Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and the Rainbow Bridge

When I heard David Bowie had died, my breath caught. Then tears followed. All that day, I haunted Facebook and Twitter. Any poignant post would make me cry harder. This reaction was silly, yet perhaps unavoidable.

Why?

I hadn’t listened to a David Bowie song in five years, but somehow a link, a deep identification had formed. Was it sentimentality that made me cry more for a celebrity than for the passing of a friend? Or was something more revealing involved?

A Real connection to David Bowie?

The marriage of circumstance and readiness formed links between me and this rock idol:

  • The daring and attraction of his androgyny in the seventies when I was just daring to come out.
  • The rumor he and Mick Jagger—a bad boy hero of mine—were at one time lovers.
  • The way in which “Ground Control to Major Tom …” became an anthem for my partner Tom and me.
  • The poignancy in his voice when he sang China Girl, which always reminds me of my first official love, which happened to be with a girl and Asian, named Mariko.
  • His eerie alien waif portrayal in “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which I saw several times in the seventies, and perhaps eighties, haunted by that film.

Could I make a similar list for any friend of mine, a list demonstrating how my imagination and being had been sparked and enhanced by my relationship with them? I’m not sure.

David Bowie was a repository of sounds and images, which enlivened my imagination and redefined the possible.

Marilyn Monroe: Reminder of the child we need to protect?

I also cried when Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor died.

I can’t reduce the connection to Miss Monroe to a list, perhaps because the connection formed when I was much younger. I saw most Monroe movies for the first time when I was younger than ten. Only later, after her death and a cult began to form, did I recognize the vulnerability she revealed in every photo and every frame of film. Each glimpse did and does pull at the heart.

In spite of the sex and drugs and affairs, of the pin-ups in garage bathrooms and desperate attempts to marry someone who would banish her vulnerability, Marilyn Monroe was always a little girl. She is an eternal reminder: it’s the children we must protect.

Because Marilyn Monroe existed, we became more compassionate.

Elizabeth Taylor: Vulnerable defiance

Elizabeth Taylor also portrayed vulnerability, but in the face of that vulnerability, she was defiant. Her eyes unlike Marilyn’s, which pled for understanding, flashed independence: a willingness, if not a preference, to go it alone.

You can’t imagine Marilyn Monroe racing National Velvet in a steeplechase or playing Martha in Virginia Woolf. Yet in Elizabeth’s harridan screech as Martha, she touches the same sources of human pain.

Celebrities: The Modern Pantheon

Yet the irony persists. I have felt more grief at the passing of a celebrity than at the death of a friend—not a lifelong friend (someone you shared time, grief, and joy with)—but a friend for an occasional chat, or someone to send Christmas cards to.

Is it because this is the nature of celebrity? We reduce them to essential qualities. More and less than human, they are our gods and goddesses. Pop culture is the repository of human extremes: the closest approach for many to the divine.

Our icons make us aspire, feel, connect. Connect even when there is no physical link.

This binding, this connection to the celebrity, is also a way we connect to one another.

We share our social media posts, our phone calls — “Did you hear David Bowie just died?” — to those who remember listening to China Girl with you, or also speculated on whether he was gay.

Finding or creating common ground is also the function of art. Whether pop or highbrow, together our imaginations are enlarged, sparked, with new images, new sounds, and crazy juxtapositions.

The Rainbow Bridge

Some believe the imagination is a suggestive glimpse of another and higher plane of existence that has been named many things: Shamballa, Heaven, Paradise. Upon imagination we build the real bridge that connects us: a Rainbow Bridge, the Antahkarana of Eastern Philosophy, the bridge to our common destiny.

For me, these three celebrities linked me to something that transcends personality. Maybe in their willingness to be vulnerable to all of us, they pointed the way to union.

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8 Replies

  1. Esther Davis

    How very interesting. The anguish we share when one of our celebrities die, links us as human beings who perhaps aspired to their lofty goals. We also feel as if we knew them personally. We forget what they have to endure–just as we do–the same pain, problems etc. and in addition always having to act the role. Not as wonderful as it looks to the outside world.

  2. Michael Brown

    You’re right, Esther. It’s easy to forget they’re just people.

  3. John Farias

    I remember November 25, 1991 very clearly. It was not a good day. I was driving home from my job at a DOD company in Middletown when the dj on a Providence rock radio station played the KISS song “Beth”. Being a rock music station this was odd that they were playing a ballad and not the typical KISS rock tracks like “Rock And Roll All Nite”. Also, odd was that this version of the song was not the original version, but the re-recorded version that was sung by their second drummer. I knew something was up. As I pulled into my driveway I listened until the song finished and the dj came back on the air. Eric Carr had died from heart cancer. I had known that he had cancer, but the last I had heard he was in remission.

    I turned on MTV to find out more information about Eric Carr’s passing only to find out that Freddie Mercury from Queen had passed away the same day as Eric (both on November 24, 1991). KISS is my favorite band. Queen is my second favorite band. Whereas Eric Carr let it be known that he was ill, the members of Queen kept Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis secret. I did not know that he was ill, but I had a feeling that something was up, because of the lyrics on some of the songs on their last two cds, “The Miracle” and “Innuendo”.

    “Was It All Worth It” (from “The Miracle”)

    What is there left for me to do in this life
    Did I achieve what I had set in my sights
    Am I a happy man,
    or is this sinking sand
    Was it all worth it,
    was it all worth it

    “I’m Going Slightly Mad” (from “Innuendo”)

    This track is rumored to be about AIDS related dementia that Freddie was experiencing.

    “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” (from “Innuendo”)

    Although this track was not written by Freddie, but my Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer, this song summarizes what was going on in the band after Freddie told them about his illness.

    The lyrics can be found here:

    http://www.queenonline.com/en/the-band/discography/innuendo/#lyrics

    The video for this song can be found below. There are moments in this video where you can tell that the other three members of the band are about to burst into tears. This was the last time Freddie was filmed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB4K0scMysc

    “The Hitman” (from “Innuendo”) is rumored to be about HIV/AIDS.

    “Bijou” (from “Innuendo”) is Freddie’s goodbye to one of his cats.

    “The Show Must Go On” (from “Innunedo”) was written by Brian May (guitarist). Read the lyrics.

    In some cases we know our rock heroes better than we know our friends. Our friends aren’t with us everyday, but music is with us 24/7. It’s etched into our brains. Music is a way to escape. When our rock heroes pass away, so does a part of us.

    This is why I remember November 25, 1991 so vividly.

  4. Michael Brown

    Thanks so much for sharing, John

  5. Julie Anne Meadows

    Thank you for inviting me into this conversation and it is very interesting to read the emotional experiences of the outpouring of grief when a celebrity dies. Celebrities are truly Archetypes. I experienced some similar grief when Princess Diana died and Michael Jackson, perhaps both passed before their time but we never know what time is out of the physical plane reality: as we know there is a reason, a season and a time for everything under the sun. It is in the emotional response which intrigues us. Humanity is emotionally polarised still. If we ponder upon the connection being genetic, considering the abstract possibility that we share a common ancestor with those celebs with whom we feel the greatest personal connection, we may lose ourselves in the logistics of it. If we are aware that we are brothers, including sisters, metaphysically and as a result connected on the physical plane, the ties which bind us together are perhaps more energised where like attracts like. Celebs must chose to stand on the world stage long before they fall to earth, it must depend upon what and where they were before. The soul is group in nature and it may be that we are of the same soul group of certain individuals who act on the world stage to connect their (this) life’s experience with our lives. Just a thought.

  6. Michael Brown

    Julie,

    Thanks for joining in. Very interesting. Michael

  7. Laura Caldwell

    I remember I was in 6th grade when I heard that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “the Big Bopper” had died in a plane crash. That was the first loss of pop music stars in my young life, and it hit me hard. Since then there have been so many. I loved the tribute to Glenn Frey by the Eagles “Take It Easy” Monday night on the Grammys. For my age group, there has been a lot of loss of musical stars in the past few years who were of our generation. We feel we know these individuals, and their loss brings sharp pain.

  8. Michael Brown

    Thanks Laura for that. I remember the plane crash as well and I was sad because Chantilly Lace was this song that I sang all the time 🙂

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