‘It’s a human need to be told stories.’Alan Rickman
There are some weeks that we wish we could erase from our collective consciousness. Press delete. Return to sender, unopened and unread.
This has been one of those weeks.
This week we lost two towering ambassadors of the arts, two beacons of British culture: David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Both men were 69 and both were killed by that omnipresent grim reaper, cancer.
A tidal wave of grief flooded the internet. It was immediately clear that their deaths were felt keenly around the world, but nowhere more so than in Britain. To us, it felt deeply personal.
Brits are not known for being natural grievers. That persistently stiff upper lip compels us to smother our vulnerability. We are, conversely, great artists and art-lovers, perhaps because art allows us to express the feelings we otherwise suppress.
It’s not so surprising, then, that we come to view the creators of the art we love as an important part of our identity and that the loss of them comes not just as a shock, but as an emotional wrench.
It is particularly painful to lose the artists of our childhood. These are the people who soundtrack our upbringing with their distinctive voices, who influence our taste and values, who shape the way we see the world. They weave themselves into the tapestry of our lives through music, films and books, attach themselves to beloved people, places and events. They provide us with a refuge to examine our emotions and, when they pass, they take a bit of us with them.
It is all too easy to forget that being immortalised in art is not the same as being immortal.
These childhood heroes are wrapped up in a multitude of firsts: the first time an expression made your heart beat faster, the first time a piece of music made you want to dance or cry or laugh, the first time a sentence shot through you like a bolt of lightening. An onslaught of gut reactions you couldn’t process until they taught you how.
In our strange familial microcosms, these childhood icons bond us together. They become part of our language, our identity, the way we express our love for each other. We quote them endlessly, reference their brilliance, use them to test outsiders who try to penetrate our ranks. If they don’t adore our heroes, they’ll never understand us.
When we learn that they are no longer here, we lose all the possibility of our younger selves. It’s a brutal end to something precious. It leaves you breathless and unsteady, like a sudden shove towards adulthood. It is a harsh command to put away childish things.
We should not be surprised that it feels deeply personal. It is.