So, David Bowie died.
The news outlets are stopping the world to sit shiva over him. I’ve never quite gotten used to that behavior. I don’t have anything much to say about the fellow one way or the other, good or bad. He was part of the wallpaper of my life because he used to come out of the radio while I painted apartment buildings, but that’s about it. It’s jarring to see the media stopping in their tracks and devoting all their time to his death, however, like he was Queen Victoria or something. Pop singers don’t belong on the front page.
I was in an airport once, waiting in line, and Henny Youngman was standing in front of me. I had been living in Los Angeles for a while, and got used to seeing minor celebrities out and about. I always left them alone, unless they bothered me first. To me, a stranger is a stranger, whether you know who they are or not. Henny turned around, looked at me, and said, “That’s right, I’m me,” and then turned back around. I found it quite charming, but he was answering a bell that hadn’t rung.
If you are in a strange, faraway place, and you encounter someone that has any connection with your life, you greet them like a friend. If you’re in Italy, and meet an American tourist, you treat them like a long-lost cousin instead of just as much a stranger as the locals. David Bowie wasn’t in everyone’s life because he was important. He was important because he was in everyone’s life. It doesn’t really matter how trivial or profound the reason you’re in the public eye. It’s just the only way people keep score.