We all have personal heroes, whether we want to admit it or not. Personally, most of mine are people I know well in real life, but there are exceptions. One huge exception for me is the Beatles, Paul McCartney in particular. There are bands and musicians I like, and then there are the Beatles. I bring this up because a friend of mine just lost one of hers on Monday: David Bowie. In fact, she wrote a moving piece on what his music, and more importantly, his persona, meant to her on Facebook. I get it; I truly do.
The thing is, until he passed away, I never thought of David Bowie or his music that much, although my friend’s enthusiasm for his music is contagious. Now that I have a better understanding of what his music represented and the risks he took with his career, not to mention the generations of artists he inspired, I can say that David Bowie belongs alongside people like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and yes, the Beatles, in a category all their own. All of those artists broke barriers, created – or helped to create – new genres of music. They also crossed genres and inspired new generations of musicians.
So why do we care so much about people we’ve never met? I think that is part of the mystery of art, music in particular. We feel as though we know the artists when we’ve spent decades listening, discussing, and analyzing their work. We invest so much time and energy in the things we love – art, books, music, TV, films, etc. – that when their creator dies, a part of the magic is gone. For example, in my life, there was never the possibility of a Beatles reunion. John Lennon died ten days before I was born. My generation will always wonder what Kurt Cobain would have accomplished musically with or without Nirvana had he lived. Instead of wondering what an artist will do next, after his or her death, fans are left with a finite catalog of music, writing, films, paintings, etc. There is nothing new to discover, only memories of what it felt like to await a new release.