Wrong one

Monday, 11 January 2016 21:11
strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
At 3:30am last night, I did one of those half-wakes you sometimes do during the night, and the one fragment of the dream from which I had awoken which remained to me was a radio presenter's voice saying "Sir Cliff Richard has died." "Heh!" I thought, "Maybe it's a premonition. Must make a mental note of that and see what happens in the morning."

Apparently I'm pretty good at keeping hold of random thoughts which occur to me in the middle of the night, because when I switched on my radio (permanently tuned to Radio 4) that morning at 7 o'clock, my ears instantly pricked up, eager to discover whether or not I had indeed had a psychic experience. Only then the presenter started talking about David Bowie, and everything was wrong.

I can tell you exactly when I first got into David Bowie. It was when his band, Tin Machine, released the single 'Baby Universal', which Wikipedia tells me was October 1991, i.e. when I was 15. I quickly moved on to exploring his back catalogue, and the following April I was lucky enough to see him live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in Wembley Arena, which I attended along with best chum [livejournal.com profile] hollyione and her Dad. Obviously, David Bowie wasn't the primary reason for going to a gig like that, but for me seeing him was very much a close secondary draw.

His music and films continued to form the centre of my cultural world for the next year or so, and thus it was that, through his back catalogue, David Bowie was the first person to take my hand and lead me gently into that wonderful decade known as the 1970s. In fairness, I think some of the films I'd already seen had made me receptive - especially Dracula AD 1972. [livejournal.com profile] hollyione had also definitely played her role through her enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin - her main reason for wanting to go to the Freddie Mercury tribute gig. But it was David Bowie - his music, his look, his persona - who really carried me over the bridge.

Eventually, of course, I discovered other artists there whose music I liked better, like Marc Bolan, Yes, KISS, and indeed Led Zeppelin (whom [livejournal.com profile] hollyione had been quite right about all along). David Bowie faded a little from my radar. But I have always retained a more-than-passing liking for him, followed the trajectory of his career with interest, and been pleased when I came across him unexpectedly - as for example in a short film a few years ago at the Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend. When my sister told me that she liked to sing 'Starman' to a baby Eloise, I smiled and thought, "Parenting - you're doing it right", and I went around singing 'Space Oddity' to myself for several days recently after seeing the film which inspired it in glorious Cinerama.

But now he is gone, which hardly seems possible. Like everyone else, it seems, I'd just assumed he would go on forever - always anticipating the zeitgeist; constantly driven to experiment; and proving over and over again that music need not be formulaic to be popular. But apparently nobody can - not even someone whose persona was so otherworldly and supernatural. We can only be glad that he did so many things during his brief time on Earth, and thus left us much to keep on enjoying - including not only his own work, but all the many bands, films and fashion movements which he inspired. Thank you for that, David.

In light of how it opened, I feel I should end this post by saying that I don't actually wish death on Cliff Richard. He may have spent most of his career deliberately appealing to the socially and musically conservative, and indeed hold those sorts of values so dearly himself that he's capable of saying something like this about the very subject of this post:
But I do have a persistent soft spot for him all the same. Some of his music is great - most of his songs with The Shadows, and occasional later gems like 'Wired for Sound' - and he manages to project a sense of ease with who he is and what he does in interviews which I find endearing. Besides, this doesn't seem the sort of day to wish death on anyone. I of course reserve the right to retract these sentiments if he turns out to have been a predatory paedophile all along. (Which, of course, is a case you could make about David Bowie too, although I do feel it makes some difference when you have an adult woman looking back and saying that she treasures the whole experience. All your faves are problematic.)

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I was planning to write about my holiday to Romania today, but then I woke up after a much needed lie-in to the news that Christopher Lee had died, and the truth is it would probably never have occurred to me to want to go to Romania at all if it hadn't been for him. So I will write about him instead.

I've long known that I first saw him in Hammer's Dracula (1958) when I was eight years old, and thanks to the Radio Times online archive I've recently been able to pin that down a little more precisely. On 28th December 1984, BBC Two broadcast a late night double-bill of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. My Dad recorded it on our at that time very new and exciting home video recorder, and soon afterwards (I don't know exactly how soon, but within a few days or weeks, I think) decided that these X-rated films would be suitable viewing for his eight-year-old daughter.

He knew what he was doing. Dracula in particular struck a chord with me which has resonated ever since. Within a year, I had bought and devoured the novel. Within two, I had moved outwards into the wider world of vampire fiction. Within three I had bought my personal horror bible, and was busy working my way through its Vampire chapter with a particular focus on Hammer's other Dracula movies. I have carried on in much the same vein ever since - and it was absolutely definitively Lee's performance as Dracula which started it all.

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If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have spent my teens steeping myself in Gothic fiction and horror movies. As a result, I would probably never have felt inclined to drift into the Gothic sub-culture in my Bristol days, or have made all the friends I did then and later as a result. I could never have watched The Wicker Man when I got to Oxford, might never have felt the same resonances in the city's May Day celebrations, and would never have had the Wicker Man holiday which [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos and I enjoyed two years ago in Scotland. Indeed, I would never have watched any of the awesome movies on this list - or any of the rubbishy second-rate ones, either, which I have hunted down and sat through (often accompanied by the ever-patient [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan) just because he was in them. Nor would I recently have bothered reading all about the real life Vlad III Dracula. My parents going to Romania in 1987 would have meant nothing particular to me, and nor would I have joined the Dracula Society and gone on the holiday there with them which I have just got back from.

While we were in Romania, Christopher Lee had his 93rd, and sadly we now know his last, birthday. We happened to be in Sighișoara, where the real life Vlad III Dracula was (probably) born, so I marked the day by nipping out of our hotel early in the morning, crossing the town square and tweeting this selfie from outside the house where he grew up.


Little did I know that the man who had sparked off my interest in Dracula in the first place was already in hospital. Little did I know how few days he had left.

I won't try to claim that I have always considered Christopher Lee to be the perfect human being. I've said plenty of uncomplimentary things about him in the past on this journal. There's no need to repeat them today. But he brought such wonderful stories so powerfully to life - not indeed just by acting in them with such presence and professionalism, but by doing it to such an inspiring degree that already by the mid-1960s people were writing roles and producing stories so that he could inhabit them and bring that magic to them. There is no question that the whole world of fantastic drama and fiction has been immeasurably stronger for his contribution to it. So I am truly, truly grateful for the wondrous worlds those prodigious acting talents have transported me to, and for the real-world doors and pathways they have opened up to me as a result. And though I never met him, and now never will, it felt good to share the same planet with him for the past 38 years. I am very sorry now that that time is over.

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strange_complex: (K-9 negative)
The news of Diana Wynne Jones' death less than a month ago was at least expected. The news of Elisabeth Sladen's death today was not. In common with most people, it seems, I had had absolutely no idea that she was even ill, let alone terminally so. Indeed, she always seemed to be all but untouched by the passing of the years. So I'm still having trouble even believing that the news about her death is true.

She was one of Doctor Who's outstanding stars, bringing a perfect combination of warm enthusiasm and very human bravery-in-the-face-of-fear to her role as Sarah Jane Smith. She certainly caught my attention three years ago, when Robot was one of the first episodes I saw at the start of my systematic exploration of Classic Doctor Who. "Frankly awesome" was my verdict on her Sarah Jane that day, and since then I have sought out all of her many appearances in Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and even K-9 and Company, and written about my enthusiasm for all of them at length. It's really difficult to imagine the Whoniverse now without her.

So thank you, Elisabeth Sladen, for everything which you put into the role over the years. Thank you for making Sarah Jane into such a real and well-rounded character, even when the writers and directors you were working with didn't think that it was important. And thank you for making the most of the opportunities when they did. I don't envy the many, many parents out there who are going to have to explain to their children tomorrow morning why there won't be any more episodes of Sarah Jane Adventures now. But thank you for what we've had, and I hope you knew how much we all appreciated it. :-(

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci)
I learnt via [livejournal.com profile] fjm this morning that Diana Wynne Jones has finally lost her long battle with cancer. She was easily my favourite children's author, and indeed quite probably my favourite living author full stop. The world will feel several shades greyer without her in it.

It's often said that the best children's literature works well for adults too, but that is a poor understatement in the context of Diana's books. I really can't think of any other author whose work had so much to offer whatever phase of life or state of mind the reader was in. I know that her books entranced and captured me as a child, even when I didn't always understand everything that was going on in them. I read Charmed Life in school around the age of ten, and long after I had forgotten its title, the name of the author or anything but the most rudimentary elements of the plot, it stayed with me and haunted me. Eventually I tracked it down as an adult and was amazed by how rich, insightful, honest and yet optimistic it was about childhood, and the relationship between children and adults, and the process of growing up. Now I know that that is par for the course with her work, and have a considerable stretch of book-shelf devoted to the pleasure of the discovery.

I was lucky enough to meet Diana at a reader's day in Bristol in 2006, and hear her talking about her work in general, and particularly Howl's Moving Castle and the forthcoming The Pinhoe Egg. So I did at least get a chance to tell her how much I enjoyed her work. I think, too, that given the passion and enthusiasm of her fan-base, she knew very well how universally she was loved and admired. But how sad, still, to know that that conversation is over now. :-(

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strange_complex: (Claudius)
So, the noble whale of London town is dead. What's more, a dead porpoise was found yesterday on the shore at Putney (I can't seem to find an online source for this Important News Item, but I assure you it's true - I saw pictures yesterday as part of Sky News' continuous live whale coverage).

In summary, dead and dying marine mammals are hurling themselves at our shores. You know what Cassius Dio would say. Get out of the stock market - now!

The next stage, apparently, is for experts to examine the body to ascertain the cause of death. I do hope they will pay special attention to the liver, since everyone knows that's where the gods most like to leave their messages to humanity.

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