It was a death as intensely private as the mourning was public. David Bowie was cremated this week in New York without fuss or fanfare, following an illness he managed to conceal from the world. Not for him the gawping graveside circus, the paparazzi stalking famous mourners. He turned his back on all of that years ago, by choosing to make so little of his recent life – apart from his music – available for public consumption.
And perhaps that’s the only really radical thing left to do, in an era saturated with way too much information – to just stop talking. Run away from the attention everyone else seems to be compulsively seeking; disappear, disengage. There is no status symbol so powerful now as not having a status – or not, at least, in the “look at me” Facebook sense – at all.
Over Christmas in the Peak District, with no phone signal and only unreliable Wi-Fi, I finally got around to finishing some of the half-read or postponed books that had been cluttering my bedside table all year. The first happened to be Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, whose heroine is raised “off grid” in a cabin in the redwood mountains by a hippyish mother apparently seeking a cleaner, simpler existence.
It turns out to be anything but clean and simple, of course, since almost everyone in the novel is trying to keep some catastrophic secret. But although the book has been out for a few months now, its themes felt oddly prescient.