Opinion » Bill Cope

Mr. Cope's Cave: Goodbye In Threes

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My wife was disappointed I haven't written anything in tribute to David Bowie. By her own admission, she loved him. A long-term affair, it was. I knew she loved him even back when I was courting her, 42... 43 years ago. Anytime a Bowie song came on the radio, she'd say "I just luuuuuuuv David Bowie." I married her anyway. I was willing to look beyond her love for David Bowie, as long as she was willing to look beyond my love for Linda Ronstadt.

I liked Bowie plenty enough. Not at first, though. I was never a fan of that glam scene. I'm not even sure I'm calling it the right thing... "glam scene"? It was the first rock manifestation where the music seemed to play second fiddle to the presentation. That's the way it seemed to me. I couldn't tell what they were getting at, the glam rockers, with all that makeup and glitter and spaceman outfits.

Whatever it was, it didn't apply to my experience. Not like the Eagles' music did.

As time went on, Bowie got less and less glam, though, and more and more better. That was my ear's opinion, anyway. By the end of the '70s, I had to admit I liked him. And by the time he died, I had to admit he had become part of my experience. You simply cannot be aware of someone for 45... 50 years—hear him talk and grow, hear him sing and change, feel his continued and penetrating presence in the cultural zeitgeist—and say he isn't a distinctive, colorful strand, rolled and integrated into our Play-Doh ball of experience.

Excuse my metaphor, but that's the way I think of experience: a sticky, shape-shifting blob of accumulated happenstance that picks stuff up, never lets it go, and grows bigger and bigger as we age.

I wasn't aware of Glenn Frey nearly as long as I was David Bowie. Not as a famed name. Not being the sort of rock fan who felt compelled to know the names of everybody in the bands, it wasn't until Frey started doing solo stuff in the '80s that I became aware he was a co-founder of the Eagles. But I certainly knew the Eagles. From the first Eagles' song I ever heard—"Take It Easy"—they were rolled into my Play-Doh. At the time, on the very day I heard it—a bright spring, Saturday afternoon in Moscow—it definitely applied to me, I thought. I was still young enough and searching enough to believe I could take some guidance from rock and roll lyrics, and it seemed like damn good advice at the time, to take it easy.

Why "Hotel California" turned into my wife's favorite song for the next 40 years, only she can say. I just know that to this day, when we're driving along and it comes on the radio, she is a young woman again. The young woman I fell so... ah, but that's between her and me. I'll just say I'm glad that after 40 years, we can still turn on the car radio and hear "Hotel California" now and then. Glenn Frey hit a homer with that one, let me tell you, and it still hasn't stopped rolling.

The third to die this month, leaving that pinched feeling when someone who's part of your experience dies, was Alan Rickman.

Bowie and Frey came from a genre where the more honest they are about themselves, the more likely they are to move us. To tickle a sympathetic vibration in our existential innards, so to speak. On the other hand, Rickman was an actor, and it is the nature of acting to hide their real selves behind a pretense.

But that's not to say they can't move us from behind this pretense. People have been asked which of Alan Rickman's roles they enjoyed most—the merciless Hans Gruber, the manic Sherriff of Nottingham, or the impenetrable Severus Snape. I enjoyed them all, those sharp and exotic characters, but was most moved by the soft and dull man in the video I've attached below. The man, who felt to me more like some place I've been once than an act, definitely tickled a sympathetic vibe in my existential innards. It runs just under 50 minutes, but it's worth it. I have a hunch many of us have been to that place, once.

And if it leaves you a bit reflective, even melancholy, I've included a couple of tunes that might pick you back up.