Sunday, 17 January 2016

RIP David Bowie and Alan Rickman

Like much of the world, I was hit by the one-two punch this week of the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both at the age of 69 and both of cancer.

I discovered Bowie relatively late, as these things go - while I knew who he was thanks to covers and samples of his music from when I was growing up (as well as Trainspotting's liberal use of the song "Golden Years"), and I picked up the Changesbowie collection when I was in college, I didn't really get a sense of his 1970s output until well after. It took the discovery of Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 1970s (which put Bowie's 1977 album Low in first place), and then living with a glam/70s-rock fan to get my hands on the entire run of Bowie albums from Space Oddity (1969) to Scary Monsters (1980).

Charting his evolution from singer-songwriter to glam-rock alien to blue-eyed soulster to avant-garde artist and so on, I now see what Renton and Sick Boy and Begbie saw in him. More than that, because of Bowie, I have a better sense of the rock scene of the 1970s, and how the people he worked with - for instance Brian Eno and Iggy Pop - came to be so influential. As Pitchfork noted in their list of 70s albums, Eno was just a few steps off from about a quarter of the list, which obviously applies to Bowie as well.

I'm less familiar with his work after Scary Monsters, and have the sense that the 80s weren't the greatest decade for him, despite the obvious homage to him that many of that decade's artists represented. But I was impressed by his experiments in the 1990s with electronic/dance music, and I'm heartened to hear that Black Star, his last album, has received good reviews. I look forward to exploring more of his latter output.

Alan Rickman, by contrast, is a little less familiar to me, but more for the reason that he strikes me as one of those actors who appear everywhere, and can play anything. I can't really think of him in a leading role, but the more I consider, the more movies I recall where he played a large part (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to Galaxy Quest; and so on). Perhaps the role I know best is as the bad guy in Die Hard - I think my favorite scene of his is the one where he's cornered by Bruce Willis (who doesn't know he's the mastermind) and fakes an American accent.

I know a lot of the press on him recently has focused on the Harry Potter movies, but I haven't seen that many of them - though I can say that there was probably nobody better to play Severus Snape.

More than anything, however, what I feel is gone with Rickman's death is another of the great British actors of the last few decades - there are so many, going back to the greats like Olivier and continuing with Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. One of the messages I found most touching was from Daniel Radcliffe, who talks about how much he learned from Rickman, and a glance at his career since Harry Potter seems to bear this out.

Both Bowie and Rickman have been incredibly influential, and while their presence will continue to resonate through all those they've inspired down the decades, it's undeniable that showbiz parties in London will be a little less exciting after this week.