The Weird, Grim World of 2016 – A Personal Perspective

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As we come towards the end of 2016, many are bemoaning the seemingly endless outpouring of grief on social media for celebrity deaths. There’s no doubt that it’s been a nerve-racking year if you’re famous and part of the post-WWII “Baby Boomer” generation but a lot of people are getting sick of the intense posts from fans, citing that many important people have passed away this year who weren’t celebrities, and stating the obvious – we all die.

But have there been more celebrity deaths this year than in the past?

There’s evidence to suggest that deaths among the famous have increased, as reported in The Week recently. The dearth of internet news, celebrity sites and You Tube channels has meant that more coverage is given to the comings and goings of celebrities. And of course, social media itself has enabled ordinary people to post tributes to memorialise their favourite celebrities.

For my part, this year has been brutal. As a career musician and writer, I’ve spent a good deal of my life listening to, enjoying and analysing the work of David Bowie. There were times in my teenage years when life felt very strange and his work helped me make sense of it.

After Bowie’s death in January, the rot really set in and I lost many significant people in my life. Most notably Jeff Weston, Leon Turner, Kevin Gleeson and my dear, beautiful friend Jacqui. There were others I didn’t write about, several acquaintances from the past as well as newer friends. Anecdotally, I have to say that social media has heightened this. Reconnecting with people from my past and forming new networks has tended to make my circle of friends much broader and spreading news a very immediate thing.

Now at the end of the year, I was incredibly saddened by the death of Carrie Fisher and tragically only a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds, who were both important figures in my life for different reasons.

Like so many of my generation, I first saw Carrie Fisher on the big screen in the original Star Wars (1977) . She was only a few years older than me, and her portrayal of the feisty Princess Leia was an inspiration. Leia showed us that girls could be heroes too, an important cultural lesson to any young woman of that era. I followed her film career with interest, and particularly loved her as the gun-toting Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers (1980) as well as her reprisals of Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga.

As the years rolled on though, it was her writing that really spoke to me. It takes a lot of nerve and downright bravery to be that outspoken and honest, and her advocacy for mental health issues really struck home with me. And I loved how she aged too, honestly and (for the entertainment industry) rebelliously.

Debbie Reynolds is a very different story. Back in the 50’s my brother (who was 14 when I was born) had a typical teenage crush on Reynolds from her lead role in Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). When I was born he was given the duty of naming me, and what better than after his favourite movie star! I was never a fan in the way my brother was, but since his death I always watch re-runs of Singing in the Rain (1952) and think of him.

So at a very personal level, 2016 has been quite the “annus horribilis”, bookended by the passing of two people I never met but who spoke to me through their work and one who I was named for by my beloved big brother.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of joy for me this year too. My work with Callum and The Superstars was particularly uplifting and there’s great things planned for the coming year. All the personal sadness has underlined how I am surrounded with people who care about me – both professionally and personally.

As I said in another post earlier this year, live your life well, with honesty and integrity and love unreservedly. Don’t put off seeing people or telling them you care, be brave and run with it.

Life is short.

Be well beautiful friends, and thank you for your support throughout this awful year ❤

Carrie Fisher as The Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers

Carrie Fisher as The Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday evening, while dinner was cooking on the BBQ – a wonderful Australian summer tradition – I came into the house to look at my phone, mostly to stop myself from checking the yummy things too often.

The Guardian was saying David Bowie had died. At first I thought (I hoped) it was a hoax. I walked outside and told my partner. I started to cry.

It was a surreal moment, one that I won’t forget. I’m certain there are many of you out there who will have similar memories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Bowie was dead.

For me and many of my generation, David Bowie was much, much more than an incredibly talented musician, a brilliant showman, a fabulous and insightful songwriter, a trend setter.

He was one of us – another misfit, a freak who didn’t fit into the mainstream, who kept kicking against what we were told was “right”. He gave us hope, and for many of us, gave us a reason to keep going on days when the world could look a very dark place.

I was in love with Bowie from the first time I heard Space Oddity in the very late 60’s when I was still in primary school in a small country town. By the time he released Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1972, I was on that hideous roller coaster called puberty, and my mother was (perhaps with some cause) starting to worry about me. All my school friends were into Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. A few of us were listening to The Who, Clapton, The Plastic Ono Band and The Doors (particularly L.A. Woman) but we were a minority and considered pretty weird by our fellows.

I remember we were allowed in early high school to bring posters of our favourite pop stars to decorate the classroom. I took a poster of the cover of Hunky Dory, with Bowie doing his best Lauren Bacall impersonation and the teacher asked me who “she” was. When I told her it was David Bowie, I had to take the poster home with a concerned note for my parents. For a while I tried to fit in, but who was I kidding? And there was this amazing, skinny, obviously drug addled English guy who was telling me it was okay to be different and not be a sheep.

Throughout the years, I kept coming back to Bowie and his current works. Not just for entertainment, (though that was mostly mighty fine) but for inspiration and instruction for my personal arts practice. In particular, Bowie’s interpretations of Jacques Brel and Bertold Brecht were and remain profoundly important to me. Also, it was an ongoing reassurance that it was still okay to be different. Actively embracing change and personal reinvention is an important part of my life thanks to him.

All these years later, I still come back to Bowie’s music and continually find new lessons in my craft.

Although I never met the man and sadly, never had to opportunity to see him live on stage, I feel like I’ve lost a favourite, incredibly chic, slightly disreputable uncle. You know, the one who takes you out partying when you’re still under age with a “hush, don’t tell your parents we did this” conspiratorial wink.

And when my time comes, I hope I’ll have the strength of character to make something as beautiful and powerful as Blackstar and, in particular write a song as gloriously human as Lazarus. 

Along with the rest of the planet, my thoughts are with his family and friends in these incredibly sad days.

Vale David Bowie, and thank you from the bottom of my still fiercely independent heart ❤

The Joy of Books – Day 30 NaBloPoMo

I love writing, I love reading and I love books.

One of the joys of living in one place for an extended period means I’ve managed to collect some quite rare titles and (particularly since I’ve been back at university) amassed a pretty nice Film Studies library.

My favourite local bookshop is a wonderful place called Cracked and Spineless New & Used Books. It’s a fabulous place run by Richard and Mike. Over the years they have become my friends as well as my book sellers, even to the point of getting in obscure text books I need for study. They also have a great collection of used books and often post excellent deals on their Facebook page. It’s always crowded and I often bump into friends there but the thing I love most about Cracked and Spineless is that I feel welcome. In this age of bookstores that feel more like supermarkets, this place is much warmer and real. No matter where you live, support your local bookstore – they are important!

Cracked and Spineless

Today, apart from being the last day of the NaBloPoMo challenge is also the beginning of my birthday week, and this year I decided to really treat myself. Richard, who is also a music fan managed to get two copies of the Mick Rock mega photo book The Rise of David Bowie. I am now the proud owner of one 😀

I cannot begin to explain how gorgeous this thing is. From the box it came in (printed pink and black), the textured, vibrant teal foldout case, to the smell of the book, this is a thing of immense beauty. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the photographs by Mick Rock. They are disarming, charming and always lush.

As Richard said to me tonight, this is one of the coolest books on the planet. I feel very lucky to have been in a position to buy it.

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Thanks to all of you who’ve liked or followed my blog over the NaBloPoMo challenge, it’s been great fun and I’ve enjoyed reading lots of your blogs throughout the month.

Take care all, I’ll be back soon! ❤

Lou Reed – Thank’s for the Inspiration

Lou Reed Transformer

This week saw the passing of Lou Reed.

As a music teacher, I still use “Perfect Day” as a teaching tool. And Reed’s incredible original version on “Transformer” as THE example of someone who isn’t a good singer but IS a great vocalist.

Friends of mine met him, one was lucky enough to work with him. All speak of the acerbic wit and some, the legendary rudeness. I was just a fan but I can’t begin to say what a tremendous inspiration he was to my songwriting and how much I loved his lyrics. Along with David Bowie, Reed was major part of my teenage soundtrack and caused my mother to worry about me and the music I was listening to. I still listen to my Velvet Underground and Lou Reed cd’s and that still makes me happy.

I read this tonight on The Guardian UK and I think (as is often the case) Neil Gaiman summed it up beautifully. So I share it with you. I am sad tonight too….

Neil Gaiman on Lou Reed