This morning we awoke to the news that David Bowie had died. The world is in shock because this “star” had kept his illness private – completely understandable, but in an age of celebrities who live every second of their lives in the full glare of the world’s gaze, do we feel aggrieved when a megastar chooses not to share everything? How must it feel when the world thinks that they know you, even that they own you?
The vicar who gave the “Pause for Thought” on Radio 2 this morning spoke of his need as a teenager to conform, to be one of the crowd and that David Bowie was a bit too “different” for his insecure 15 year old self to follow. All day Bowie has been described as an “individual”, so much so that far from wishing to be one of the crowd, one of a particular music genre, he actually went out of his way to be completely individual. A chameleon one presenter said; constantly throwing off his identity as he became tired of one persona only to slip into another. How many have the confidence to invent themselves as a space alien named Ziggy Stardust and actually possess eyes of different colours to set off the transformation. But rather than a new identity, I wonder if each new persona was a disguise? A need to hide behind different sets of makeup & hair colour in order to protect a core individuality, rather than to reveal himself to the world?
But sometimes those traits of individuality that mother nature has endowed can feel like a curse. Not everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and if it is a disability that marks out an individual, it can be most unwelcome. A birth mark, a stammer, a hearing defect, a chronic illness, a fatal illness. We do all cope with whatever is sent to try us in our own individual ways – and if this is the rock star bowing out with grace and a final hurrah album, then he truly deserves his final applause.