I was all set to write something pretty frivolous this week, but then just today news of the death of Prince (or The Artist Formerly Known As) is all over and I just can’t bring myself to write about lighter subjects.
I will completely understand if you want to give this post a miss. I’ll try not to be morbid, but when your subject is death that’s a bit hard to do.
Death has claimed a lot of prominent people this year. I wrote earlier about the death of David Bowie. Shortly before that we lost Lemmy Killmeister, former lead singer of the band Motorhead and then Alan Rickman, the actor who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies amongst other roles including his last in the movie Eye in the Sky (which is an amazing film and you should all go see it… trust me). They are only a few examples among many others this year. Former professional wrestler Chyna passed away, too, yesterday, her demise overshadowed by Prince’s untimely end.
Death’s been very busy this year.
Death comes to all of us. It is the mere cessation of our biological life and just as everyone is born everybody dies. Do we live on afterward? I don’t know. No one knows. I kind of have my doubts but if we do then I have got a lot of great concerts to look forward to.
Death is a fearsome figure when depicted in art or in pop culture. The simplest symbol for death is the old skull and crossbones. You see it on bottles of liquid that are poisonous to drink. It’s a warning to stay away. You see it emblazoned on the Jolly Roger. It`s a warning there as well: Pirates are coming. Death is coming. Be afraid.
Death is a fearsome creature in art and in the movies. In The Seventh Seal, a 1957 Swedish drama-fantasy film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Death is depicted in an understated but still unsettling way. Set during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life.
The Black Death. The bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages had such a profound effect on our art and literature. Death was seen as a reaper… the Grim Reaper, whose deadly scythes mows down souls left and right. Death was at everyone’s doorstep and the scars of that time are still seared on our collective Western psyche.
But Death isn’t always grim and terrifying. Sometimes Death can be funny, especially when depicted by the Monty Python gang in their 1983 film Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. In that film Death is depicted as the traditional Grim Reaper, surprisingly frightening at first, then, naturally he gets the mickey taken out of him by a group of fatuous, self involved socialites. Death becomes angry and frustrated, especially with an American couple visiting Britain. “Well, you’re dead now,” Death growls at them. “So shut up!”
But it’s not all grim and reaper-y. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series, Death instead appears as an attractive, pale young goth woman dressed in casual clothes – often a black top and jeans. She also wears a silver ankh on a chain around her neck, and has a marking similar to the eye of Horus around her right eye. She is pleasant, down-to-earth and perky,
And then there is the comic book character Lady Death, who is downright sexy.
Created in 1991 by writer Brian Pulido, Lady Death was originally a teenaged girl named Hope who is deceived by demons and trades her mortality for eternal life in Hell. Upon her arrival she is enslaved. To ensure her survival she turns to the darkness within herself and begins a transformation into Lady Death. In the end, she fights back and leads a rebellion that topples the mighty Lord of Darkness himself.
The comic book character has also inspired a goodly amount of cosplay amongst certain lively and… healthy practitioners of that craft. Just look it up. Do a Google search. Maybe it’s not so bad, contemplating Death when she is depicted by such vivacious artists. Never has Death been portrayed by those who are so full of life.
Forgive me for dwelling. Given the events of just this last day, let alone the whole of 2016 so far, these thoughts just seem to be not far from everybody’s mind. Maybe it helps us to deal with it. Maybe it draws us all who are still alive a little closer to each other.
As the 17th century poet Robert Herrick observed: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may“. Maybe it’s the reminder that we need that life is precious and fleeting and must be embraced while there is still time.
I’m going to go and gather rosebuds.