I'm not a big David Bowie or Motörhead fan. I AM a huge fan of Alan Rickman, and if you're wondering why I'm starting off this first blog of 2016 in a rather dispirited state of mind over the loss of all three of these artists, well, so was I. Not having a strong personal relationship with Bowie's music or Lemmy's music (not that I didn't appreciate it, it just didn't make it into regular rotation on my own playlists), it's taken me the better part of several days to figure out why I'm absolutely crushed by the passing of these three unique individuals. It comes down to what they all represented, even beyond the art they left behind them. The key is in the word "individual." No one would ever mistake these men for anyone else. They were authentically, absolutely, unapologetically themselves, even when they reinvented those selves so many times it almost gave you whiplash to witness. It's a sadder world without them.
The void they leave seems even deeper and darker without a new generation immediately noticeable, stepping up to fearlessly create, to comment on, to leave the tracks of their art across this decade's snowfield. And while there will always be artists out there creating, living, and breathing their art, they're much further underground these days.
Our culture seems more scared of the "other" than ever before, more determined to tell young minds and old minds alike what they should and should not think and dream of being. We're all pressured to be polite, well-adjusted, "contributors to society." Our children are encouraged to look for "real work" instead of devoting themselves to being artists; arts programming and education are constantly cut, and kids who are viewed as "challenging" are medicated into a more acceptable version of "normal." Our arts industry is shrinking, while shows like "American Idol" vomit money and fame at prepackaged, shiny, vacuous, marketable ideals. They don't last because they have nothing to say.
There will never be another Bowie, or Lemmy, or Rickman, (or Lennon, Zappa, Cobain...) But from where will come the next artist to kick in the doors of society's cubicles? The internet has democratized the world to the extent that finding such becomes the proverbial needle in a digital haystack. Labels hesitate to chance what little capital they still have on the unknown, the not-easily-understood, the strange. Young artists are derided for following their muse to art school, for daring to make a go of it after, for not giving in to the lure of security, of comfort, of stability, that is the promise of "real work".
We need to reward the dreamers, the weirdos, the freaks, the misfits. They are our collective daring, our imagination, the soundtrack to our dreams. What contribution to society did Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman make? What are "Ace of Spades," "Ziggy Stardust", and Severus Snape worth to our collective consciousness? You tell me. In the meantime, until we can get some more outrageous dreamers and creators back into the mainstream, I hope Keith Richards keeps doing whatever he's been doing.
So my resolution for the New Year comes as a toast: To the freaks! Thank you for being outrageous, for being challenging, for being brave, for being true to yourselves and your art. For reminding us of things we forget in the day to day beigeness of being "normal." That rock and roll is not meant to be comfortable or easy or convenient. That even the most loathsome villain has a world of complex layers underneath. That maybe there is life on Mars.