David, Alan and Ray – why we must keep creating
This week we were plunged into sudden shock at the unexpected deaths of two luminaries of the world of arts and entertainment, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both at 69 and from cancer. These individuals did what the best artists do, show us what it means to be alive, poignantly, vibrantly, originally.
Bowie through his perceptive and original lyrics, his reinvention of the self, his mesmerizing musical performances (even though he reportedly found performing difficult) and forays into acting made artistic endeavour the heart of his life. Indeed the album Blackstar, completed and released on his birthday two days before his death, with its contemplations of mortality, and its extraordinary difficult and moving video Lazarus ensured that Bowie, made both his life and death a work of art. In the video, David portrays a frail, bed bound and bandage wrapped man, talking of being in heaven and drama that can’t be stolen, but what was most moving for me was the alter ego, the man in black, scribbling, scribbling in his notebook, pausing, being inspired and carrying on writing more and more. In this BBC interview he talks poignantly about not being afraid of being old but of time running out (as well as the ‘physical need’ to create, even when it’s difficult.) The Lazarus video shows his compulsion to write, create to the end. Indeed it’s been confirmed that Bowie was working on a post Blackstar project, despite his illness. Bowie was the epitome of creativity and inventiveness, he used William Burroughs cut out technique to create unusual song lyrics and constantly strived to find a new angle on the familiar. At the end of the Lazarus video, he finally steps into a Narnian cupboard, in an image that transforms his demise. There is still magic, there is still hope and for those of us left behind there is still the chance to keep creating, to keep being a witness to the strange chaos of being alive.
Alan Rickman, a beloved and versatile actor who came from a working class background began acting in 1978 in the Royal Shakespeare Company but didn’t come to film until he was 41. Known personally as a ‘nice guy’ he was often cast a villain (Die Hard) but was able to portray the subtlety of motivations in characters such as Professor Snape in Harry Potter and Colonel Brandon in Sense And Sensibility. In this interview he explains how to play a character successfully, he would ask ‘why’ so that he could be specific and accurate about a character, to pin him down, to understand the contextual background. This aim to make things real and to do this by entering into the complexity of a situation and psychology is, again, at the heart of creative endeavour. Our loss in such an engaging and clever actor such as Alan Rickman is the joy, once again, in seeing what it means to be alive mapped out in his characters.
As writers the heart of what we do, the motivation that carries us forth when faced with our own uncertainly and loss of confidence, in the face of rejection and market vagaries is this desire to make something new while elucidating the human condition, to show others what it means to be alive. To rally the most potent of cries “Me Too!”. We flail, Bowie’s strange spacemen flail, Rickman’s flawed protagonist’s flail and fail at the business of being alive. We feel alien, we feel alone, we feel odd, we feel defeated, we feel strangely optimistic in the face of grand awfulness peppered with human and heroic acts of camaraderie and humanity. Bowie and Rickman understood, put their energies into expressing all of that. For me, personally, another creative individual who epitomises the ferocious joy there can be in this expression of life is Ray Bradbury. You only have to listen to this video to be filled with the joy of creativity and discover how fuelled Ray Bradbury, author of such classics as Faranheit 451 and Something Wicked this Way Comes (I’m reading this right now and every line is a complete joy.) While he died back in June 2012 and reached the grand age of 91, I discovered last January that the home in which he spent 50 years of his life and where he wrote has been demolished. Fans were appalled, feeling that the environment of such an inspirational man should have been preserved. Again, we feel a loss that drops us through the floor, as those losses did for many during the week. What Bradbury does for me, what Bowie and Rickman do, even now that they are gone is stand for fire, for verve, for endless invention, for spirit, for life itself. They give us every reason to keep making art, keep speaking of the strange and wondrous state of being human.
Alison Wells runs the Random Acts of Optimism blog and lives in Bray, Co. Wicklow with her husband and four children. Her short fiction been published in many magazines and online and print anthologies and she has been featured on Sunday Miscellany. Shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, Bridport and Fish Prize's she has just completed a themed short story collection Random Acts of Optimism and a literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities. To read Alison's full blog, visit Head Above Water. Find out in her Random Acts of Optimism how she manages to juggle writing, children and life.