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Please spare us the sob signalling over David Bowie

11 January 2016

1:32 PM

11 January 2016

1:32 PM

By 9am this morning, I’d turned down two offers from two newspapers to write about the freshly-dead David Bowie. I told both plainly what I felt: ‘I haven’t been a fan since I was a teenager, when I worshipped him, and I don’t want to add to the chorus of people with nothing to say, but who’ll say it anyway, for a fee.’

However, humour is always the exception to the rule. By 10am I’d posted this (totally true) status on Facebook: ‘To illustrate how odd my voice is (accent and speed) I just spent five minutes waking up my husband Dan and telling him that David Bowie had died. I told him that people were weeping in the streets, and that it was like the Queen Mother dying all over again. Dan listened silently, then replied “It’s nice – but still, all that fuss about Dane Bowers!’’ Within an hour, more than a hundred people had liked my amusing post, and I considered my work to be done. Today of all days, obviously, people needed a good giggle.

My lack of deeper feelings about David Bowie came as something of a surprise to me, and I know my bad self quite well. While Facebook friends professed themselves to be living through THE WORST DAY EVER, my thoughts were merely ‘O, isn’t it lovely that he spent his life making such a good living from doing the things he loved!’ Perhaps the recent suicide – just six months ago – of my son Jack had some bearing on this, but then I didn’t cry when my adored Diana, Princess of Wales died either, and Jack was very much alive then. I did, however, get a contract to write a book about her, the advance for which was so pleasing that I still haven’t earned it back two decades later. Happy days!


My lack of feeling is, perhaps, a late-flowering fastidiousness which feels somewhat repelled by the flood of sob signalling which takes place on social media whenever a famous person dies. And a revulsion with a sub-section of my fellow hacks who – for a fee – will say something even if they have nothing worth saying. For every Suzanne Moore – who produced a small, perfectly-performed elegy within hours – I knew that there would be a hundred old bores from the dear dead music press who would crawl out of the woodwork just to put up photos of themselves with the Great Man, in the most distasteful groupie fashion. Hearse-chasing is such a bad look.

From the word go, the level of sheer asininity of the guest commentators on BBC Breakfast was truly remarkable – surely the saddest legacy a creative person can leave is stupid fans. ‘He knew a lot of stuff about a lot of things.’ ‘The last great PR stunt of his life.’ ‘I didn’t know him well, to be honest,’ admitted Mick Ronson’s daughter, wiping the sleep from her eyes. ‘He always wanted to be himself’ said someone – NO HE DIDN’T, he made up CHARACTERS! Marc Almond felt ‘tearful’ – for a change. The choicest was ‘Perhaps his finest moment was when he teamed up with Mick Jagger to record a version of Dancing In The Street’ – yes, and mine was marrying Tony Parsons. The adorable Laurie Penny, always one to add to the gaiety of nations when national mourning is in order, actually Instagrammed a photo of her in Bowie make-up alongside the legend ‘going in to the Monday editorial meeting like this’. Because it’s all about you, you special snowflake!

Going in to the Monday editorial meeting like this. #ripdavidbowie

A photo posted by lauriepenny (@lauriepenny) on

You’ll excuse me for finishing now, as I’m on tenterhooks waiting to hear what David Beckham makes of it. Because they have the same initials! As my friend Simon remarked on my Facebook page ‘Bowie was a private individual who didn’t ever spout platitudes and inanities about everything going on around him. You’d think some of these people would bear this in mind.’ What a good life’s work it was – well done, him. And that’s all I have to say on the subject.

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Show comments
  • Pete Marsh

    Since David Bowie died there have been a number of people in the media telling us how we should feel or not feel about his death. Why? Why do you resent peoples’ emotional responses and not allow them to grieve as they feel fit?
    Your article is rude, disrespectful and in bad taste.
    Why do you feel the need to take out your unhappiness on the public?

  • Toni

    Julie Burchill – queen of negativity and the victim of incessant need to tell others they are wrong and stupid.

  • Leicesterfan

    Good article. I went from shocked and slightly saddened to sickened by the inane posturing within 3 or 4 hours. When Jeremy vine announced on his show that he was too distraught to bicycle to work that day it put the tinhat on it for me.

  • Xerocky

    The British really do have a problem with people partaking in mass grief don’t they? Between this article and Dalrymple’s on the same subject I find it hard to believe that it’s so hard for some people to take a break from the economic gloom and the non stop madness of Europe’s slow motion suicide to simply stop and say “he was something special wasn’t he?”.

    Really, it’s that hard to endure? Well hunker down and don’t let it get to you, keep a stiff upper lip. But the next time a David Bowie emerges, do take notice will you? It’s not exactly a common occurrence.

  • michael haylen


    He fell to earth

    giving us taste

    of life on Mars

    lost in time

    just walking the dead

    Screwed up eyes

    screwed down hair

    left a legacy

    held in twisty talk

    not in rock and role

    Breaking news for decades

    the unsung soundtrack of our lives

    Catalytic master

    at catching and spitting out


    A working actor to the end

    all is a stage –

    windmills of reality

    fight back

    “So I turned myself to face me

    Look up here – I’m in heaven”

    Date: 15/01/16

    Michael Haylen

  • steve brailsford

    Firstly it is obviouse that Bowie was greatly respected in the industry and by the many millions around the world who own his music. This is a fact and it cannot be said that this happened because of his death. He was loved and respected well before this so it is of no surprise to me that so many people feel a loss, especially given that it was pretty much out of the blue. Other than his close family and friends, nobody in the world can honestly say that his passing will effect them in any meaningful way in the future. If you respect someone you should pay your respects. It bothers me when people harp on about him having a good life or him being a multi millionare as this has no bearing on what people respected him for. He made records and people loved them, and so they paid for them. It was his job that he chose to do and like most artists he could have failled and ended up stacking shelves in Asda. I am not a massive fan but it never ceased to amaze me how many other artists said he inspired them and how much respect they had for him, probarbly more than any other artist alive at that time. All this happened while he was alive and when someone with that level of respect dies it is understandable that his sudden death should spark such an outpouring of emotion. He deserves the praise heaped upon him and the money he earned from his trade. I am glad that he lived the life he did and that he wrote the music he did because i enjoy it. Other great men have lived and died who were more important to our way of life. Some of those did not even exist yet millions of people worship them all over the world blindly, devoting their lives to a God that they are told exists but obviously does not. So when you ask what Bowie did for the world you should be told that his contribution to music was a big one. You only bought his records because you liked them, and that when he died millions of people said they felt saddened because they liked him, me included. I, along with millions of others will continue to enjoy your music forever. That is a fact. Maybe there is a God to some, his name was David Bowie, and he was real. Cheers to you Mr Jones.

  • Cromulent

    Bowie was *private*? I suppose if you ignore the orgies……..

  • opencurtin

    David Beckham was devastated because he thought that him and the rest of the Beatles were going to get back together one more time…

  • Mnestheus

    Forget Bowie– the real horror story is, Jagger’s ex getting hitched to Rupert Murdoch.

  • Ricardo da Mata

    The truth
    is that Bowie was nothing!

  • tomcmc

    Is this Ed Reardon posing as Julie Burchill?

  • CockneyblokefromReading

    David Bowie was the most overrated musician we ever gave the world, with Annie Lennox a close second. You’ll note that I’m not saying he didn’t have a great talent, just simply overrated. He produced some good stuff…over 30 years ago! I loved Heroes, but that could be because Brian Eno had a lot to do with it. A great deal of Bowie stuff was mediocre. And the Laughing Gnome? Well, what more do I have to say? Overrated.

    • Frank Marker

      Apparently some wag placed a garden gnome with the words “Who’s laughing now!” written on it at one of those tedious candlelit tribute places.

  • CRPC

    No disrespect to David Bowie, but I for one, was sick and tired of the non-stop eulogies that were flooding in from the media when he died. It was appropriate to announce his death since he had been an international pop star. It was also appropriate to put out a tribute programme about him. But most of the news on the BBC was taken up by commentary on David Bowie. Channel 4 was no better. The first 20 minutes of the 7:00pm news was about David Bowie, until there was a commercial break. Then at last we got to hear some real news. Then, low and behold, the final 15 minutes of Channel 4 news was about David Bowie all over again. You’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing was going on in the world.

  • davidshort10

    Bowie kept his looks but Burchill didn’t. Her talent, such as it was, was slight and short-lived but his wasn’t.

    • Pete Marsh

      Brilliant !

  • Rab N

    Suzanne Moore… really? I thought that read like the self-indulgent musings of a (barely) pubescent teen diary.

  • RickDastardly

    Me, Me, Me, Me, Me. Dont worry Julie, no one will be comenting when you time comes

  • Daidragon

    Toxic old vulture. Bet we’ll get an article on how little you cared about Alan Rickman next. Like anyone gives a s**t.

  • William Brown

    Well, someone had to say it. Well done Julie, I’ve been reading you since NME days – right on target again.

  • Nick Harman

    It has been a most incredible tsunami of cant, glad it’s dying down now. Like Ms Burchill I liked DB a lot in my adolescent years, but we fell out a bit over Diamond Dogs, got back together with Low and then went our separate ways after citing musical differences. I cannot say I ever really thought about him much after, except when he popped up in that Gervais comedy to remind us he couldn’t act.

  • voidist

    Bowie dabbled in buddhism……he would have rejoiced at his funeral… should the rest of us..
    which ever way you look at it ,,,i ts all a pain in the a=se…

  • davidshort10

    I cannot imagine why the Spectator publishes this silly woman. Perhaps it is because the magazine has Brillo Pad as its md, who published her during his vulgarisation of the Sunday Times, and so the editor of the magazine has to accept it.

  • ArchiePonsonby

    Laurie Penny? Adorable?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Good career move.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Well, at least it pushed the Islamic rapists off the front page.

    • MacGuffin

      They’ll be back.

  • njt55

    I never warmed to Bowie’s music despite it being of my “generation”. There are a few songs I enjoyed, but I found that after Space Oddity his persona of the moment got in the way and, frankly, put me off. But he was obviously loved and respected by many fans and fellow musicians and made much more of an impact on people and brought more joy to the world than I and many others will ever do, so hats off to him. Besides, he seemed like a nice bloke and it’s always sad when a nice person dies.

  • David Booth.

    Yesterday we had grown men weeping on radio saying they were unable to go work because of the death of David Bowie! The return to work interview with their line manager would be interesting to listen in on.
    Man up chaps, Bowie appears to have been a decent person who’s day job was working as a well paid painted minstrel.

    • Frank Marker

      Is there a helpline they could use to spill out their woes to?

      • David Booth.

        They could try BT’s Talking Clock!

        • Frank Marker

          Ground control to Major Tom sort of thang.

    • Frank Marker

      Boys Keep Swinging the lead, you might say.

  • Andy M

    I’m different to the author in that I have never been an actual ‘fan’ of his work, even as a teen, but rather an enthusiastic appreciator of his most popular songs and his iconic status. I was never really pulled in by the image he had created for himself, like I was by his contemporaries such as The Stones, The Who, etc. It’s strange for me, as I am essentially a ‘classic rock’ fan, if I have to identify my main musical taste, yet I never really took much notice of Bowie. Having said that, I have been VERY upset at his passing, as he was someone I always looked to who I didn’t quite ‘get’ at times, but understood why others would do and agreed that he was indeed a legendary musician and rock icon. When I do see him in videos performing, I see a great showman, a great artist, and one of the icons of classic rock. When I hear his most famous songs, I immediately know they are Bowie and immediately think they are fantastic songs. I am therefore deeply sad that one more rock icon has died, that such a talent is gone, and that classic rock is slowly dying out as the legends succumb to time or illness. I will feel even worse when song of my favourite artists from his contemporary group go the same way.

    • Todd Unctious

      Glad we cleared that up then. You thought he was okay and are sad some other pop stars may die too, mainly because they are now very old. Brits have an odd denial of death. It is inevitable, just like rubbish TV and traffic jams. Live with it.

      • Andy M

        You don’t seem to understand anything, which is very odd seeing as you also seem to think something was ‘cleared up’.

  • RinaldiTweet

    I am glad Julie had the guts to speak for the silent minority on this occasion – no disrespect to dear Dave, mind!

  • blob_the_builder

    So I thought I’d write an article about how I don’t care about David Bowie instead …

  • Carmen Park

    Oh you are such a social rebel, for not feeling anything! How proud you must be to have no heart! To focus on the inanities of celebs jumping on the sobbery bandwagon! How wonderful for you to be so erudite! Screw you, I have no idea who you are or ever were, what you have to say matters to no one, unlike Bowie, who had more influence in an eyelash than you ever will with your pithy bitter little articles disguised as humor. So cutting edge. I hope you fall down on that cutting edge and gut yourself. You are a twit.

  • Space 1999

    Thank you Julie. There are many of us who loved his work but don’t want him canonised – especially when it is done by people who sometimes so obviously don’t understand.

    “Yeah, I’ve always been a big Bowie fan. I first heard of him in as the lead singer of Tin Machine. But then he went solo…”

    • Todd Unctious

      Sad old hippy.

  • phoebecat

    Blech. Useless, tiresome, unhelpful article. Just shut up.

  • Tony

    I think if you have nothing to add then don’t bother to tell everybody that is the case.

  • fredimeyer

    she has a point. just read the mawkish and insufferable piece by the despicable piers morgan in the dm. all about piers, as usual.
    in terms of best selling pop artists, bowie is rated as number 63 on wiki. that is hardly worth bothering about, below donna summer and linda ronstadt even.

    stop the hysteria

    • Callipygian

      Not all value can be measured in quantitative rankings, Fred.

      • Frank Marker

        I agree. Just look at the Oscars. Donna and Linda were certainly good interpreters of other songwriters and worked with some excellent producers but they can’t be compared to the creative talent of Bowie.

  • Michelle Hurwitz

    Perfectly well said! Thank you for this.

  • Mia Wallace

    No wonder her kid killed himself.

    • David Booth.

      Nasty nasty remark, be careful you don’t bite your tongue and poison yourself Mia!

      • Mia Wallace

        Oh I won’t but thanks for the concern.

  • Forrest Martin

    Man Julie…you must have been in hiding last night. I made the mistake of posting a joke yesterday morning—not even about Bowie directly, rather pretending not to notice this was the absolute only thing in my feed (“Loving Bowie’s new album – anyone know if he’s going on tour? Who wants to go?”)—and I got a range of reprimands, including one person un-friending me and publicly requesting our mutual friends to de-friend me as well. It’s a tough room.

    • Dom

      Don’t blame the room.

  • Corbus

    Scary Monsters 1980. That was the pinnacle of a high ridge of decent work. Thereafter the Eiger north face. It happened to Gordon Summer after Regatta de Blanc, or whatever that album was called.

  • TheZug

    Were you the first out with the obligatory snark article? If so, congratulations!!! Because snark signalling is every bit the cliche as sob signalling.

    • Todd Unctious

      But a Snark is a Boojum you see?

  • colchar

    It really is amazing how many ‘fans’, who probably couldn’t name five Bowie songs, have crawled out of the woodwork on social media to explain just how much his death has impacted them.

  • Jen The Blue

    Julie is absolutely correct. Way over the top. He was a successful pop act and part time actor. Nothing more. “Special snowflake”……pass the sick bag Alice.

    • Todd Unctious

      Channel 4 and BBC said he was a “genius”. Like Da Vinci, Newton, Turing, Einstein, Mozart. They even said he was greater than Elvis. What Costello? Are you kidding?

      • Randi Brooks

        David wasn’t as good as any of those music composers.

  • jonny evans

    I’d love to add to the chorus of people who think Julie Burchill’s best work appeared many years ago. Now she has become a piece of work, a parody account, a meaningless sans context conscience botherer who’s only regret is that she hasn’t quite managed to be seen as a bigger ogre than Hopkins.

  • Geoff Burkman

    OMG, Julie Burchill is still alive? I can’t Face that.

    • Todd Unctious

      I imagine the Telly has allsorts of archive footage ready for her when she goes. Three hours of Julie gobbing on about nothing to nobody.

  • Garnet Thesiger

    Thanks Julie, another solid piece of writing to bring us back to reality. By mid morning yesterday I had heard enough inane platitudes about DB to last a life time. Would he have wanted all that sugary guff? I don’t think so…

  • Kate

    I’m an American..and we DO get irony. However, I’ll take American earnestness over British irony any day. Ms. Burchill, your bitterness is displaced. Terms like “newly-dead” show you to be in a bad, bad place. Get some (or more) help. Your comments help no one.

    • William Brown

      …but it isn’t earnest is it? It’s all sugary puff, with little or no substance. NOW do you get irony?

  • Tom Burroughes

    Burchill is engaging in projection.

    I am as wary of fake emotion as everyone (I shudder when I recall how people behaved over Princesss Diana) but the reaction to Bowie’s death, not just among those of my generation (I am almost 50) is genuine. Music touches people on a level that goes beyond many other things; when you have been as influential and as big a part of popular culture, for more than 40 years, as Bowie was, his death, particularly the suddenness of it, is a shock.

    If Burchill cannot understand such a shock, or at least show some empathy with millions of music fans over this, she has a part of her brain missing.

    Alternatively, she is just trolling for attention, like the very people she claims to be attacking.

    Let those without sin……

    • gavstar

      and if you read her endless FB posts about her own sons suicide one would think she would understand this a little more

    • Callipygian

      I miss George.

  • Nockian

    Well said Julie, although to be fair you have only produced an alternative kind of eulogy.
    Hardly anyone cared when Keith Floyd died-now that man was a culinary genius and entertainer.
    Bowie was a succesful businessman That made him a boat load of money and huge profits by providing products that people desire. It’s a pity that all the energy gaccolades and misplaced grieving weren’t doled out to all the other dead entrepreneurs.
    I have most of Bowies albums and always enjoyed his music, but I weep not a single tear for him, nor care that he is dead.

    • William Brown

      “gaccolades” – Nice – I may use a lot!

  • gavstar

    What a dreadful person you are – you deserve your dimly lit little life of nothingness

  • jeremy Morfey

    Bloke dies.

    (World exclusive!!!!)

    • Todd Unctious

      Great bloke dies. Massive contrast to the shallow violent imbeciles who compete to grab headlines by beheading or exploding. So much more civilised.

  • Jez

    Ha Ha!

    Brill article!