Everyone is touched, in their lives, by different things. People react differently to what is going on in the world. When you are raised in a home where a thing is prominent, that thing becomes an unwavering part of who you are. You may not love the thing as you grow into adulthood but it is there, woven into the fabric of your soul. It is a part of who you are and the thing taught you lessons.
For me, music was a huge part of my life growing up. I would lie on the living room floor in front of the massive 70s style stereo system and listen to records and an AM radio “oldies” station for hours. I was almost always doing something else – drawing, reading, writing – but I had the music on. As I grew older, I carried the music with me. It has evolved and changed and now that massive stereo has been replaced with a tiny microchip and an internet server somewhere in a far off land. For me, 2016 has taken some of the prominent voices of that part of my life.
I was ten years old in the summer of 1991. I was helping my aunt assemble bouquets and centerpieces for her wedding while we listened to the soundtrack of Purple Rain. Although I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard those songs, it was my first, concentrated, “this is important” dosage. It was the exposure that would stick with me.
I can’t tell you how old I was the first time I saw David Bowie in Labyrinth (although, I can tell you I was young enough to call it Laby-rin-ith) but I know I loved it. Jim Henson was to mini me what Tim Burton has become to adult me: an enormous influence on my personality and my creativity. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some part of me that wanted more than anything to follow Sarah into the Labyrinth and if I were to say that my love for the Frouds didn’t come from Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, I would be naive or lying.
It seems silly to say, at this point, while talking about huge influences on my life, but Careless Whisper was (and really probably still is, cheesey as it might be) one of my favorite songs as an over-dramatic, broody pre-teen. 12-13 year old me would belt out the lyrics I didn’t fully understand to pictures of boys who didn’t appreciate everything I wanted to offer them.
The rest of 2016’s victims have been no less influential on my life, though.
Gene Wilder was in so many of the movies that introduced me to comedy as a child. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, aside, I watched those comedies 100 times over. Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy. In many ways, those movies became part of the standard to which I still hold all comedy.
Alan Rickman was Snape, but he was also the Sheriff of Notingham. And he was Metatron and Hans Gruber and he had that voice that carried his deadpan sarcastic wit with such grace and poise that even poop jokes seemed eloquent. He may very well have taught me everything I know about sarcasm and snark.
I will be 100% with you and say I was probably three years old when I watched the original Star Wars trilogy. I saw Episode I and II in the theatre when they first came out (one of them twice because two different friends wanted to take me). I did not see Episode III and I haven’t seen VII or VIII. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate their value or everything that Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia were to the world, as icons of true feminism alone. Leia as a character and Carrie as a woman were strong, powerful women in the world of the 1970s that, despite its claims of enlightenment and advancement, had not yet fully embraced the strength and power of a woman who could hold her own in an intergalactic war – or in the quiet, hidden warzone of Hollywood.
When someone mourns the death of a celebrity, they are not mourning the death of someone they have never met. They are mourning what that person meant in their lives. They are mourning the influence that person had on who they have become and who they will continue to be later on. They are not foolish or naive, they should not be mocked or ridiculed. Something that celebrity created in their time on earth touched that regular vanilla person’s life so profoundly that had that celebrity or that creation never existed, that regular vanilla person wouldn’t be the same person they are today. Something that celebrity created was responsible for a key sequence in the coding that makes that regular vanilla person tick the special way they tick today. Without that sequence in their coding, we would never know how they might be different but it might be the thing that makes them your friend.