Nevertheless, as a much-practised, if inadvertent scratcher of vinyl records, when the new technology hit the streets in my late teenage years, I was keen to embrace something which appeared to much more proof against my clumsiness (the sausage fingers for which I am famous in my house had already begun to develop). Although records (sorry about that) on the matter will not exist, I am quite sure - based upon the conversation I had with the salesman - that I was one of the first half dozen people in my little town to purchase a CD player, even if it was surrounded by the other constituent parts of the HiFi tower. This is one of my very best claims to fame...pathetic, isn't it?
However, I must now admit that I have cunningly lured you into a false sense of security, for it is not this issue that I wish to discuss at all! Ha- HAAAAA! The CD that I am speaking of has little connection with methods of recording music. I'm talking instead about another type of CD: Celebrity Deaths.
There seems to have been a flurry of famous people dying lately. Of course they die all year round, but perhaps the feeling of too much celebrity deaths is a result of the news that some very high profile faces will no longer be around. Or perhaps, it's just a personal thing.
Celebrity is not a standardized quantity. The word 'celebrity' can be attached to a great many people of course, but the degree of celebrity - or how famous a person is - is something that is I think, hard to pin down, and is highly subjective. I'll illustrate with some of the most recent examples of dead, famous people. David Bowie - a huge icon in the music world, he made an enormous impression when he burst onto the scene in the early seventies, and his contribution to pop music is hard - if not impossible - to dismiss. Alan Rickman - a talented actor who had achieved real fame and recognition for his roles in the Harry Potter movies but who had an impressive catalogue of lesser known yet high quality stage, TV and film work behind him. Terry Wogan - an enormously well known TV and radio personality in the UK who died yesterday after a career of over forty years during which he almost became a part of the nation's character.
Here's the thing, though: David Bowie was one of the most well-known names and faces in the music world, and yet of the three I have just mentioned, his death - sad though it of course is for his loved ones - was something which barely affected me. "Well, that's another famous name gone." I thought, and paid little more attention to it - in fact I avoided stories about his death because it just didn't interest me. Why not? Well simply put, his music never worked for me; I never liked it and I could never really understand how the guy became quite so popular. My taste, my perspective, my choice. I felt the news of Alan Rickman's death far more personally. It's not that I was a particular fan of his, but I had been aware of his work - mostly through the TV - for most of my adult life. I'd seen his versatility and his skill, and I'd admired him for both. I liked what he did, and how he did it. His death seemed to be more tragic, somehow than Bowie's (of course it wasn't). It made me wonder a little morbidly - but these things so often seem to come in bursts - about whose announcement would be next, and whether I would care.
When it came, the news of Terry Wogan's death was a shock. You may never have heard of him, and so the fact that he's dead may have zero impact upon your day - but bear with me, because that's part of my point. This man had become important in my life through his work. His voice was there on the radio when I was a small child; mostly in the background perhaps, but nevertheless it was there. Often, through the radio and using his gift for giving the impression that you were his only listener, he spoke more words to me in a day than anyone else. He made the shift to television in the eighties and was hardly ever off it through one vehicle or another, for the next thirty years until he retired just a few years ago. In other words, his was one of the most familiar voices of my life. Suddenly, he is gone, and that voice has been silenced. His particular skill for making me smile and laugh has left the world, and will probably never be replaced. That is a sad thought.
Celebrity, to me, is about the degree to which a person has spoken to me, and has succeeded in engaging emotions in my life. Bowie's music never engaged me, and so his death is all but meaningless in an emotional sense. That doesn't de-value his achievements, it merely means that I didn't care about him or his work. I think his fame can stand up to the idea that this one seven-billionth of the world's population wasn't interested in him. Rickman's performances touched me at times, and so he had managed to establish a voice inside my head; he managed to become a real person inside my head. His death was, as a result, felt as the sad passing of an old acquaintance might be. Wogan, however, with his particular brand of humour, his self-effacing wit and his delight in words and the skill of others to make him laugh - he had managed to assume the position in my emotions, of a friend. His death was - and remains - a source of genuine sadness.
The whole question of celebrity and the degrees to which we allow them to influence us has intrigued me for a long time. I don't care (let's be blunt here) about the death of some rap star whose name I have never heard before but who is a celebrity for other people. They might care, but I don't have to. I'm not interested in, for example, the passing of an obscure Brazilian soap opera star - and there's no earthly reason why I should be. Such people have no voice in my head, no presence in my personal world. To me, they are no more celebrities than a smelly, curmudgeonly and anti-social old sheep farmer in Australia whom I have never met, and never will (although I like the sound of this fellah). The people who touch our lives, and especially people who touch many people's lives; the ones with a voice inside our heads - those are the real thing - the real celebrities - in every sense, to me. I can hear Terry Wogan's mellifluous voice now, and even the remembered sound of it brings a smile to my face. He was that good and that ingrained in my world.
I think that the truth of it is that for me, a real celebrity is somebody whom I have never met, but whom I consider - through their public persona, their words and their deeds, to be a friend. They are the ones on my bucket list of people to have dinner and conversation with; people with whom I would hope to enrich my own life. I wonder if it's the same for anyone else. There are few 'celebrities' that I care about, but the list includes musicians, actors, comedians, intellectual figures and well-known journalists. All of them have spoken to me, and in their own distinctive ways, they have reached inside me and touched my heart. I will, of course, probably never meet them, but nevertheless, they are in my experiences of life, and they have a real presence.
No wonder I'm sad when I hear news of such people leaving this earth. They are friends.