November 11, 2016
A beacon is on fire. The light keeps on moving, it’s captured there in the blackest grooves of your records. It twinkles like far off stars in the dead winter night. It comes back when the needle hits the vinyl, it crackles and leaps back into the room, and then from the room is ingested again into my blood and my oxygen. I recognise your truth. I’m arrested, held in the spell of your beauty.
"Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in."
It took you years to write songs, because they were not songs, in the sense you weren’t sitting down to write something disposable, something to be played on a temporary chart. We knew that, we respected you for it all the more. These were holy and sacred verses, they were sculpted through time and truth. You were a poet of the world, you happened to live your mortal life in our times, but your words will echo across time as Aristotle’s do, and Shakespeare’s, or even the writers of the holy scriptures which you loved so much.
In your final release “You Want it Darker” you wrote that you “struggled with some demons, they were middle class and tame.” Thank you for that, for giving us all the power to escape the narrow confines of the ready-made identities we were born into. For those of us who have struggled with tame demons, you have helped to shake them off. To fling off the weak beasts of convention. You were a seeker and you offered us the chance to find meaning for ourselves.
You held out your generous hand and your warmth to me at all the saddest, lowest times of my life. You gave me a ladder to escape the darkest moments, when my soul had become like cold black coffee, when I was a lonely youth in Paris, isolated in Gordonstoun, Scotland, your words were a friend, you’ve inspired me to light my own light, to keep it full of oil. I am so sorry to say goodbye, I never met you, I never even made my way to one of your concerts, when you toured around the world for the last time. I heard that you felt your time was coming close. You died three days after Donald Trump won the presidency of the US. “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” I don’t blame you.
The world is so dark, and more than ever we need poets. But you are still there, in your tower of song, you have offered us a light. I have been playing your new record on Spotify over and over these last weeks, since Brexit, since Trump, since Theresa May, right the way through Calais and Syria. You have been playing over and over. “A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker. I’m ready my Lord.”
“They’re lining up the prisoners
The guards are taking aim,
I struggled with some demons,
They were middle class and lame,
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to mame.
I’m ready my Lord”
“If you are the dealer
I’m broken and lame”
Maybe you’d just had enough of the darkness? Seeing it written and not hearing it makes it seem bleak and desolate. But even in this song there is a warmth that hints at optimism. And for us who are left, we must find our way through this darkness, we need optimism now more than ever.
I can only say that you held out your hand and offered love and intimacy, you told us your story. You seemed to understand. You didn’t judge. Goodbye for now and thank you again for all you did and continue to do for us. For all that lives on.