There’s a superstition in Russian folklore that believes leap years are harbingers of death and bad luck. Well, I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but so far the year is not off to an auspicious start. At least not for those of us who are music or film/theater lovers. We lost two titans, and I’m still processing my grief.
I missed last week’s blog post because I was working on a paid project; I had anticipated writing it on Monday morning, only to be hit by the awful news of David Bowie’s death. I am a huge fan, having previously shared this photo I took 25+ years ago:
The history of this shot: A long time ago I was in to photography. This was back before digital, back before Photoshop, back when cameras were confiscated at concerts. I never liked finding my starter when developing film in the darkroom, so I would leave my canisters slightly unwound. My best friend got us fifth row seats to see Bowie (c. 1990). I managed to shoot one roll (surreptitiously) when some jerk ratted me out for my camera. Security took my second roll of film, but I had a third, which I was able to shoot without further harassment. It was only upon leaving that I realized I had reloaded my first roll and assumed I ruined all my pics. Imagine my surprise when the developed film showed a perfect double exposure. I have long since abandoned photography, but these photos have hung on the walls of every home in which I’ve lived.
My heart was breaking, but Bowie knew what was happening and he gave us a brilliant an awe-inspiring farewell in his Lazarus video:
The entire album is transitory… he knew he was dying from cancer and wanted to leave his final impression on this earth before Major Tom headed home. I was strangely comforted by the video and was able to grieve without losing my center.
But cancer wasn’t done for the week. On Thursday, I heard that another icon had passed, when Alan Rickman died. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a fan of pugilism, but only as a spectator! It felt like I had been knocked down (with Bowie’s death) and knocked out (with Rickman’s).
So, of course, I have an Alan Rickman story. When Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths were co-starring in Equus. My daughter and I went to see it on Broadway. We don’t really tend to look at other folks in the audience, but there was a general buzz during intermission. Just before the second curtain, I look to my right and about six seats down and one row in front of me is Alan Rickman. I see people handing him their Playbills and he’s generously signing them while obviously a bit put out (in that British way), probably because he’s signing on a program that’s for a show with which he has no affiliation other than friends being in it. As we began to depart, I took a wee bit longer than usual to gather my things. I ended up walking alongside Mr. Rickman until the exit, rubbing shoulders at one point (but never asking for an autograph). A few years later, my daughter would have the great fortune to meet him in person. He was also a frequent contributor at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), where he both performed and directed. My greatest sorrow is that he will no longer be loving us, Truly, Madly, Deeply. My second is that my daughter never actually was able to work with him.
Both men died of cancer in that “quiet, dignified, British” way. Both were 69. You know, the digits that resemble the zodiac symbol for Cancer. Which got me thinking about the superstition of bad luck in a leap year. Maybe 69 is the new 27, only instead of dying young from too many drugs and alcohol abuse, these artists are leaving us in their prime after giving so much but not nearly enough. It it now bad luck to have cancer at 69 (or be British with cancer at 69)?
Because 69 doesn’t feel particularly old to me. I think how we view the elderly is directly related to our parents. Whatever age we are, no one younger than our parents is “old” (just as no one older than our parents is “young”). My dad is turning 80 this year; my mom is in her mid-70s. So 69 just isn’t that old; not when we see artists in their 90s still producing.
I am sad for what we lost this week. But I am reminded what another bloke said (about David Bowie, but could be just as aptly applied to Alan Rickman):
“If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” – actor Simon Pegg
So that is what we have to remember. That we were here. That I saw both men perform live. And they were most vivid in their lives.