From the late 19th century, millions have felt connection to celebrities of all kinds. The monarchs, military figures, politicians, and dictators of the early 20th were overtaken by the non-genocidal but by no means less colourful figures from film, music, television. Their power to reach masses in their homes, in the car, at work, out and about afforded them a certain kind of ubiquity, and one that helped smooth over the fractures of our real social relationships. When the likes of Saint Etienne and ABBA were played over the in-store speakers, working for a certain Bradford-based supermarket chain made the experience less of a chore for me, 20 years back. It's these kinds of moments, the everyday infusion and infiltration of pop, television, and the stars they made into places we visit and inhabit that inculcates a peculiar familiarity with famous folk, even if we're never likely to clap eyes on them in real life, let alone meet them. In the age of the internet, this ubiquity is enhanced by first, the works of our favourite performers always being at the ends of our finger tips, provided one is accompanied by a wifi-enabled mobile device of choice. And second, the illusion of a collapse of distance between us normals and our idols. If I had nothing better to do, I could spend my day trash-talking Justin Bieber, trolling Miley Cyrus, sending love poetry to One Direction, and offering Lady Gaga style advice. Very occasionally, they or one of their people may respond, and many millions buy into that anticipation - though winning El Gordo without buying a ticket offers better odds. Mega-celebrities are effectively simulated people, but that doesn't mean the emotional responses from those who follow their exploits are confected and inauthentic. Camilla Long, please note.
Long-term readers might recall me writing about the sad, early death of Peaches Geldof a couple of years ago. What jarred was the snuffing out of a young woman's life who was very much in the public eye. She had become part of the background that, day-to-day, you expected to occasionally find on the telly, keeping the paps in work, and populating the sidebar of shame. The overwhelming majority of those who felt her passing in some way had this sideways glancing relationship with her celebrity, and felt it when she died. The same applies in David Bowie's case. In addition to his huge talent and influence, why many people genuinely feel something is because he was a part of their lives, whether they actively embraced him or not. As a kid growing up in the 80s, he was there in my background, occasionally releasing music and regularly performing. He was felt. And, as I've got older, I've gained an appreciation of just how deep his impact on British and American pop has been. That presence remains but, unfortunately, Bowie the man no longer does so. If you want to mourn, you have every right to do so and are in very good company. Celebrity lives are a collective phenomena experienced collectively, and when someone dies, it's understandable and reasonable for people to feel it.
I'm not going to finish on a downer. I'm going to play out with my favourite Bowie tune. It's not Let's Dance, but go on, let's dance.