Why you should never listen to the Grief Police

I’m not a David Bowie fan. I’m an idiot, I know. Lather me in tar, slap me with a sack of feathers and feed me to a pit of carnivorous mammals. There’s not a single Bowie album in my record collection, yet 75% of said collection wouldn’t exist without him – I owe the Starman a massive debt and his death shook me. People live their lives differently because of David Bowie; music is my life and Bowie has been, by way of other artists, essential in the way I view the world.

How David Bowie influenced metal

So these past few weeks have been a bit hard. No, scrap that, they’ve been shit. Lemmy, Bowie and Alan Rickman have all claimed by that abominable cunt called cancer. Now Mott The Hoople’s Dale Griffin and Eagles’ mainman Glenn Frey have left us. I didn’t know any of these people, these icons. My ex-girlfriend’s grandma’s best friend allegedly delivered Bruce Dickinson, and that’s the closest link I have to fame. But these people have been around for my entire life – The Eagles were flung to my attention via a slating from Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and they’ve stuck there ever since.

But some people don’t feel this way. Some people aren’t moved by the same art that moves me, or by any art at all. That’s fine, I can’t imagine I’d be grief-stricken if Sir Alex Ferguson died tomorrow; it’d be awful that he’d died, but the man has made no impact on my life whatsoever. Millions would be in mourning and that’s perfectly normal. Britain was in pieces when Princess Diana died and John Lennon’s passing caused several Beatles fans to actually commit suicide.

They meant something and nobody questioned it. Nobody said, “You didn’t know them, grow up,” or “So, tell me all about every single charity Diana ever supported. In chronological order,” because they would have gotten a punch in the spine. But, given the rise of the internet and the yellow-bellied anonymity it encourages, people do come out with this callous, insensitive drivel. Behind a private account and a Marvel cartoon character set as their profile picture, they can spew any old shit onto a keyboard.

Behemoth’s Nergal was accused of boarding the Bowie bandwagon just for namedropping him in an interview. Never mind the fact that the interview was conducted before Bowie’s death. Never mind the fact that Behemoth covered Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy 16 years ago. Never mind the fact that Nergal bought Bowie’s Blackstar on release day and is a card-carrying, dyed in the wool fanboy. Never mind this abundance of facts that would be obvious to a 70-year-old goat with melted chunks of Lego instead of a brain; some people just want to cause a stir.

It’s not on. It’s not on and it’s not fair. Nobody has the right to tell another human being how to grieve. It doesn’t matter if you’re mourning a family member, a musical icon or a fucking Tamagotchi, because we’re all wired differently and only you can gauge what your appropriate reaction should be. How many of these naysayers went to the Bowie memorial in Brixton, tapping attendees on the shoulder and saying, “Get over it mate, he’s only a singer,” or, “I bet you don’t even have any of his albums, do you? I bet you thought Labyrinth was his big break”? The truth is: these people don’t exist in real life. They just don’t. They’re the Gestapo’s whiny, vitamin D-deficient little brother. The Grief Police are a totally online problem and they cease to matter once you step into the sunshine and interact with actual humans.

For example, coverage of the recent wave of deaths – Lemmy’s and Bowie’s especially – has been criticised by the moaners. Anything more than a brief obituary is ‘milking it’. Given the aforesaid artists’ legendary status and the reputations they held until the very end, social media and news outlets have been flooded with tales of their talent. Their courage. Their warmth. Skindred’s Benji Webbe shared a brilliant Bowie memory on Facebook; here at Hammer, we’ve had Lemmy stories from everyone because he was a true gent. Just read that story by Alice In Chains’ William DuVall and tell me Lemmy wasn’t the loveliest bloke out there. Again, I didn’t know him, but just hearing endless testaments of the man’s compassion makes me proud to be a fan. Not content with being 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son Of A Bitch, he was also 100% Gentleman. The arts community – no, not even the arts community – the community of Earth, every person with a beating heart isn’t just mourning the passing of Lemmy, they’re celebrating the fact that we got to share the same planet as him. To suggest that these articles are just clickbait is unfounded, untruthful, unbelievably obnoxious bollocks.

Lemmy: "Might As Well Die Of Something You Like Than Be 120 And Bored"

Apparently Lemmy’s death wasn’t a surprise to some detractors. In a way, I kind of get it. Both Lemmy and Bowie snorted, shagged and drank more than any mortal could hope to achieve over ten lifetimes, all while churning out classic albums. In hindsight, their deaths shouldn’t have been a shock, but they were constant fixtures in my life, so yeah, it’s going to be a bit hard to swallow when the annual Motörhead tour announcement doesn’t pop up. I fully expected to have children and take them to gigs when Lemmy was, like, 90. Dismissing the deaths of over-indulgent celebrities and tutting at their silly fans is like calling your grandma an idiot and not going to her funeral because she smoked herself to death.

We’re never going to have another Lemmy, another Phil Taylor. Another Bowie, another Scott Weiland. Another Alan Rickman or Christopher Lee. It’s been ten months and I still do a simultaneous wince/smile every time I stare at my bookshelf devoted to Terry Pratchett. There’s nothing I can do to bring Sir Terry back from the gnarled claws of Death and his OMINOUS CAPITAL LETTERS, but he’s still there. Whenever I try my hand at writing puns. Whenever I go to my grandparents’ house and see Errol The Swamp Dragon framed on the wall.

Do what you have to do. You can pray. You can cry. You can dance. I rinsed Motörhead’s back catalogue for weeks following Lemmy’s death; that process is still ongoing. Nobody has the right to tell you how to feel. If someone does start lecturing you though the blinking cowardice of a computer screen, it’s their problem for not enjoying music properly.

Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.