Last night, thousands of people gathered outside The Ritzy cinema in Brixton and in the surrounding streets to bid a fond, joyous farewell to local boy David Bowie, whose death at the age of 69 was announced in the morning.
A typically British way to pay tribute, it was a wonderfully ragged and DIY affair that was part festival, part street party. A totally unofficial event, it was hastily arranged via Facebook, as if it were a semi-legal warehouse party. After sharing their grief all day online or via text, or sinking into a David Bowie-related YouTube wormhole when they were supposed to be working, the celebration was a chance for people to congregate with likeminded fans, to share their sorrow amongst those who got it. Oh and to do some dancing, too.
A loved-up night to remember, it was a cold carnival on a budget. With no official soundsystem, fans bought their own means of making noise. Kicking off with the quiet strum of an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and a couple of people awkwardly singing along, things stepped up a gear upon the arrival of amplified sound.
First a speaker was thrust out of a window above a branch of KFC, but pulled back inside after ‘Heroes’, its owner apologising, evidently wary of the legality of such a move. Less concerned by possible environmental health breaches, was the fan who then fired up a small PA system back in the square, which started blaring out ‘Modern Love’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’. Yet the singing and yelling along was far louder and far more impressive than anything the small speaker could manage – until someone let off a dazzling firework in the middle of the square, which shot up towards the trees during the middle of ‘Starman’. When its battery ran out, smaller speakers shot up in the crowd and in the neighbouring streets, more people propped soundystems out of their windows as fans danced in the road with strangers, united by their devotion to Dave.
The outpouring of emotion experienced last night in south London was the real life embodiment of the love shared on social media throughout the day. It was a celebratory middle finger up to the ‘grief police’ on Twitter, who spent the day chastising Bowie fans for being overly sentimental about the death of a man they’d never actually met, like Sunday Times journalist Camilla Long, who grumpily tweeted “So many people “crying” or “in bits” over Bowie. FUCK YOU. You are not ten – you are an adult. Man the fuck up and say something interesting.”
For those who’d spent the day sobbing over the loss of a man who meant so much to so many – and there were plenty of us, and we each had our own, perfectly valid reasons – last night’s celebrations in Brixton offered an opportunity to embrace the joy that Bowie’s music has given all of us – and will continue to do so for light years to come.