I woke up this morning and checked Facebook — the best source for local not-really-news — hoping to see that my kid had a school delay, so that I could stay in bed a little longer. I didn’t see that, but the first thing I did see was something that had me wide awake in an instant: David Bowie was dead.
As the day progressed, you could watch the stages of grief unfold: denial, shock, acceptance; the videos rolled out and social media was filled with people reminiscing about seeing Bowie for the first time (a milestone second only, it would seem, to losing one’s virginity, and then in most cases it probably still came out ahead). Everyone had a David Bowie moment to share. There was an almost universal outpouring of grief.
And then came The Crusaders, sharing photos of emaciated children and villages destroyed by war, nuclear fallout and government tyranny: competition for David Bowie’s death in a game of smug and vulgar one-upmanship. “How can you cry for some rock star you don’t even know,” they wrote, “when this is going on in the world?”
“It’s a sad day when people care more about a dead singer than all the starving children in the world.”
“Why are you mourning a dead stranger when there are refugees and famine and atom bombs and hungry kids and rape and war and murder and-”
“How can you be sad about this thing, when there is also this thing?” is what they were saying. As if sadness was a self-contained unit, a box that can only hold one thing at a time, a box the right size for hunger and small dead people, but not the right size for cancer and tall dead people.
The answer is that we have to be sad about this thing, because this is one of the things that helped us not be sad all the time, about all the other things. We know there is famine. We know there is war. We know that children are dying. We see this every day, we live this reality, although for most of us, we live it from a fair safe distance, watching in horror on television as the bombs drop and the children starve. We live on different planes of sorrow, we live with different kinds of loss, and we need things like David Bowie to remind us that that isn’t all there is.
We need art. We need beauty. We need music that makes us smile, and music that makes us think, and music that makes us go holy fuck YES and listen to it on repeat a thousand times, tuning out the ugliness outside. We need music that reminds us we aren’t alone in facing the horror, and music that takes us well beyond where it lives. We need people with the strength to be themselves, so that we can show our children and the children in the mirror that we’re okay. We need things that sparkle, that shine, that make the world flip upside down while we’re anchored firmly in place, looking at it from an entirely different point of view.
We need music. We needed David Bowie and every other artist who makes us feel something besides the agony of real life. When that gets lost, we feel lost with it. It’s okay to feel that. Even with everything else that’s going on, it’s okay to grieve the loss of something beautiful. This is not a competition; sorrow does not live in a vacuum. It’s everywhere, it bleeds into everything, and in acknowledging the loss of something so vivid and unique, we acknowledge that there is more to life than all the ugliness we see.