The people wept for Bowie.
The people wept for Prince.
The people wept for Carrie Fisher…and Debbie Reynolds.
The people wept for George Michael.
The people wept for Leonard Cohen.
I offered (what I felt was) respectful acknowledgement. But I wept for no one.
I am neither a sociopath nor a robot. I feel sad when people die, when they suffer, when they are mistreated, when they are discriminated against, or when they endure the most unfortunate circumstances not of their own making. I am devastated when these things happen to people I know. Even more so when it happens to people I love.
But this phenomenon of mourning famous people, which seemed to be amplified in the last 12 months of significant loss, is one to which I feel no such connection. I am, by no means, belittling the real grief that people express. I understand that (most) people do not believe that they lost an actual friend. I know that musicians, artists, actors, through their respective crafts, created works that resonated for people, that made them feel, that they felt expressed their own joys and sadness. For most, I know it is that connection they mourn. In that mourning, they often find community, in the like-feeling souls who echo their wails.
I have joined no such community…ever*. I have felt no deep loss with any particular death. I find myself upset by the deaths of anonymous homeless residents of NYC, more than with famous people.
But I’ve found myself wondering if it’s because I have experienced no real joy offered by the entertainment I have ready access to. I don’t have a favorite band. I don’t have a favorite actress. I don’t have a favorite movie. I don’t even really have a favorite author. I enjoy music, movies, television, and most definitely books, but why am I seemingly dispassionate about deaths of the creators and purveyors of those entertainments?
I found myself thinking this again today. My husband and I have very disparate tastes in music. He is often described as having been born 40 years too late, as his favorite music (I’m not going to describe this in an accurate way to his purist liking) is the rock, soul, folk, and R & B of the 1950s to 1970s. He’s one of those thirty-somethings you’ll see in a record store with a binder of lists of the original pressing, mono version music he’s tracking down. When he goes to concerts, he’s usually one of the youngest people there. And I love him for this weirdness.
And it is his weird, sensitive soul that brought this all to bear for me today. He found out one of his favorite singers, Maggie Roche, died on Saturday. He was visibly shaken and teary. He told me stories of meeting her and her family (she performed with her sisters), and regaled me with how her songwriting and performances brought him so much joy. I felt terrible…for him. He was actually saddened by this, it was a loss clearly felt.
Me? I don’t get it, and a small part of me doesn’t care. It sounds terrible, but famous people aren’t real to me. I just will never be able to muster any sense of direct impact they have on my life. I will, however, for the people whom I do love and care about, try to understand.
To that end, I’ll close with the Roche Sisters, performing – very early on – a song that would become one of the most iconic in their repertoire, a most unique offering of joy.
*Though back in my senior year of college, I read Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish to myself when news of his death hit. I discovered him for myself in high school, and his irreverence, his daring, his sometimes self-destructive, self-serving explorations spoke to my average loner self. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.
[Featured image by Chris Barker, accessed via the Washington Post]