David Bowie 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016
I don’t cry much, as a rule, when people die. Not out of any hardness of heart, but because to me it doesn't seem a thing for tears. Though there are exceptions. Jim. President Kennedy. Princess Diana. My Grandma McDonald. My friend Mary. And now David. When I saw the news online, it was like a kick to the solar plexus, an actual physical jolt. And then tears. Can’t stop weeping. It just doesn’t seem possible. And so, as I always do in such moments, I decided to write about it.
I would not say I was a huge fan of his music, because I wasn’t. I didn’t understand a lot of it, and a lot of the rest I just found unappealing, which was probably my fault, not his. I could see that he was a spectacular innovator, sure, and totally appreciate and admire him for it, but loving the songs? Maybe fifty, tops. But those fifty deeply move me, and always will.
I would say I was rather a huge fan of HIM, of the reality of him and of the idea of him, knowing that he was always around being insanely creative, being artistically and personally brave, shattering rules and conventions every step of the way, showing so many a real and different way to be. And every now and then, like an unexpected cosmic flower, he’d fling out music that genuinely rejoiced me.
And of course because I knew him, when he and I were both at RCA Records. I met him several times, worked with him several times more. I will never forget the moment we met: in the new rock-dedicated recording studio at RCA, in the fall of 1971. We were there to tape some radio spots for his debut album for the label, "Hunky Dory.” He was already in the control booth when I came down from my office upstairs, and as soon as I entered he came right over to stand in front of me and shake hands and introduce himself. I looked up into those extraordinary eyes and smiled back at the irresistible smile, and, as I’ve said elsewhere, I immediately thought, “This man has come to Earth to kill the Sixties.” I could feel history swing past, the whistling wind.
It was the same kind of shock that I had the first time I met Jim, that jolt of startlement you get when you know something deeply significant from far outside your everyday ken has just crossed your path, like a rogue comet entering your personal solar system and pulling you along with it, and you know you will hold onto the moment forever. It felt as if there was sunshine filling the room, though of course there were no windows in the studio and that was not possible. But I remember us, somehow, drenched in sunlight.
We were both so young: 24, 25. I’d listened to his earlier work, and was intrigued enough to be really pleased to be assigned him as an artist, to get to write his ads, and I wanted to do my best for him. But that afternoon in the studio, I absolutely knew I was standing there holding hands with and looking up at and smiling back at a Personage. His charm was blinding, and not one scintilla of it was bogus. We exchanged pleasantries for a bit, so easy to talk to, and then we started discussing my scripts for the radio spots and his own ideas. He went into the live room and I took my seat at the desk, and we got down to work.
A few hours, that first session ran; we recorded three or four spots, and we were both much pleased with the job accomplished. The best spot was the last one we recorded: after we were done with my own scripts, he asked me if he could just try something. I said sure, of course, whatever you want, and the result was terrific: a music bed of all the best hooks, and his voiceover saying in a rapid-fire delivery, with laughter in his voice, “MY name is David Bowie, my NAME is David Bowie, my name IS David Bowie, my name is DAVID Bowie, my name is David BOWIE. My new album is “Hunky Dory”, and it’s on RCA Records and Tapes.” We congratulated each other on our good work, he kissed me on the cheek and we went out for lunch. I can’t really say more than that, and I’d rather keep the rest private in any case. But he did call me beautiful. Twice.
Over the next couple of years that comprised my RCA career, there would be other sessions and meetings and print ad discussions, for “Hunky Dory”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Aladdin Sane” and “Pin Ups.” He was never anything less than a pleasure and a joy, professional and fun to work with, never any prima-donna nonsense, mannerly, charming and courteous always. He knew about advertising from his own brief ad career in London and his art-school education, and he knew about branding before any other rocker. We collaborated on some ads; some others I wrote and submitted for his approval, which I always got.
And my GOD but he was intelligent, and well-read, and curious. On a level with Jim, the only other rocker I met that I can say that about. Which again was a plus, and than which there is no higher praise I have to offer. I didn’t hang out with him, though—I didn’t do scenes—and once I left RCA I never saw him again except in concert, and only kept track of him sporadically through the trades and rock rags.
But I really liked “Hunky Dory”, and told him so, even though it wasn’t the kind of Sixties music I was accustomed to, and I told him that too. And even though I could hear and feel the change as well as the “Changes” he sang of, it wasn’t until “Ziggy” that it was borne in upon me and all of us just what monster changes this guy was actually bringing.
We continued to work together through “Aladdin” and “Pin Ups” and his production work on Lou Reed, for whom I also wrote the ads, and a year after we met he invited me back to the studio to listen to him lay down tracks for “The Jean Genie”, which knocked me out. But by then he had begun to change himself, and the change in him didn’t make me happy. The drugs and booze were beginning to kick in, and the scene he was mixing in seemed insalubrious, and I could see where it all was heading, and I was sad. I left RCA before “Diamond Dogs” was released.
As we all know, it got seriously bad for him, and I honestly expected to hear today’s news on numerous occasions through the Seventies. But I always retained a proprietorial fondness for him, and when he finally cleaned up, and coincidentally gratified my musical taste with some incredible songs along the way, it was a wonderful thing. He’d escaped: he’d saved himself where so many others had not, and that said as much about him as it did about those others.
I saw him in concert three times, starting with Carnegie Hall, and though the super-duper production style of tricked-out prop-laden performances he later delivered wasn’t really my bag, I have to say he put on an amazing and groundbreakingly impressive show, and I regret that I never went to any of the shows of his last tours, the simple ones of the 90s and early 2000s. I was lucky enough to see his stunning Broadway turn in “The Elephant Man”, and anyone who claims he had no acting talent needs to have their head thumped. And I was absolutely staggered by his participation, as a grieving New Yorker like the rest of us, in the concert for 9/11.
Oddly, it was his film performances, more than the albums or concerts, that held my interest over the years. Starting of course with “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Labyrinth”, roles he was born to play. But even strange little acting gigs like Pontius Pilate and an aging vampire and a gentle semi-immortal with a secret and a lounge lizard and a gunslinger and a rebellious WWII prisoner of war and Nikola Tesla were well worth seeing. I never thought he got anywhere near enough credit for his acting chops, but maybe he just never chose parts that would have brought him general kudos of that nature; perhaps big and serious roles like that, even though he would have been perfectly capable of bringing them off, even though he could probably have had them for the asking, would have required too much of him, that he preferred to save his creativity for his music. Or maybe it just was never a priority for him, the way his music and his painting were.
I went to see his play “Lazarus” only a few days ago, on New Year’s Eve, and I was severely underwhelmed, to say the least. It seemed self-indulgent and cacophonous, but I still gave him props for giving it a shot. The best thing about it was the use of some of his iconic songs, even though I didn’t care for what seemed cynical appropriation calculated to suck in the audience, by guaranteed emotional resonance. I wished so much that it could have been better.
I’d been thinking about him a lot lately, probably because of the play and the new album “Blackstar”. Though I’d heard all the rumors about him being seriously ill, it still seemed strange that he wasn’t giving any interviews about either work, so I did wonder, though the last photographs of him show a man not visibly dying and in fact looking pretty darn good, if a little gray and gaunt, for someone who would in fact die mere days later.
But, eerily, the fleeting thought occurred to me only last Friday, when it was all over the media that he turned 69, and he and I would be the same age until my own birthday in March: the thought What if he died on his birthday? It wasn’t a big full-on precog, as I’d had with Jim, but it was a chilling moment all the same, a brief brush of the raven’s feather, and maybe I should have taken more note of it. Or maybe I didn’t want to. And two days later, there it was. And “Lazarus”, and the video for that and “Blackstar”…now it all seems like markers that he was leaving for us, shadowing the heavens and thick upon the ground. I hate that stuff.
Now, of course, we can see that he was saying goodbye, very deliberately: he’d known for a long time that he was dying, and—control freak to the last—he got to go out his way, on his terms, death as a creative work of art and a gift to his admirers. That’s no bad obituary. I wonder too if perhaps he chose the time and the way himself—o happy dagger!—and I would not be at all surprised to learn that that was the case.
He managed to keep his illness secret, for a year and a half, like the intensely private person he was—even his best friends didn’t know about it, and were just as shocked as the rest of us—and he did creative work right up to the end, which was stupendously brave. Still, apart from the messages he himself was leaving, there were cryptic online notes from his wife this weekend, whispers that could perhaps be taken as warnings to the world, so that the news did not come as a total shock. But however the truth may prove, and even though another ten or twenty years would have been nice, for him and his family and all of us, what we got was pretty damn fine.
So yeah, I’ve been weeping all day, and it’s okay that I am. I am so devastated, I think, not only for the personal loss, though we were never friends, merely happy acquaintances, or for the loss of him as an artist, but also because his death is another piece of my own self gone. His death is in a very real sense “the funeral of my youth”, though I can’t see myself being grief-stricken for, say, Grace Slick or Paul Kantner or any other sharer of my early years, not beyond a momentary sadness. And I guess I never really thought he could die, certainly not before me. I see all the coverage online, the loving tributes which he so deeply deserves, and I can hardly bear to look and read, and yet I feel I must, for him and for me and for all of us, to honor the fact.
Nobody is like him now. Nobody will be like him again. Nobody can do the kinds of things he did for fifty years. He was a towering artist and a great English gentleman, who would have been “Sir David” if he hadn’t rejected the offered title as totally irrelevant to his life, who changed many things for many people, and though he had moments of lesser grace every now and again, as do we all, he was a very bright and very brave soul.
So I will not listen to any of the songs of his I love today, I’m crying too hard as it is, and maybe not tomorrow, maybe not for a week. But I will indeed listen again, and sooner rather than later, and with joy; and I will remember how lucky I was to have met him and known him and worked with him and enjoyed his presence and his company, and to have had him call me beautiful. Twice. Move along home, David. And may God’s love be with you. Ours as well.
“But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don’t care
For in front of that door
There is you…”
A bit of backstory, which you may have read on one of my FB pages: when I worked for RCA Records, from 1971 to 1973, I did the ads for David Bowie’s first four US albums on the label (“Hunky Dory”, "Ziggy Stardust", "Aladdin Sane" and “Pin-Ups”), and had a lot of contact with him, as he liked to be involved in the process, being a control freak, which was fine with me. He was delightful to work with and the smartest rocker I’ve ever met apart from Jim…you could see the intelligence and perception in his eyes, dilated pupil aside. When I met him for the first time in the RCA rock-dedicated studio, where we were recording radio spots, we shook hands and I looked up into those eyes and thought, “This man has come to Earth to kill the Sixties.”
And that was a very odd thought to have, since “Hunky Dory”, the album we started with, was still pretty Sixties in sound; it wasn’t until “Ziggy” that he really broke free. But I could sense, absolutely and clearly, that this guy was the hinge, this guy was different, it was all going to change around him. And of course I was right again as usual…
Anyway, when I heard of this massive Bowie retrospective at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, I saw in I think the Guardian newspaper that OMIGOD ONE OF MY ZIGGY ADS WAS IN IT!!! Oh, the pride and thrilledness! You cannot imagine…my ad in a museum. Fabulous. Immortality. Coolness to the max.
But the V&A was sold out, so I had no chance of seeing it in person in London. Then I saw that the exhibit’s only US stop was Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and I’d never been to Chicago, soooo… I bought a ticket, and then emailed the MCA's media director, a lovely woman called Karla Loring, and boasted about my ad being right there in David’s exhibit in her museum. She promptly emailed back and invited me to lunch, and arranged for the museum photographer to take some pictures of the ad in situ. Then I hopped a plane for Chicago, staying at a wonderful old hotel called the Drake (great deal on Hotel.com).
I got there this past Monday, Jim’s birthday, and had afternoon tea at the hotel with two Facebook friends. Tea was excellent, worthy of the London Ritz, and the company was equally excellent. We continued the discussion in my room till about 9pm, and then I just crashed.
Next morning, I set off bright and early down Michigan Avenue for the Museum of Contemporary Art, about four blocks away. My name was on the list (very rocknroll), and I headed up to the exhibit, which I wanted to see before I had lunch with the museum people, so that I could discuss it intelligently.
Well. They had a revolutionary new headphone system, from Sennheiser, in which the soundtrack (both music and narrative) was keyed to change when you approached each exhibit, like changing radio channels. Fabulous.
So I entered the exhibit, and the first thing you see at the entrance, knocking you out before you even go inside, is that famous plastic jumpsuit with the stripes and the huge flared legs, designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the “Aladdin Sane” tour, posed there like a suit of samurai armor. And though I read somewhere that the V&A had a few more items that didn't make it over here for lack of display space, it just kept getting better and better.
It starts with very young David, ration books and house keys and report cards and infant photos, his first guitar and saxophone, then quickly progresses to teenage David, his infatuation with Little Richard and the earliest publicity photos of him at age 15, a total hoot, towering blond pompadour, real Elvis style, from his days with his first real group the Kon-rads. He talks a bit about it on the soundtrack, calling himself “a little blond cockney”, and then we move into the first music he created as an adult.
Walking along, I could see how brilliantly constructed the exhibit was: sometimes a bit mixed timewise, especially with his stage costumes, but it was never anything less than total sensory assault, showing his progress as artist and as person. I just moved along, stunned and digging it, like everyone else, listening to and guided by the soundtrack, and then I came to the Ziggy sarcophagus WITH MY AD RIGHT THERE.
I wanted to point to it and yell “I WROTE THAT!!! WITH DAVID!!!” But I didn’t. Later, Karla Loring, amused, said that my fellow viewers would probably have appreciated that, but I said they would more likely have thought I was a lass insane…
Anyway. it looked great, David’s knee-high laced boots being the link between costume and ad. And since David had decreed the death of Ziggy, I guess it was appropriate that the costume on the mannequin was presented in basically a coffin. So I mooned over it for a few minutes, admiring my cleverness and how good the costume looked, then said farewell and moved on. (Though I did return a couple of times to moon over it some more...)
I can’t even begin to convey how amazing the rest of the exhibit was: there were wall screens with TV newsclips (did you know David’s first TV appearance, 50 years ago at age 17 in 1964, was on a news program promoting his invention of “The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men”? Which by then he was, with hair a foot and a half long. Yes!), and concert footage, and interviews with David and producer Tony Visconti and other people, all with different songs from different-era DB appropriately interspersed, everything from “Changes” and “Starman” and "Life on Mars" to “Rebel Rebel” and "Diamond Dogs" and “Ashes to Ashes”. I was disappointed not to hear my absolute favorite Bowie song, "Putting Out Fire with Gasoline" (the soundtrack version from "Cat People"). Or "Big Brother." Or the songs he wrote for "Labyrinth." Or "Word on a Wing." Or "My Death." Though it's entirely possible those were there and I just forgot, or missed hearing them. But I don't think so.
Oh, the costumes MY GOD! Several Yamamotos and gorgeous Alexander McQueens and of course the ZIggy clothes were the highlights for me, and there was one jaw-dropping outfit that consisted of a VERY openworked cobweb bodysuit over torso and arms, left leg sheathed in gold lamé but the other completely bare under the cobwebs, with gold three-dimensional clutching hands affixed at the shoulders, as if caressing his chest. There was originally a third hand caressing his crotch (oh, DAVID!), but it was swiftly nixed by promoters, and then it was discovered that removing it left him considerably more exposed in Area-type areas than maybe even he would have been comfortable with (or perhaps not...difficult to say, with him), hence the lamé leg sleeve was added.
He had quite a few costumes with this asymmetrical one-leg-bare look, and some with both bare, like little rompers. Then later on, in his Thin White Duke phase, he got into these really elegant formal suits which are marvels of sartorial engineering. Though I think the real engineering went into those skimpier outfits.
Also featured is that foofy Pierrot costume he wore in the "Ashes to Ashes" video, which always creeps me out...I refused to pose in front of the giant mural of it, choosing to stand in front of Aladdin Sane instead... And the totally bizarre getup he wore on "Saturday Night Live", indescribable, sort of like a plastic tuxedo exoskeleton, in which he had to be physically lifted off the ground and carried to and from the microphone.
The costumes, photographs and music worked together pretty much all the way through, and the memorabilia collection is superb. The man is a mad hoarder or perhaps a meticulous self-documenter, who apparently saved everything he ever owned in his entire LIFE; I was told that he employs full-time archivists to look after it all and the collection takes up four stories of a warehouse. Which I guess saves him from the fate of the Collier brothers...
He refused to have anything to do with the exhibit, basically just saying “Here’s the keys to the archives, knock yourselves out, don’t bug me.” He didn’t record any voiceovers for the soundtrack (it’s all vintage stuff from interviews), he didn’t write a foreword to the book of the exhibit (buy it from the museum, it’s an incredible document to the times, and worth every penny), he didn’t oversee or edit or curate a damn thing. He did go to the London showing, with his daughter and a friend, and by all accounts seemed pleased, but otherwise nothing.
Considering what a control freak DB is (and I mean that as the highest praise possible), I find this odd and extremely surprising. But as Karla Loring said at lunch, when he collaborates, he likes to allow the other person total freedom to do their thing and bring that thing to the collaboration, so he stands away from it.. I think too that he would maybe not have been the best curator of his own work and life, it would have made him too self-conscious; so maybe that as well.
Anyway, I just drifted happily through the exhibit, completely immersed in this wonderful stuff, and came away with a new appreciation for David's music and for David as creator. At the end of the exhibit came the best part: a long rectangular high-ceilinged room, with some of his coolest stage clothes, and on the walls, giant room-length, room-height screens with projections of concerts and photographs, all dominated by blasting yet perfectly balanced 360-degree three-dimensional sound and wild light-show effects. Against the end walls were displays of several more costumes, only they were BEHIND the screens, so you would see them only when they were highlighted, otherwise dimly through whatever was being projected, going in and out of visibility. Fantastic.
The best bits of this multimedia blitz were a totally rocking live “The Jean Genie” and an amazing bit of stage theatrics to “Bang Bang”, from the Glass Spider tour, but it was all good. The whole thing took about half an hour to run through, and there were only two benches to sit on, so I claimed one end of one and just sat there for the duration, swiveling around to be sure I caught everything. It was immersive in the best way, and beautifully orchestrated; a fabulous job.
Adjacent to that, there was a room showing clips from all his dramatic endeavors, most of which, rather surprisingly, I seem to have seen, and another with souvenirs from them: among other items, the loincloth from “Elephant Man” on Broadway (uh, okaaay…), the brown suede Roman sandals he wore as Pontius Pilate in the Scorsese “The Last Temptation of Christ” (signed by himself, Scorsese, Harvey Keitel and someone else I forget) and the character notes he researched for himself, and YES!!!, the fancy crystal-ball-topped riding crop he carried in “Labyrinth”, which I fell down before and worshipped. Also Jareth’s crystal ball scrying device that he looked into to see what was going on (but not the small ones he contact-juggled, or rather contact juggler Michael Moschen juggled, blind, from a position behind DB’s back). And a Labyrinth poster and a letter to David from Jim Henson, persuading him to take the part. I felt quite cheated, actually, having wanted to see some of Jareth’s costumes, but Henson’s company, or now Disney I guess, probably owns them…
And that was how it was. I can’t begin to convey the wonderfulness of it all, so overwhelming and dramatic that it just overloaded one’s brain (my head is still spinning from the images and sound).
After that, I had a delightful lunch in the Wolfgang Puck museum café, with Karla and two colleagues (including the photographer who took shots of my ad with the costume), and hopefully entertained them with tales of David and also of Jim. Then we went back upstairs, where pictures were taken in front of a giant Bowie mural, and after many thanks were exchanged, though the gratitude was really all mine, Karla got me back into the exhibit, where I spent another two hours. So four very happy hours altogether, and I still probably missed stuff.
The next day I had lunch with a friend in the Walnut Room of the old Marshall Field’s now Macy’s department store, where I had the traditional chicken pot pie (good but not as good as they think it is), and bought Frangos (traditional chocolates), then we drove to the airport, where my plane was delayed for nearly three hours due to the huge storm in the East and bad weather in NYC, and I didn’t get home till almost two in the morning from a 6:30 flight. Wiped. Out.
Chicago is quite a beautiful city, at least the bits I saw. The architecture is just stunning (the view driving in from O’Hare and seeing the skyline suddenly loom out of the mist was staggering), and the perfect cleanliness and freedom from litter of the streets made me ashamed for my hometown. I also liked the way that small old little brownstone-type buildings that people actually live in were interspersed with the big giant modern new towers. Really it was very like New York, only with a lot of older and cooler and handsomer buildings and much airier and more spread out; I was deeply impressed and liked it very much indeed. If there’s ever a Bowie exhibit there again, I shall certainly return…
So that’s it. As more stuff comes back to me, I will add it. It’s nice coming home with a revised opinion of Chicago and an amplified fond appreciation of David and renewed interest in his music. I’m very glad I decided to go.
Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever Festival of Light Returning you like. (Chanukkah is over by now, having come very early this year...)
Not much in a festive spirit, though. No reason, just crabby and dull. All I want to do is work on my Viking book and not talk to or see anybody...I have bought myself a lovely bronze owl and another pair of cowgirl boots for Solstice, so that was very thoughtful of me, I think...
Anyway, have a lovely festiveness and see you all after Secular New Year!
After Lee Aakers (Rusty on "The Rin-Tin-Tin Show"), when I was about seven, Peter O'Toole was my first actor crush, for, of course, "Lawrence of Arabia", in 1962. In fact, I had come to the movie as a 16-year-old T.E. Lawrence fangirl, straight from reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom
, and staggered out of the theater after four hours unsure on whom I was crushing harder, Lawrence or O'Toole.
After "The Lion in Winter", in 1968, I kind of fell away, bored by his bizarre film choices and turned off by his real-life hijinks. He was still capable of reeling me right back in, with some of the work he did ("The Ruling Class"), but I was always, and probably unfairly, mentally chiding him for behaving like the stereotypical Irish-actor drunk.
By the 80's I didn't bother keeping up at all; even the heralded "My Favorite Year" and "Stunt Man" didn't lure me to the theater, though I did go to see "Stardust", but for Neil Gaiman, not for O'Toole. "Troy" did get me because of him, though; well, him and Orlando, not
Brad... Sometimes I would catch him on TV: "High Spirits", "Masada", "Lassie", "The Last Emperor", stuff like that. He always seemed better than his material, but he never condescended to it. I'm sorry I never saw him on the stage; if I did, I don't remember it, which is probably the worst thing you can say about an actor. But no; I doubt I ever saw him live. Even at his worst, I would have remembered.
Sympathies to his family and friends, of course. By now he's probably sorted himself out and getting settled at The Bar, with his buddies Burton and Richard Harris and Oliver Reed and the other wild boys. I bet it will be fun, and resting in peace is probably the last thing Peter O'Toole has in mind.
I don't have anything profound to offer about what happened on this day five decades ago, when I was a seventeen-year-old away from home for the first time, at college. But I want to remember now, without pain but with solemnity, how I felt then...
Fifty years ago today, on an indecently bright and cold and sunny afternoon, I was about to leave my freshman English lit. class at St. Bonaventure when a fellow freshman, Jack Garner, came into the room and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. We all reacted with disbelief, except our professor, Leo Keenan, who grimly strode off to the journalism office and the AP ticker.
We huddled around, uncertain, not really believing until we saw our prof's reaction. Then the other girls and I ran back to our dorm---seeing the flag already being lowered to half staff on the campus flagpole, but not believing, desperately denying---to turn the single rec-room TV on and see Walter Cronkite, blinking away tears, announcing that the President was dead. We all collapsed in tears ourselves, stunned, and for the next four days basically were glued to the tube and walked around like zombies otherwise.
I couldn't stand being around anyone, and walked up the hill behind the dorm to a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes that was there, set in a little wooded hollow. Nobody else came there but one of the younger nuns who looked after us, and we didn't speak to each other, just sat there for a long time in the chilly afternoon as the sun went down behind the hills across the valley, wrapped in our own thoughts under the last leaves still on the trees.
All classes were immediately canceled, of course, and a lot of the students with cars instantly took off for D.C. to be there to pay respects at the lying in state in the Capitol rotunda if they could, and for the funeral and procession. The rest of us didn't stop crying or watching the nonstop TV coverage all weekend---I can still hear the shocked intake of breath from all of us at the sight of Mrs. Kennedy, wearing that godawful suit, emerging from the plane later that night.
On Saturday, as nothing public was happening, it was all repetition and old footage on TV; commercial programming was canceled, and there was a lot of symphonic music heard: the funeral march from "Eroica" was pressed into heavy-duty rotation, and the funeral music for Queen Mary, which just about killed me, both of them.
On Sunday, there was the procession to the Capitol for the lying in state, and the first time we'd seen Mrs. Kennedy since Friday. I have no words: she looked like Persephone unveiled, and seeing the kids was like a punch to the solar plexus, especially Caroline in the rotunda, slipping her hand under the flag to touch the casket.
On Monday, the day of the funeral, there was a Solemn High Requiem Mass on campus, timed early, to be over by the time the one in D.C. began, so that we could pay our own respects in proper Catholic fashion and also then be able to watch the obsequies taking place in Washington.
It was again a cold, bright morning, and I remember walking to campus (our dorm was across the road) in my dressy black coat and gloves and lace mantilla, along with the other girls dressed much the same. The whole school was crowded into the gym: guys and friars downstairs, girls and nuns upstairs on the running track balcony. The male choir of priests and seminarians sang the Dies Irae, the first time I'd ever heard it sung; there was a procession with candles and incense, all the celebrants in black vestments; total silence except for the prayer responses. I was just about out of my body: one of the most splendid and deeply profound spiritual experiences of my life.
Then we went back to the dorm to watch the Mass and funeral procession on TV. I still see Mrs. Kennedy's queenly bearing, and still hear those muffled drums in my head, and still hear the moan as we all crumpled to see little John-John salute the casket coming out of the cathedral. We sat there crowded in the rec room, on the floor or on chairs we'd brought in from our rooms, until everything was done and the screen showing Arlington went blank.
After that, I really don't remember. I went to my room and wrote some things, but we were all too staggered and too full of grief and shock to do anything. We were kids, and for most of us this was our first experience with loss, made worse because most of us had idolized the family so.
It was a profound national moment, all the more so because it was so nationally shared. That's really all I have to say about it; I don't have any big eloquent words, no words apart from these. But I wanted you to hear them, and to maybe share words of your own, and to offer prayers and thoughts as you feel the need. And though I know he no longer needs it, may his journey thrive.
I do wish that more of the faceless Russian (mostly) hordes who have added me, against my will and knowledge, to their "friend" lists would get the hint and take a hike. They don't contribute, because they're just friendwhores at best and bots at worst, so I can't imagine why they're even here in the first place. They are not my friends. I am not their friend. Go away.
...that I haven't posted in absolute yonks. I was dealing with health issues, all now mostly resolved (had a stent procedure), and then I just got lazy. Not much to tell in any case: I finished up "Go Ask Malice: Murder at Woodstock", the fifth Rennie book, and I had a far better time writing it than I had at that damn festival; I have about 90,000 words on the sixth, "Ruby Gruesday: Murder at the Fillmore East", so that will probably be out next.
After that, not sure. Either Rennie7 ("Daydream Bereaver: Murder on the Good Ship Rocknroll") or the long-delayed Viking book, "Son of the Northern Star." I may even get back to the Keltiad after the ninth Rennie book, which is kind of where extensive pre-writing stops at the moment, with my protagonists getting married. I have two or three books planned out after that, but may or may not get to them. It all depends on if I'm getting bored, or if my readers feel it's time for something completely different.
Which would be Keltia. "The Beltane Queen" is about Aeron's great-grandmother Aoife, who is both the Prince Hal and the Queen Victoria of Keltia, and also, a big surprise for me, happens to have a girlfriend in her youth. "The Cloak of Gold" is the conclusion to the series, and yes, people we love will die. Or possibly the galaxy explodes and EVERYBODY dies. We'll see.
In other news, Pottermore is a crashing bore. Rowling doesn't toss in enough new backstory morsels to keep my interest, and the stupid games and things don't work on my browser. Not that I'd play them, but still.
Recent reads: I read all E. Nesbit's Bastables books on Project Gutenberg, and they are terrific. Also all five of the Richard Hannay books by John Buchan, which are likewise. Rereading Molesworth, which is always hilarious. Other than that, not much except some research on Rennie, circa December 1969, and P.D. James's sequel to "Pride and Prejudice", "Death Comes to Pemberley", which was entertaining but left me rather underwhelmed.
Apart from that, not much. I haven't gone away anywhere, first because of getting Mr. Stenty and then because I'm just too lazy. Maybe in October: it would be nice to see leaves, and I found an upstate horse farm on Airbnb that sounds delightful; and I could ride!
So that's me up to date. Not terribly exciting, but really it's all going on inside my head. Now back to 1969! Though I guess it's January 1970 by now...
A bit late, but very much felt. 2011, you could have been a lot better. Let's see how 2012 shapes up...
Anne McCaffrey has died. How very, very sad this makes me. She was a glorious writer and a lovely person, and she was always deeply kind to me. She gave me my first book blurb and feedback, and we kept up a correspondence for years. And she told me I could have a queen dragon on Pern, which made me so happy. I put her into "Blackmantle" as Aunya nic Cafraidh, and she was delighted. She leaves a huge, huge emptiness where she stood. May her journey thrive.
I guess it was because of Rosh Ha’shanah that I got to thinking of that really neat Israeli-gospel-folk-rock I downloaded the other day, but I was playing it earlier on the iPod, and bouncing and clapping to it as I sat here working because it is just that kind of music, and then the wind started streaming in over my shoulder and blowing my hair around, and it was a northwest wind with its charged-up ions and everything and that always charges me up even more.
But it all seemed somehow of a piece, and it sent my mood up to one of those toweringly exultant moments when you are so glad of the joy of creation, and Creation, that you just want to get up and fling back your head and dance with the world, and dance love to the world. I am exalted by those moments when they come: you can put yourself in the way of them, and even teach yourself to reach them at will, but you can’t really plan for them, they just happen for you. And they are more wonderful by far when they just come like that, out of nowhere, like a great wind out of Aldebaran.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Pagan or whatever, the joy all comes from the same place, the same Power. And everything you do becomes prayer and praise to that Power, and you can call the Power Adonai or the Goddess, or even not believe in it at all, but it is the real and undivided Power no matter what people think. And people are foolish to try to separate it out the way they do, or to deny it, to selfishly hug their little crumbs of it to themselves when really they could have the whole cake if only they tried sharing for once.
I often start thinking like this around this time of the year, as the sun heads south again and the days begin to draw in and the air gets chilly and the leaves start to turn. It fills me with joy that never grows old or any the lesser, because I know that it will always be there and always be like that.
Because it’s work that does it for me also. I am so lucky to have an art that is at my fingertips, as a dear friend reminded me recently. Her own art requires other people for its fulfillment, and she was thinking wistfully that it would be nice not to have to rely on the whim and will of others before she can perform it. I don’t have to worry about that. Sure, I like to have readers, and the more the better, and the smarter the better. But I would write even if I didn’t. I don’t write for them, or even for me, or even for Jim, or even for my gods, though all those certainly figure into it. I write for the Power. I write for Creation.
And it’s THAT that makes me want to dance. You come dance too.