This week saw the deaths of two greats. On Monday morning I woke up to the news that David Bowie had died. I had to read that headline a few times before the reality sunk in. For someone who felt so timeless it was weird to hear the news of his passing, especially given the amazing scope of his influence on music, fashion, and culture. Not just in his constant reinvention driven by his curiosity, but also in how he played with gender and challenged the norms of the day. It took me a while to get into Bowie but when I did I realised just how many of his songs I knew, how much they’d been part of my life for so long. He was simply a genius.
And then to top the week off was the news of Alan Rickman’s passing. Also 69, also from cancer. I find it hard to decide what his best role was. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince of Thieves. Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. The Metatron in Dogma. All fabulous to watch. My wife and I celebrated his life by watching Dogma and then Prince of Thieves. Any of them we could have watched and equally paid tribute to him. For many others he was Professor Snape from Harry Potter, though personally I didn’t enjoy the films. Nothing to do with the quality of them, I know there are millions of people out there who love and adore them. The films vision of Hogwarts just didn’t mesh with my internal one from reading the books and I found it off-putting.
Their deaths have left a lasting impression on me. not just because of what amazing people they were, but also in relation to a lot of other celebrity deaths there have been over the past few years. Robin Williams, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, and my favourite author of all time Terry Pratchett. Some have been talking about all these deaths as a passing of a generation, a group of unique people and talent we won’t see again. That we won’t see these people who dominated a genre or genres creatively.
I’m not sure I agree with that entirely. Okay yes, there will never be another Bowie, or another Pratchett. Their creativity, the way they connected with people, came from who they were, and no one can be like they were.
I do think it’s less likely we’ll see people who so totally seem to dominate an era, who speak to millions in such a way. Sure, there will be some, but I think our changing world will work against that.
One of the changes I think has happened over the past few decades, and which is accelerating thanks to the internet, is a broadening of niches. There are a lot more creators out there, whether they be writers or artists or musicians, who are much more able to connect with a fan base that is incredibly passionate about their work. That fan base may not be as large as the millions for Pratchett and others, but its one that will morn the loss of their favourite authors just as much.
I think about Amanda Palmer and the almost 25,000 fans who helped fund an album of hers for $1.5 million. I think of the birth of Patreon and the many comic artists and writers that can create more thanks to the money given by fans who are interested in what they make.
There are going to hundreds if not thousands of people out there all with their own curious followings making a living doing what they want creatively. The internet has allowed that connection to flourish and grow, and for artists to stand more and more on their own. To the point I think we’re entering a golden age of creativity.
With more and more ways for people to share their work, and to make money off of what they create, I think more and more people will. It makes me want to create too.
Thinking about the impact people like Bowie and Pratchett have had on peoples lives, I can hope to come close to 0.1% of that if I’m lucky. All I really hope for, and aim for, is that one person reads something I’ve written and lets me know they’ve loved it or that it’s had an impact on their life.
I think that’s a good thing to aim for, for myself and others. Have an impact on one life. Sounds good to me.
Who knows, it could even be your own.