peace, Mumiņš. Fortunately the band continued to make great records, and I even met them the following year. But whenever I look at my signed copy of ‘Izlase’, I am painfully reminded that there is still one member of the band that I haven’t met. And never will.
Music accompanies us through our lives in so many ways, creating life-long musical memories. A Green Day song was the first song I learnt to play on the guitar. Vaiko Eplik songs were played at my wedding reception (much to the bemusement of the guests). I remember doing a great karaoke version of ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ with my friend Steve in a bar in Bucharest. ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ was my favourite song when I was 5 years old. And on a family holiday in Scandinavia in 1988, I remember my parents driving around completely lost and getting increasingly irritated with each other whilst ‘Little Lies’ by Fleetwood Mac was playing on the radio. All very different musical memories, equally important to me!
However, whenever I’ve tried to ‘engineer’ musical memories, it’s never worked out. I had some crazy idea to listen to some of my favourite CDs at the hospital when I was in labour with my son. This caused much hilarity as there was no CD player in the maternity ward. Instead, I had to make do with Take That and Petula Clark on the hospital radio! Likewise, I once made a great playlist for a motoring holiday in central Europe, only to have my plan scuppered when the files got corrupted. Any attempts to listen to a certain CD on any particular day are often foiled by my constant inability to keep CDs in the correct cases. My son recently shot me a disdainful look when he opened up a CD case purporting to contain “Thomas the Tank Engine Bedtime Stories”, only to find the Luther Vandross Christmas album. Not exactly what he had in mind! At least digital streaming services are given the opportunity to prove their worth on occasions such as this...
So folks, the moral of the tale is: be happy, set out to achieve your dreams...and make sure you always keep your CDs in the correct cases!