In the past week, this world suffered the loss of two great, influential, unsilenceable voices, at the same age and from the same disease, within days of each other. But I’m not here to write an obituary. Goodbye is not something I want to say.
Obviously, the men themselves are gone, and that alone is an indescribable loss, one that shook more than one country with each headline that appeared. But with each of those headlines came a resurgence of their greatest and their lesser-known works, and with that came a brief reemergence of their presences, as the globe grieved.
I couldn’t tell you what David Bowie liked to eat for breakfast, but I can tell you this story.
At the school I attended for eleven years, we had chickens. Lots of them. There was one bird in particular that we called the Bowie Chicken, because it had a massive head of fluffy white feathers and a skinny long body. Other chickens pecked at it and shut it out of the coop because it was a different breed, and eventually its life was in danger for being in the close vicinity of the rest of them. so it left, and found a new nesting spot. We all thought that the Bowie Chicken was dead, but then a week later, someone found it perfectly fine, living in a new space, a chicken that had literlaly crossed a road, totally unconcerned with anything other than food, shelter, and whatever other thoughts run through a typical avian brain. So we built it a new coop, across the road, big enough for only one. And so it lived on (until its untimely end at what we assume was a coyote attack).
This story probably seems like some kind of allegory with morals at the end of it, but I’m really just telling a story about a chicken.
I can’t tell you Alan Rickman’s favorite color, but I can inform you that I hear his voice whenever I come across the words “always,” and “obviously,” in writing. JK Rowling wrote the words, but he breathed life into them. One time, I wrote a one-act play and named a character Alan, purely because I kept hearing Rickman’s voice in my head every time the character spoke.
These stories probably seem totally unconnected, and maybe they are. But here’s why I’m telling them:
These are the stories that won’t make any sense in 20 years. David Bowie won’t be a go-to for the kids born in the next 10 years. The “Harry Potter generation” is largely grown up. I’m at the tail end of that group, and with every iteration of a movie or an illustrated body of work, or theme park, or even newly published fanfictions, the character of Severus Snape changes drastically, until Rickman’s portrayal is only remembered as “the original,” and then maybe not even that.
In 5 years, Love Actually may be considered a cult classic, and shortly after that, it may be wholly obsolete.
Harry Potter opened up a whole new world of kids’ lit—notice how quickly Twilight and the Hunger Games followed in its wake, as the YA-that-wasn’t-just-for-kids. Tis is great. It means that kids now have access to a much, much larger selection of books and worlds and make-believe than I had access to. But with that, the next generation of kids will never know the wonder of everyone reading Harry Potter, of an entire generation across the globe, all united in the fact that we were waiting for the next installment. There was a time when every year came with something new, either book or movie, and we all got together at midnight to see its release, often dressed in full costume.
The next generation of kids isn’t going to know that. Their understanding of characters like Severus Snape is going to be drawn from a much larger base of pictures and probably portrayals than mine was. And so Alan Rickman’s portrayal fades away.
David Bowie was already not really considered as prominent a figure for my generation as the one before. But I was raised on my parents’ favorites as much as my own and my friends’ tastes. And so of course he figured into the equation. But I haven’t run into a single kid under the age of twelve who has watched Labyrinth. Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale are known for the Dark Knight now, which means that no one knows they ever did the Prestige, and we live in a world where a Tesla is a car first, scientist second, movie character never.
And so David Bowie is left behind as well.
If/When I have kids, I’ll tell them about Bowie and Rickman. I’ll be met with blank stares. I’ll show them pictures and articles and videos, and they’ll get a vague idea of what made these two men so important to me, but it won’t quite be the same to them.
It can’t be, because that’s how pop culture and generational icons work.
It’s how I feel about certain movies and TV shows, and rarely books but sometimes those, too, yes. Just barely old enough that I can’t connect to it, because it’s of-its-time in a way that I never can be, so I can be literate in the subject but it’ll never be truly mine.
It’s not a study in which I can be educated, the way that books or Alfred Hitchcock might be, or the whole genre of film noir. It’s ICONS, who will be remembered as such.
I have always been on the very young end of those who could fully appreciate Rickman and Bowie, but I it doesn’t change the fact that I could appreciate them.
I think I always viewed them as kind of immortal. I’m not sure why, it probably had something to do with only ever having seen them on a screen.
Now they’re gone, and we’ve said goodbye, and the continuation of their legacies and we have witnessed the resurgence of memories surrounding them. But it won’t be the same. It’ll never be the same.
So this is my promise. The next generation of humans on this earth may never understand why, but I’ll do my best. I’ll read them Harry Potter until they’re impatient to read ahead on their own, and that’s when they’ll be ready do exactly that. They’ll watch the Labyrinth. I might even tell them the chicken story, once they’ve seen enough that it’ll make sense.
I’ll leave things out. I’ll fall short. I may not even realize I’ve done so until it’s irreparable.
But I will have given them a taste, an inkling, a small glimmer of understanding. I’ll never be able to impart my experience in full, which is good because this way they build their own experiences, which is likely as it should be. But perhaps this way, the legacies can live on.
Gone but not forgotten, indeed.